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Forging links to form the LIMS team

A New Year flurry of activity among LIMS vendors has resulted in some interesting developments, many of them cooperative in nature. As expected, the biosciences continue to hog the limelight. LIMS suppliers have never been more tuned in to the needs of pharmaceutical, biotechnological and drug discovery researchers. In fact there is something of a mass metamorphosis underway among suppliers keen to redefine themselves within this lucrative market. Their offerings are evolving accordingly and often this evolution benefits from collaboration with other suppliers in the field.

The success of their strategies is illustrated by a host of announcements from major LIMS suppliers, congratulating themselves on selling new licences to large pharmaceutical companies. But this article does not set out to list which companies are selling their products: after all, that's what we expect them to do. Instead it will highlight key developments and alliances that will make a difference to potential new users.

One such alliance is that between LabVantage Solutions (which now terms itself a provider of Scientific Information Production solutions for drug discovery) and CambridgeSoft Corporation.

CambridgeSoft produces the chemical software packages ChemOffice (which includes ChemDraw), ChemOffice WebServer and ChemACX (for chemical procurement), but like many others has redefined itself as a life science software company and also now boasts an inventory management LIMS in its portfolio.

LabVantage is integrating the CambridgeSoft suite with its Sapphire Informatics software and has also agreed to resell CambridgeSoft's software. The result for users is the ability to 'fully leverage the chemical and biological compound library registration processes' and 'streamline the compound and chemical order process,' say the companies - in other words, to manage laboratory information from the perspectives of both chemical and biological data through a single platform.

Meanwhile, document management within the lab is the focus of an agreement between QUMAS of Ireland, a provider of Enterprise Compliance Management (ECM) solutions for regulated industries, and Workshare Technology, a supplier of document change management (DCM) software. The companies have formed an alliance that will enable the seamless integration of Workshare's document comparison technology, Workshare DeltaView, with QUMAS's regulatory document control system DocCompliance.

The companies expect the alliance to benefit life sciences organisations by improving effi- ciency during electronic routing, review, and approval of regulatory documents, and therefore to ease the burden of dealing with regulatory compliance.

On a smaller scale, LabSoft has announced a partnership for the medical market with an organisation called Global Med Technologies - specifically its Wyndgate Technologies division, which serves the 'blood management industry'. The new deal will result in a seamless interface between Wyndgate's specialised blood bank software module SafeTrace and LabSoft's laboratory information systems (LIS) software.

Linking activities
LabVantage has been doing other deals, for example to enable greater linking to its software (another ongoing trend). LimsLinkPlus, instrument-interfacing software from Labtronics, now fully integrates any laboratory instrument with LabVantage's Sapphire and LVL products. The new release also introduces new features that increase data security and improve runtime automation.

'LimsLinkPlus v3.1 offers users of Sapphire and LVL software their most secure and fully integrated instrument interfacing platform ever,' said Mike DeWitte of Labtronics. The main new feature in the release is the introduction of an e-signature option, according to the company. This can be configured to challenge the user to revalidate their identity before selected operations are carried out. All challenges and their responses, successful or not, are automatically recorded in the audit trail. Additional security enhancements have also been introduced to the existing Password, Audit Trail and Archiving functions.

The companies have also collaborated on LimsLinkCDSPlus, another interfacing solution, this time designed to provide secure, bi-directional communication between LabVantage Sapphire and LVL solutions and any Chromatography Data System. More news on the connectivity front comes from ThermoLabSystems, which has released the latest version of SM-IP21, integration software for interfacing its SampleManager enterprise LIMS and Aspen Technology's Infoplus21 process information management system.

SM-IP21, aimed at quality control in process engineering applications, was developed by Thermo LabSystems' business partner, Orbis Information Systems, an Irish-based systems integrator specialising in the integration of plant and laboratory applications into the wider enterprise. This latest release of SM-IP21 offers an upgraded architecture and a number of enhancements to help optimise plant production. It also now supports highly complex integration transactions.

The Web makes its usual appearance with the announcement from CequeLogic that its Element DataSystem LIMS offers simple, browser-based reporting to a company's clients with the addition of Element Web. This is an add-on module that offers a simple and secure means to access status and results reporting via a Web browser.

'This is the first program in a multiphase release where users will eventually be able to do much more than simply reporting on results or verifying that samples are logged in,' said Buddy Wilson, CTO and cofounder of CequeLogic.

PerkinElmer Instruments is also exploiting the Web with the launch of its Labworks LIMS User Site. The Web site supports the fully integrated Labworks LIMS and includes functions such as application-specific user training videos, online documentation, frequently asked questions, and message boards.

