The quest for personalized medicine adds to the complexity of today’s scientific questions. Drug discovery efforts require access to larger arrays of biosamples, and demand is exceeding supply, fueling the growth of the biobanking market.
“Humans are inherently variable, which is good for evolution but bad for drug discovery. More samples equal more reliable results. However, cost and ease of access tend to limit the number of samples used,” explained Paul Whittaker, Ph.D., director and unit head for preclinical biomarkers, respiratory disease area, Novartis.
Experts met at SMi Group’s recent biobanking conference to discuss the challenges the industry faces, from supply issues, standards development, and sample tracking across multiple organizations to potential uses for banked clinical trial samples.
Sources for human material are increasing, ranging from those that provide postmortem material, such as the International Institute for the Advancement of Medicine (IIAM), to consortia that provide samples from living donors with specific diseases, such as the Lung Tissue Research Consortium. Depending on source, varying amounts of donor information are supplied with the human materials.
The Medical Research Council and Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry COPD consortium aims to identify more homogeneous groups of patients using extensive and standardized clinical and physiological testing.
“The term ‘well-phenotyped’ could mean an exhaustive list of clinical, physiological, and molecular parameters that would maximize use of human tissue for a range of experimental uses, or it could be a more restrictive set of parameters that are highly relevant to the particular hypothesis being tested,” continued Dr. Whittaker.
“For some lung diseases, like interstitial pulmonary fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, there is good access to high-quality, well-annotated material, and for others, such as pulmonary arterial hypertension, academic collaborations are the main way to access material.
“It is clear that no one biobank can meet all the needs for biomedical research and that biobank networks will be necessary to make collections more widely available.”
An exciting development is the emergence of virtual biobanking, where companies provide a single point of access to a range of biospecimens. Using networks of ethical sources, they find the tissues required to the specifications provided by the requester, and then deliver them to the requester. This streamlines the procurement of tissue and benefits all parties.