Current Challenges, Needs, and Solutions for Molecular Diagnostics Labs

The Bio-IT World Conference & Expo in Boston is a fantastic opportunity to learn about the latest research and how it can be brought into clinical practice to improve people’s everyday lives. Every time I attend this conference, I’m excited by the potential for applying scientific discoveries at scale.

This year, the conference was the first many of us have been able to attend in person since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was not the only one who really enjoyed the chance to meet face to face again. The virtual tools work well, but meeting in person really does allow a deeper level of communication in conversations.

As usual, the most fascinating part of the event for me was discussing the innovative solutions being developed to help labs solve real-world business problems — like managing the full end-to-end lifecycle of diagnostic samples from order to result. Here are a few of the things I learned:

Common challenges for labs

Labs are still struggling to find vendors that truly understand how to implement next-generation sequencing informatics, and the question of build vs. buy always comes up in these conversations. LIMS integrations (EMR, HL7, instrument, etc.) remain a hot topic as labs look to streamline the transfer of data.

Scaling is also top of mind, with some attendees concerned about losing business to competitors because their software infrastructure isn’t robust enough to support increased throughput.

Features labs are looking for in a LIMS

When I asked attendees what features they are looking for in a LIMS, a robust API was high on the list. They want to be able to easily and flexibly integrate and connect the LIMS to other software and instruments. Also, and even more so since the beginning of the pandemic, they need to be able to support high throughput and ramp up quickly.

People mentioned that they would prefer to work with a LIMS vendor that can also provide a full range of services from the initial configuration to validation support and ongoing maintenance of implementations.

Other requests included a system that:

  • Supports CLIA and FDA validation.
  • Enables adding functionality, such as inventory control, freezer management, and clinical trial management.
  • Has a flexible hosting model.

When I talked with people about our new intelligent LIMS — Labbit — they expressed interest in its use of new, cutting-edge software technology. The graph database, for example, enables a flexible ontology and is a powerful way to represent sample history.

They were also interested to learn about the flexible entity and workflow definition and how they could use that to track more laboratory processes, such as reagent kit validation. The BPMN graphical workflow design tool was also something that piqued their interest. A final aspect that garnered a lot of attention was that the Labbit LIMS can be easily integrated with other systems, present or future, which means it can evolve and scale in step with a lab’s business.

What surprised me the most at this year’s event

A topic that came up a lot this year was the comparative value of on-premise and cloud solutions for labs. Although the debate about which is more suitable for research and clinical laboratories has swung back and forth over the past several years, for now, we seem to have reached a consensus: which type of solution is best will vary depending on a lab’s unique situation.

There really is no one-size-fits-all approach. It comes down to a number of factors, including the maturity of a lab’s business, its throughput requirements, the types of integrations needed, how responsive the lab has to be to changes in the sector, regulatory requirements, and security considerations.

If you’d like help evaluating which LIMS is the right fit for your lab or you’d like to learn more about Labbit, please get in touch.

Peter Smith is the CEO of Semaphore Solutions and has been with the company since its inception. Peter is passionate about advancing Semaphore's mission to improve global health by enabling innovative diagnostics and therapies through intelligently-designed software.