AMDeC’s next move is to offer an online comparison of costs and features of specific services. [© Radu Razvan_Fotolia.com]
It was fractiousness among New York City’s traditionally self-contained biomedical institutions that led to the creation of the Academy for Medical Development & Collaboration (AMDeC) in 1997. But as the institutions slowly began to embrace collaboration and their needs changed over the past decade or so, the consortium had to change with the times.
During the past two years, AMDeC has evolved toward more of a facilitator for shared, cost-efficient services offered by its 19 members, most of them research institutes, medical schools, hospitals, and universities in the New York region. Through its AMDeC F.I.R.S.T.™ (facilities, instrumentation, resources, services, and technologies) program, the consortium operates a web-based registry of more than 100 core facilities in AMDeC member institutions that together have close to 1,000 services and technologies. Through its Vendor Partnership Program, AMDeC offers its members discounts on items from about a dozen participating vendors, with another 10 prospective vendors in talks.
In addition to meeting member needs, the shift to service collaborations allows AMDeC to tap into a new source of revenue that will leave it less dependent on the ups and downs of chasing government funds, especially from New York state, Maria K. Mitchell, Ph.D., AMDeC’s president and CEO, admitted to GEN.
The consortium’s next step in its makeover takes place this Friday, January 20, when AMDeC goes live with two service upgrades to AMDeC F.I.R.S.T. The program will begin offering an online comparison of costs and features of specific services. Also, AMDeC will launch a concierge service connecting buyers to the products and services they want.
Early Initiatives’ Focus on Alliances
Among member academic institutions offering products and services through AMDeC is Rutgers University. The Rutgers University Cell and DNA Repository (RUCDR), located for the past 15 years on the university’s Busch campus in Piscataway, NJ, takes in about 250,000 new clinical samples and distributes about 1 million samples each year, making it the world’s largest cell and DNA repository.
DNA samples from the RUCDR collection are available to AMDeC members at discount. The consortium also stores at RUCDR the samples from more than 18,000 New Yorkers collected by AMDeC between 2000 and 2002 through its New York Cancer Project, one of the world’s largest nondisease related cohorts of diverse ethnic and racial populations living in a single metropolitan area.
“What the AMDeC collection now represents is the New York Cancer Project, and what was the basis of the New York Cancer Project is really a very rich resource that can be used as genetic controls, not just for cancer, but for a variety of other diseases as well,” Andrew I. Brooks, Ph.D., RUCDR COO, told GEN.
RUCDR facilitates about $2 billion in NIH research and houses repositories for five NIH institutes. Those institutes, Dr. Brooks noted, devote most of their collection resources to finding samples for the disease they are studying; finding control samples is more of a challenge, but one that the repository can help address.
The cancer project was among early initiatives of AMDeC, which also:
- united nearly 30 institutions into a single group that in 2003 won a $45 million NIH grant toward the Northeast Biodefense Center (NBC). In 2009, the group was approved for a $46 million, five-year grant renewal;
- established a bioinformatics core research facility housed at Columbia University’s Genome Center and later subsumed within that center; and
- joined five institutions with five schools to recruit more than 700 children to explore the genetic predisposition to type 2 diabetes and create programs for schools aimed at reducing obesity and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the ROAD (reducing obesity and diabetes) project.
“I think we made a big difference, really fostered a lot of collaborative efforts. But over the last two years, our members’ needs really changed. They were looking at ways to create revenue and save money. So we shifted gears and began looking at ways that we could help them,” Dr. Mitchell recalled. “We have moved on from those kinds of collaborative projects to doing the kinds of things we’re doing now, to service much more of the larger institutions as a whole in terms of efficiencies, effectiveness, creating relationships, and connecting academia with industry.”
Push to Help Buyers
In June 2010, the consortium launched AMDeC F.I.R.S.T., which offers detailed listings and information for core services, instrumentation, and core technology infrastructure at AMDeC member institutions. Also that year, AMDeC rolled out its vendor partnership program, which has grown to the current 11 announced companies: Access Staffing, Acumenta, Agilent Technologies, BioStorage Technologies, iLab Solutions, NuGEN Technologies, PerkinElmer, Qiagen, SigmaAldrich, strategicplanningMD, and Xiacon.
AMDeC credits the vendor program with saving members about $4 million. The newest vendor in the program, Acumenta, announced January 5 that it is offering its Literature Lab data mining software at a “substantial” discount and has invited AMDeC members to submit a gene list data set to Acumenta for complimentary analysis. “We are looking at a larger purchasing initiative where we use our consortial buying power to buy more in the way of consumables,” Dr. Mitchell explained.
Referring to the upgrades being launched later this week, which will help buyers compare products and services and connect with vendors, Dr. Mitchell noted, “It’s going to allow us much better information to understand who’s using the site and why.
“Our plan moving forward from there is to be able to do everything online, so that you can actually buy and sell services online, and we are looking at creating an e-commerce business out of that, so that there’s actual revenue from this site. It will allow biotech companies to buy from academia directly.” Just how much revenue AMDeC hopes to generate has not been finalized, Dr. Mitchell said.
“We’re looking at an average of 20% capacity at each of the core labs,” Dr. Mitchell added. “We’re looking at revenue for each institution, which will depend on the number of core labs they have, the amount of excess capacity, and then some percentage of that that will go to AMDeC to further the research.”
Plans to Expand
AMDeC is not the only consortium to offer discounted access to life sciences services and products for members. In the San Francisco Bay Area and northern California, members of BayBio offer a variety of services to other members through its Member-to-Member program. The group also joins with the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) and 14 vendors to offer discounts on products and services through the program BayBio Business Solutions: BioSurplus. For example, it offers a 7.5% credit or 3.5% rebate on annual used lab equipment purchases.
AMDeC is looking to expand its membership, if not its focus, beyond the New York region going forward. “We’ll focus on the tri-state area, but we’ve had some interest from places around D.C. and out west,” Dr. Mitchell said. “For the kinds of things we’re doing, geography isn’t essential. Doing things online, taking advantage of purchases, arrangements, all of that surpasses geography.”
If AMDeC expands beyond the New York area, it may be as much a response to the increasingly global outlook of prospective vendors as it might be to demand from members, which also have to look beyond their own borders these days. AMDeC has correctly surmised that its future lies not in goading local institutions toward working together but in linking its members to lower-cost services and products.
In embracing the member services market, AMDeC will have to decide how much it wants to compete with BayBio and the other 42 state and regional life sci groups that have joined with BIO in its BIO Business Solutions discount products and services program. The 43 include the two main biotech groups in the states that surround D.C., Maryland, and Virginia; seven West Coast groups including all four from California; and, in AMDeC’s backyard, the New York Biotechnology Association (NYBA) and New Jersey’s BioNJ.
While BIO Business Solutions may have deals on equipment and services, it has not sought to find users for the excess capacity of core research labs, as AMDeC has done successfully. That may be more of a focus for the consortium to consider if it goes ahead with growing beyond New York, since the D.C. and West Coast areas have plenty of labs that could use and thus might embrace an expanded F.I.R.S.T. registry.