'This innovative online offering maximises laboratory productivity by providing immediate access to important LIMS training and problem solving information at any time,' said David Spaight, VP of product management for PerkinElmer.

Interesting integration
It is worth returning to product integration, for there is a variety of activity in this area involving different types of deals. For example, LeadScope has sold a licence for its LeadScope Enterprise chemoinformatics platform to Amphora Discovery Corporation.

Amphora wants to use the LeadScope software in the design and development of its own chemical genomics database. LeadScope provides medicinal chemists, toxicologists, biochemists and computational chemists with a common platform to share data throughout the drug discovery process. At its core is a patented chemical substructural hierarchy used for analysing, organising and accessing discovery data.

'LeadScope Enterprise provides us with a unique cheminformatics platform for use in the development of our chemical genomics database,' said C. Nicholas Hodge, a founder and Vice President at Amphora.

'The chemical hierarchy, fingerprinting, and advanced informatics and statistics are extremely useful technologies for designing the Amphora Compound Library and analysing structure-activity data.'

Amphora is new, and has been created with the intention of building a comprehensive database of information articulating the action of a large chemical library on thousands of therapeutic targets. It is intended that the Amphora database will provide a map of the molecular features of potential new drugs and how they affect their targets.

The company says it will represent the first, comprehensive chemical genomics knowledge set, detailing the interactions of small molecules with a broad array of gene products.

Another deal between a pharmaceuticals and a cheminformatics company is that between ChemNavigator and Alydar Pharmaceuticals. This is interesting for its nature rather than the potential technology outcomes - and could be a sign of agreements to come.

The companies have entered into a one-year 'cheminformatics services' agreement, with the option to extend to a second year, which involves active and ongoing computational analysis of client data on the part of the supplier - i.e. not just sales and installation. Under the agreement, ChemNavigator will perform extensive cheminformatics analysis on Alydar's 'Pheromics' library to help pinpoint the therapeutic potential of the compounds described within it (termed 'infochemicals').

To this end, ChemNavigator will use its iResearch system and its ChemGuide content databases to perform several billion chemical-structure analyses of compounds in Alydar's Pheromics library, using the chemical structure records in ChemNavigator's content databases, which number more than two million. ChemNavigator will also continue to monitor the external cheminformatics data landscape over the term of the agreement and notify Alydar when new information relevant to their library becomes available.

'Our goal in this agreement is to quickly enhance the scientific knowledge surrounding Alydar's infochemicals in order to assist them in expediting the drug discovery process,' said Scott Hutton, president and CEO of ChemNavigator.

On top of deals, alliances and collaborations there are a few LIMS upgrades also worth including. LabVantage Solutions has upgraded its Sapphire LIMS to version 3.1, so that it now supports Microsoft SQL Server 2000.

Labtronics has also been busy: on top of the linking software upgrades mentioned earlier it has released new versions of its CEbased data acquisition products Collect CE and BalanceTalk CE.

Collect CE uses a pocket PC to collect instrument data into any Windows CEbased application and is said to be ideal for interfacing instruments such as pH meters, bar-code readers, force gauges, digital callipers and spectrophotometers. BalanceTalk CE collects balance data into any Windows CE-based application. It interfaces with most balances and includes Pocket Excel spreadsheet templates for specific weighing applications such as sieving, moisture analysis and Total Suspended Solids (TSS) calculations. Both new releases expand the number of compatible Windows CE devices to include the Casio E-125, the Casio E-500, the Compaq iPaq, the HP Jornada 52x series and the HP Jornada 54x series.

Beckman Coulter, meanwhile, has released LabManager iLIMS version 9.1 with a view to helping with regulatory requirements. This new version includes capabilities for full 21 CFR Part 11 compliance, which allow electronic signature support on each page. Also supported are session locking, and noti- fication and termination after break-in attempts and signature failures. The company says LabManager iLIMS also provides significant improvements to audit trail on sample data, activities, system configuration changes and electronic signature.

Finally, V9.20 of StarLIMS is out and is said to offer significant enhancements in functionality. Improvements have been based on ongoing communications with the international StarLIMS user community. V9 Supports thin or thick client implementations, as well as multi-site organisations working with a central database. Furthermore, StarLIMS V9.20 now supports Microsoft Windows XP.

All this just goes to show that we weren't far wrong in predicting more partnerships, alliances and support for regulatory and linking requirements - particularly in the life sciences - last time around. Expect yet more of the same for some time to come.

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