- For Researchers
- For Biospecimen Contributors
- For Patients
- Human Biospecimens
June 13, 2019
If we could distill our mission into eradicating the impact of a single statistic, it would be this one from the Office of Biorepositories and Biospecimen Research (OBBR) survey, released in 2011:
81% of researchers limited the scope of their work due to difficulties obtaining quality biospecimens.
“Limited the scope…” That could mean the research study was smaller than planned, was postponed, used inferior biospecimens, or never even happened. Such limitations could translate into cures never discovered, diagnostics never developed, and lives never fully improved.
Is biospecimen research still suffering?
Fast forward. Although biobanks around the world have since amassed millions of human biospecimens, and valuable insights have been extracted from them, the biospecimen procurement challenge is holding firm. Recently, iSpecimen launched a survey of its own, recasting several questions similar to those included in the aforementioned OBBR survey, to take a pulse on potential improvements related to the availability of quality specimens. We learned that the industry has essentially maintained a plateau with respect biospecimen sourcing. In fact, 81% of today’s survey respondents still claim to experience similar biospecimen procurement challenges, thus, limiting the scope of their research as a result.
Our survey went further. Asked to describe their typical biospecimen procurement experience, researchers chose as their top three adjectives challenging, disappointing and frustrating. Among the challenges:
In our survey and in our recent webinar poll, finding specific samples and ensuring compliance were chosen as the most challenging issues in procurement.
Results of audience poll during iSpecimen webinar, From Chaos to Control: Transforming Biospecimen Procurement
Why human biospecimen procurement is so challenging
Part of what we have learned over the years through the many surveys we’ve conducted and hundreds of conversations we’ve had with research organizations and specimen providers is WHY biospecimen procurement is such a complex, challenging, frustrating and disappointing process. Typically, the sourcing exercise starts with a request for samples that is communicated to the purchasing or procurement team (for those lucky enough to have one) to find and bring samples back to the bench in the R&D effort.
From there, the request gets communicated to somebody on the provider side to see if the request can be satisfied with specimens in inventory or if the samples need to be collected from a network of health care organizations with access to consenting patients. The ability to respond with sample availability often requires considerable effort behind the scenes and can take a lot of precious time as well.
Adding to the layers of inefficiency, scientists routinely change their minds or have additional needs that prompt them to modify the criteria and look for a slightly different cohort. This ignites more back and forth. Then, there will be quotes and purchase orders; legal and compliance professionals from both sides will get involved; files and data sets will be viewed and exchanged, orders processed and tracked, collections completed, specimens shipped, and invoices distributed—all resulting in an exhaustive back and forth that creates tremendous drag on resources and R&D timelines.
The first image below illustrates the extensive back and forth between a single Research Organization and Specimen Provider when a specimen need arises. With each added provider that enters the equation, it’s clear to see how complexity can become exponentially higher. The difference between Complexity level 1 (interaction with 1 specimen contributor) and Complexity level 2 (interaction with 2 specimen contributors) is staggering. This frustrating biospecimen procurement process cries out for an innovative solution that manages procurement chaos and simplifies every step.
Complexity level 1:
Complexity level 2:
Making the move from chaos to control
Most organizations contract with multiple specimen suppliers simultaneously to fulfill the needs of any given project. The larger the organization and number of projects – and, subsequently, the need for biospecimens – the larger the number of specimen contributors is likely to be. In some cases, bigger commercial organizations can contract with up to 100 specimen providers. Imagine the back and forth in a Complexity level 100 scenario!
By shifting procurement to a centralized procurement platform, those in need of specimens have a single point of search, compliance, contracting and order management while maintaining access to more than a hundred contributors and millions of human biospecimens and consenting patients. This new model is transforming biospecimen sourcing, access and sharing across the biospecimen research ecosystem. Researchers, procurement specialists, biobanks, healthcare systems and more collaborate on a common platform to fulfill a shared goal of advancing scientific breakthroughs and honoring donor patients’ wishes of having their specimens utilized in related R&D initiatives.
With technology as a key enabler, we can continue to make improvements that allow more researchers to source the quality biospecimens they need more often, more reliably, more easily. Amazon did it for book buying, Kayak.com did it for travel, and Match.com did it for dating. Now, it’s being done for procurement of human biospecimens.
