The Sequence of Things to Come in Australian Genomics

by Jonathan Gannoulis on March 2, 2015 in Genomics
Sequence of things to come in Australia

Australia has given the rest of the world such colorful figures as Steve Irwin and Crocodile Dundee. Vibrant, irrepressible, and dynamic—these characters seem to embody the Australian spirit. Vibrant, irrepressible, and dynamic are three words that could also be used to describe the state of genomics in Australia.

Jonathan Gannoulis, OnQ Software

Jonathan Gannoulis, OnQ Software

I work at OnQ Software, a developer and distributor of IT solutions that support the life sciences industry in Australia and Asia. We developed our flagship product, QLIMS, many years ago, but we also actively distribute BaseSpace Clarity LIMS, GenoLogics’ solution designed specifically for organizations using –omics technologies. As an active player in lab informatics for the last 20 years, OnQ has a unique perspective on the dynamism happening in genomics in Australia.  The sector is at an inflection point. We’ve established ourselves as a key player in life sciences and genomics, but what is next? In this blog, I discuss where we’ve been and what genomics labs in Australia need in order to succeed.

Since the global financial crisis in 2008, the life sciences industry in Australia has endured its ups and downs. A number of companies folded. Yet we have witnessed many startups emerge, hoping to take advantage of what economists and industry analysts think will be a mini-boom in the industry, fueled by less skeptical investors.1

New funding invigorates activity, but genomics organizations are getting mixed messages from government.  Two initiatives – one involving rebates for research and development and one involving favorable tax rules for life sciences investors – were canceled.2

Despite economic stalls and strong competition for limited funding, we have a dearth of leading scientists, researchers, and clinicians who flood the space with innovation. The Garvan Institute is a perfect example.  As a leader in translational and clinical genomics, they work to understand, diagnose, and treat diseases that negatively impact human health. Their affiliated Kinghorn Centre for Clinical Genomics is using Illumina’s HiSeq X™ Ten to sequence whole human genomes at factory scale and translate findings into better patient care.  Australia is also home to large sequencing service provider Australian Genome Research Facility (AGRF), the Institute for Molecular Biosciences, Peter MacCallum Canter Centre, biotechnology giant CSL, and countless others.  The approximate 93 bio-related companies are valued at well over 50 billion dollars.  These life sciences organizations shine: the Australian Life Science Index consistently outperforms the NASDAQ Composite Index.3

Australia is also known for being a relatively low cost geography for conducting leading edge science, and it is blessed with an effective and transparent regulatory system. In fact, many biotech and pharma companies from abroad first launch trials in Australia because it is more straightforward than dealing with the regulatory bodies in their own geographies.

Indeed, Australia has much in its favor. What could possibly hold us back?  It’s not the lack of innovation. Better access to genomics technologies enables labs to sequence whole genomes and conduct a battery of tests at unprecedented rates. Cost and access no longer seem to be the issue. However, scalability, accuracy, and managing the alignment between the laboratory and IT are. Labs must learn to scale to new throughputs, manage a high volume of data and manage them as they move through their lab ecosystem. How can genomics labs do this? They must:

  1. Gain oversight and control of their entire sample pipeline. Having an infallible method to track samples from receipt to result saves time and reduces errors.
  2. Automate as many tasks and processes as they can to save time and reduce the potential for human error.
  3. Develop a method to manage change caused by new instrumentation or workflows and make the change as harmonious as possible.
  4. Understand and plan for the large amount of data generated by modern genomics instruments.
  5. Learn to master multiple environments, since one of the key requirements of the burgeoning market is to run research projects alongside clinical ones.
  6. Have a plan to move to a clinical environment if their business dictates it.
  7. Use only those tools that integrate or are capable of integrating with upstream and downstream lab systems and that enable collaboration  with other scientists, researchers, and customers.
  8. Increase the overall efficiency of their labs by monitoring instrument performance, managing lots and reagents, and moving the sample pipeline along.
  9. Find ways to quickly implement and adopt new systems. Systems under consideration should be easy to use and have not only on-premise, but hosted or SaaS options as well.
  10. Adopt best practices and enforce them throughout the lab. Consistency, quality, and accuracy can never be underestimated.

The best way to tackle this list is with laboratory informatics, or LIMS. Genomics labs that understand this have a head start when it comes to scaling to new technologies and aligning lab and IT resources. BaseSpace Clarity LIMS is my pick for any lab working with genomics technologies. For more information about how it can help your lab, contact GenoLogics.

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