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Webinar Summary: How the Internet of Things is Disrupting Science

29th August 2017
By Katy Alexander

As part of our thought leadership webinar series, our latest broadcast discussed How the Internet of Things is Disrupting Science.

We covered a diverse range of topics including:

  • What the Internet of Things (IoT) is and why it’s useful to know
  • Why the IoT is foundational for science’s full potential
  • What the key challenges are facing industry
  • Predecessors to IoT and current technology approaches
  • IoT case studies from Transcriptic and TetraScience – lab tools leading the way

Our panel included:

  • Umesh Katpally, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research
  • Alok Tayi, CEO and Co-founder, TetraScience
  • Yvonne Linney, CEO, Transcriptic
  • Laura Wheeler, Head of Digital Communications & Community Engagement, Digital Science

The first speaker to present, Umesh Katpally, began by giving a succinct description of the Internet of Things (IoT): A network of devices that capture and transmit data to people, software, and each other.

For people unfamiliar with IoT, a relatable example is a household connected by a string of electronic devices that are controlled by a central device like a smartphone. In the consumer market, products like Alexa are transforming households around the world by allowing users to control their homes using their voice. Umesh invited listeners to imagine a professional laboratory being controlled in the same way.

“Some of the key challenges the pharmaceutical and the bio pharmaceutical industries are facing today is the rising cost of medicines. This one challenge speaks to many underlying root causes. Rising costs of medicine include the cost of bringing medicines to market which on average totals upwards of two billion dollars.”

Umesh then went on to comment on the key challenges in research.

“Most of the time in a typical lab, your instruments don’t speak to each other. What ultimately happens is that scientists spend a lot of time on data management. On average, one hour of experimentation is almost equal to one hour of data management!”

Umesh then talked about a well-known problem in the lab – reproducibility of data. Surprisingly enough, 50% of results published are not reproducible. This costs the US about $28 billion a year. Umesh made an important reference to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and commented that having quality data can ensure AI and Machine learning can really thrive. Novartis is exploring a number of tools to better this process and prevent data silos. Umesh ended his presentation by talking through the business value IoT can provide companies and laboratories.

Speaking next was Alok Tayi, CEO and Co-founder of TetraScience. Alok started by stating the problems facing the bio-pharma industries. Large sums of money are being invested in Research & Development, yet ROI is poor. What’s more, R&D returns are consistently declining.

“Just last year about $80 billion was spent on global pharmaceutical R&D, yet only 22 new medicines came to market! This is the context in which we are looking to make an impact. From our experience as a team, what we’ve seen across the industry is that one of the fundamental underpinnings of the challenge is that there exists an ecosystem inside the laboratory.”

Unfortunately, a labs component parts don’t communicate well with each other.

Alok then made an important series of observations. Within a working laboratory, multiple scientists are required to manage data in a number of different formats – from paper notebooks to USBs, data still needs manual management. This requires time and energy and leads to a number of data silos which creates a myriad of problems.

On a more practical level, individuals also face the daily problems of running lab equipment.

The Internet of Things helps users connect to devices and data entry points.

“The Internet of Things really creates value when one combines the connectivity with a workflow innovation and a business model that is relevant to the end user.”

TetraScience delivers value in three core areas: Project execution, enterprise data and the scientific method.

Alok then gave a summary of how TetraScience have tailored IoT for science by connecting instruments with a cloud based data collection control point – all controllable through real time dashboards on your computer.

Next, Yvonne Linney, CEO of Transcriptic, delved into the ways in which Transcriptic is utilizing the IoT to create state of the art robotic laboratories that can be controlled digitally through the cloud.

“IoT enables a closed loop experimentation system where parameters can be continuously optimized based on the analysis data from previous rounds of experimentation. It’s critical to really develop the advances in experimental design.”

Yvonne then explained how Transcriptic’s robotic work cells operate and mentioned the many other functions of Transcriptic, running through the ways in which data produced by their labs is processed, removing human ambiguity in the interpretation of common lab protocols which is key to reproducibility and consistency in running experiments.

After listing the key issues that Transcriptic solves, Yvonne commented on Transcriptic’s vision for IoT, which is turning biology into an information technology. This will advance scientific research by driving down costs and facilitating collaboration and data sharing.

The webinar ended with a lively Q&A debate spearheaded by Laura Wheeler where insightful questions invoked great responses! If you would like to share your opinions about topics mentioned in the webinar, voice them using #DSwebinar. Follow @digitalsci for future webinars, podcasts and much more.


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