The keys to streamlining biospecimen procurement
With an online platform that leverages cloud-based marketplace technology, the keys to transforming procurement are in the hands of anyone who logs in. Managed as an iterative workflow, biospecimen procurement can be streamlined by users based on their unique requirements. Whether the user is a researcher searching for specimens and managing orders or a specimen supplier uploading specimen data or managing specimen requests, the corresponding workflows are enabled through the platform to centralize, streamline and simplify many moving, back-and-forth aspects of the biospecimen procurement process.
In 2017, the first iteration of the iSpecimen Marketplace, an online platform connecting healthcare organizations that have access to patients and specimens with the scientists who need them, was launched. Within the Marketplace platform, researchers were enabled for the first time to intuitively search for specimens and patients online, across a federated partner network of hospitals, labs, biobanks, blood centers, and other healthcare organizations, easily and compliantly in order to streamline the delivery of human biospecimens needed to drive scientific discovery.
The iSpecimen Marketplace has evolved quite a bit since then (and will continue to), enabling access to more than 25 million human biospecimens (tissue, biofluids, and primary human hematopoietic cells) and six million patients across a global network of hospitals, biobanks, pathology labs, blood centers, private practices, HIEs, clinical labs, and patient recruitment organizations.
Enabling centralized biospecimen sourcing online
Since researchers need extensive data about their biospecimen samples, iSpecimen has amassed a database of clinical information that includes results from more than 300 million laboratory tests from more than 8 million patients.
As they search the Marketplace, researchers can filter biospecimens on a wide range of attributes, including blood type, disease condition and analyte as well as patient age, sex, ethnicity and more.
Let’s look at an example
Imagine you’re a researcher who needs tissue from patients with metastatic breast cancer (ductal carcinoma, ER/PR-positive) and who are over 50 years old.
A search begins here. You choose the type of specimen you’re looking for – in this case, tissue. From here, you can refine your search among available banked tissue or submit a request for a custom collection.
Select your primary tissue type and refine by characteristic (e.g., malignant) and format (e.g., FFPE block).
Use sliders to refine the search by sex, race, ethnicity, cancer stage and more. Filter data about patients, specimens, suppliers and annotations. See available samples appear on the right side of the screen, aggregated from all of iSpecimen’s many suppliers.
Select the specimens you want, add them to the cart and click ‘Request a Quote’.
One click automatically sends quote requests to various specimen contributors involved behind the scenes; the Marketplace does all the aggregating so all you’ll receive is one quote.
You can also view quotes, track orders, view shipments and view and download data—all from a centralized, single-point of access.
Joining the iSpecimen Marketplace can be a critical first step
There’s much more that can be accessed through the iSpecimen Marketplace. You can create watch-lists of specific items you need, and you’ll receive alerts as soon as the specimens are available. You can also share your searches easily with colleagues and view time projections on prospective biospecimen collections.
Validated users can join the iSpecimen Marketplace (it’s free) to begin simplifying their search for human biospecimens. An email address is all you need to get started. Nearly 1,000 research organizations have already joined the marketplace.
There is no charge for specimen contributors to partner with us and open access to their available samples and consenting patients. We have more than 100 marketplace partners globally – including organizations from the Americas, Asia and Europe. Joining the Marketplace helps partners fulfill their missions and remain sustainable.
Reaping the benefits of streamlined procurement
If you’re a researcher, finding the quality biospecimens you need for your research lets you get right to work without wasted procurement time and energy. No matter how many suppliers are involved in the fulfillment of your order or collection, iSpecimen serves as a single point of contracting and compliance. Contract with iSpecimen once for access to the entire network of ethically sourced, annotated biospecimens and IRB/IEC documents for ordered specimens.
When you try the Marketplace, you’ll see it’s a far cry from the endless phone calls, emails and faxes that traditional biospecimen procurement has entailed. Chances are you won’t have to limit the scope of your work or wait too long to get started. If you’re a supplier, all the hard work you do collecting specimens will pay off in both revenue and medical progress.
Together, we will lower the percentage of frustrated scientists and truncated research —and hopefully, help change more lives in return.
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