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As Specimens Lie Idle in Freezers, Patients Await Cures

May 22, 2018

two test tubes containing procured specimen biofluids

And biobanks lose needed revenue

Although biobanks do tremendous good for the world, many want to do even better.

Biobanks collect tissue, biofluids and cells for use by researchers working toward new cures, treatments and vaccines. To better understand their challenges, we created a detailed questionnaire that 42 biobank professionals from around the world filled out.

Two insights emerged from the results:

  1. Biobanks underutilize samples. More than 2 out of 3 respondents cited underutilization of samples as a major or moderate biobank challenge – the most frequently cited of 13 choices. This means that biobanks collect and store more samples than they use, resulting in an ever-growing inventory of unused biospecimens (a practice sometimes referred to as biohoarding). In fact, the average specimen age for 42 percent of the respondents was more than five years, a period in which many important medical advances have occurred.
  2. Finances are another worry for biobanks. More than 2 out of 3 respondents cited economic sustainability as a major or moderate challenge, the second-highest of 13 choices and the top major challenge.

Making specimen sharing easier


So … biobanks would like to see more use of their specimens and more revenue. Given that biobanks can charge for the service of collecting, storing and distributing samples, the answer is obvious: they need to get their samples into circulation.

That’s easier said than done, of course, which is why we entered this business. If you’ve been following this space, you know we’re doing for biospecimens what did for books – creating a marketplace to match supply and demand with minimal friction. In this case, we’re helping biorepositories put specimens online where researchers can easily discover and procure them.

Precision medicine requires precision samples

This is vital work because research has shown that historically, the scarcity of high-quality specimens has held important research back. What’s more, the biospecimen supply challenge is only getting steeper as precision medicine demands more specific research. A researcher today might need tumor tissue from not just breast cancer patients, but patients with triple-negative breast cancer, a constraint that dramatically narrows the supply.

Technology challenges

In their questionnaires, biobanks also told us about a number of other challenges, including technology to annotate their biospecimens and the status of the patients who donated them, as well as technology to enable researchers to search their human biospecimen inventory. In some cases, search capabilities simply don’t exist. (We address these technology challenges as well).

We don’t mean to imply that moving your specimens online and making them available to the world isn’t a complex decision. Different organizations have different policies. But the transformation is absolutely feasible. In fact, increasing numbers of biobanks globally are in the midst of such change. We’ll help you, too, because we believe it’s the right thing to do. The patients who donated biospecimens in the first place expect us to use their samples to cure diseases like theirs. Putting biospecimens online for qualified researchers to find is a great way to do that.

It’s time for a change. Let’s share specimens

For more information, please see the news release on our findings, or detailed report.

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