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MedImmune: Innovation through Implementation

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As the global biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca, MedImmune is a pioneering force with a robust and innovative pipeline of more than 120 clinical and pre-clinical programmes. Founded in 1988, this global presence is characterised by agility and the speed of its cross-functional methods of working to deliver medicines to patients with unmet medical needs. Among its many notable achievements, the company developed the first and only live intranasal quadrivalent flu vaccine, the first and only FDA-approved medication to help protect high-risk babies’ lungs from severe respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) disease, and the first FDA-approved monoclonal antibody for an infectious disease. 

In order to continue to deliver on its remit of advancing the field of biopharmaceuticals, it’s critical that MedImmune remain at the height of innovation – but what exactly does that mean? According to Simon Marriott, Senior R&D Business Analyst at MedImmune, it means looking at what’s been done before and then carefully considering how can it be done differently, simplified or improved. ‘It’s about painting a picture of the future and finding the best way to bring people with you on that journey,’ he said. ‘I know that many in the industry say the pace of change is fast, but from a personal perspective there are times when it seems to crawl. We always have that desire to make change happen faster and that’s a driving force behind what we do.’ 

Implementing change is not always easy, however; in fact there is a great deal of risk involved when significant changes are made to how companies operate, especially in very highly regulated industries. But as Michael Gammons, previous project lead at MedImmune, asserted: ‘Innovation is stifled when standards are put in place that hinder free thinking that challenges the status quo. Standards have their place, however most innovation occurs by not playing by standards.’ 

Marriott agreed, adding that often the biggest hurdle is not conceiving the idea, nor building it, but in its adoption. Complex science – and indeed the scientists themselves – is rooted in the day-to-day and so it’s necessary to challenge people and their expectations in order to move forward. User engagement across domains therefore has to be a critical decision from the beginning.  

MedImmune set out to build a team and working environment that would foster the creation of new ideas. This can often be dependent upon the functionality of the informatics resources available to the broad spectrum of teams working across an organisation, and so several criteria had to be met. These included the provision of a simplified and intuitive system that offered easily accessible tools. Common yet simplified environments needed to be provided for certain information types and data flows, and, perhaps most crucially, information had to be quickly and easily accessible no matter where it was stored. Essentially, there had to be a focus on the human-centric provisioning of data. 

When dealing with data at the level of diversity familiar to MedImmune, a requirement of any effective informatics solution is that it be tailored to the specific scientific processes involved. Scientists, along with the project team and supporting stakeholders, were involved in every step of the solution’s procurement and deployment including research, development, legal, clinical manufacturing, and quality. According to the team, the continuous feedback ensured that everyone felt like they were participating in the process, rather than being handed a platform that some unknown entity was pushing onto them. This tight collaboration drove a focus on simplicity creating time for the scientists to focus on science, enhanced with a new ability to find information from any stage of the R&D pipeline. 

Much like MedImmune itself, the chosen platform doesn’t conform to standard approaches. The adaptability of the BIOVIA Biologics Solution made it the ideal choice and the level of flexibility offered has enabled MedImmune to deploy an Electronic Laboratory Notebook (ELN) from early stage discovery research all the way through to testing for clinical manufacturing. The BIOVIA Workbook ELN supports in vivo and in vitro experimentation for everything from biologics, target identification and validation, and assay development, to screening, drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics (DMPK), toxicology, and bio-analytical experimentation.

MedImmune has additionally deployed the ELN on mobile devices, enabling the company to challenge the standard of how work was previously being recorded, and to introduce new ways of working within the lab. The drive towards optimisation doesn’t end there, as Marriott explained: ‘Now that the scientists have become used to this change, it’s time for us to challenge them again by showing how the ELN can become a unifying platform that can link information across the organisation which had not been joined together before.’ 

The broader BIOVIA Biologics Solution itself offers a suite of capabilities supported by a common and mature platform. The documentation of experiments is supported, and all scientific and quality data generated throughout the process can be easily managed, analysed and shared. Designed to overcome barriers to process efficiency and innovation, the solution aids the discovery of biotherapeutic candidates. In addition, the overall workflow becomes optimised, boosting efficiencies throughout the pipeline. Projects and collaborations between various groups can be tracked in real-time, and integrated or linked data models can be shared with a range of systems, including sample management systems, assay management systems, process management and manufacturing systems, and regulatory and compliance systems. Among the many tools the solution provides is the ability to analyse sequence annotation and activity data together, manage high volumes of sequence and cell line data, process and understand high volume antibody sequence data, and rapidly customise workflows. 

Medimmune’s vision of the future is also one that focuses on visual analytics and complex information modelling, and the bringing together of data so that decisions can be made in real time. The company foresees a rise in 3D data visuals that will enable tangible interactions with data, and the goal at present is to tackle the concept of intuitive tools so that scientists can focus on the human intelligence element of science and decrease the need for non-value-added tasks via labour alone. 

MedImmune is building a technology hub formed around accessibility within the laboratory space and the development of external partnerships that challenge the way its many teams think. The company’s strength and innovation comes from disrupting perceived practices, and it’s that unique approach that is proving to be its formula for success. 

 

Meet the Team

Rick Bishop:                     Senior Director, R&D-IS

Mike Gammons:               Director, R&D-IS Business Management (now CIO and VP at Sucampo)

YingPing Zhang:               R&D Programme Director

Duane Mixon:                   Senior Manager R&D Business Analysis

Dorian Zoumplis:              R&D Manager Science and Strategy

Simon Marriott:                Senior R&D Business Analyst

David Lemanski:               R&D Solution Architect