Friday, September 20, 2013

Biorepositories Preview: An Interview with Mark Collins, PhD. Director of Marketing at BioFortis

About the author: Alex Gelman is the Managing Partner of Poplar Partners, an investment firm looking to acquire a company in the biorepository space. Before founding Poplar Partners, I worked at KKR Capstone, the operating arm of private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis and Roberts, and at McKinsey &Co. He has an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a BA from Dartmouth College.

6th Annual BioRepository and Sample Management Conference Preview:
An Interview with Mark Collins, PhD. Director of Marketing at BioFortis

Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Mark Collins, Director of Marketing at BioFortis. As Dr. Collins told us, “I’m passionate about helping researchers use computers to help discover new drugs”. We had a fascinating conversation about just how researchers can do that and the future of bioinformatics for biorepositories.

Us: Why don’t we start off by learning a little bit about BioFortis. What exactly do you guys do?
Dr: Collins: We were a spinout of Johns Hopkins, about 10 years ago. We work in the translational research space – the idea that you can translate research from the lab or pre-clinical studies into new therapies. We are passionate about using informatics to help our customers, mainly pharma companies and biotechs, leverage their data to drive better outcomes for patients. Our software gets used in biobanking, translational and clinical studies as well as biomarker research.

Scientists now have this unprecedented ability to create data, which they’ve never had before, and research has fast become a “big data” problem. They need to think very carefully about how they are going to analyze and manage it, and that’s what we help them do, with informatics software that allows a secure, compliant and holistic view of that data, coupled to decision support tools so they can generate scientific insights.

Us: So from your perspective, what are the biggest challenges facing the biorepository industry today?
Dr. Collins: Well that depends on where you sit.

If you are a biobank, your challenges are about the ethics of biobanking and best practices for sample acquisition, storage and quality.

If you are a researcher the challenge is often access to samples. There is no real “one-stop-shop” for samples, or information about them.

If you are a pharma company, the biggest challenge is managing all the samples and their data that come in from clinical trials because more and more clinical trials are using biomarkers. Data collected about samples in clinical trials is becoming a very valuable resource for research and the highest value sample is one that you know has been collected well, is consented to, and is annotated with clinical and molecular data.

Consent information is especially important, the last thing you want as a pharma company is to submit data on samples to the FDA where patient consent isn’t clear. Our software not only helps with the operational side of tracking samples and data but also provides a harmonized way to collect disparate data and annotate it so you can query and ask questions across trials in a common kind of way.

Us: Conversely, what are the biggest opportunities?
Dr. Collins: The promise of biobanking is that by banking samples, analyzing those samples, and linking it with patient data we will be able to deliver on the promise of personalized medicine. That’s the reason people are excited about biobanks.

In the drive to personalized medicine you have to find a biomarker. And in order to find biomarkers you need to collect samples from patients. After that you need to run different analyses on the samples you collect. But it’s not just analysis on the sample. You must marry the lab analysis with patient clinical information to begin to understand and validate the biomarker.

Us: You work at a data software company. What are the biggest blindspots people have in terms of their data management and existing collection efforts?
Dr. Collins: They often underestimate the effort required for compliance. It’s very important ethically that the sample and patient data are kept secure and that patient has given consent. If you don’t have a compliant and secure system then there are a lot of tedious, manual processes, to ensuring that you meet regulatory guidelines. Additionally, if you don’t have a comprehensive, holistic view, it’s quite difficult to query the data to generate scientific insights. For example, let’s say you wanted to know “How many women in the 50-55 age group with a certain therapy have a certain biomarker”. Well to figure that you out you need to query both the sample, molecular and clinical data sources. If you don’t have a holistic view of all your data then that is very difficult to do.

The other challenge is that we live in a very connected world. Samples and processes don’t just happen inside your four walls anymore. Managing data and tracking samples when you are collaborating with 20 to 30 researchers around the globe is difficult to do with Excel and ad hoc tools that you put together in-house. You need a comprehensive system that’s secure, encourages collaboration and accessibility – a “next generation biobank” if you will!

Us: What are you most excited about at the Biorepository and Sample Management Conference in Boston?
Dr. Collins: We are excited to listen and learn more about people’s challenges in this space.

Us: Thanks Dr. Collins! See you in Boston.

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