For this month’s “Company Spotlight” blog series we are reviewing Genohm with an interview with Nick Beckloff, Director of US Operations at Genohm. Genohm is a 50-person company headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland. I took this opportunity to learn more about Genohm, and SLIMS (Sample Laboratory Information Management System), their sample and data management software offering intended to address today’s challenges of managing the sample and data throughput in clinical, NGS, and other types of labs.
The following summarizes questions and answers from my dialogue with Nick Beckloff.
EB: Tell us more about Genohm – what need are you trying to address and what products/services do you offer?
NB: Genohm’s mission is to reduce the complexity of life in the lab by offering a software package that distills the important aspects of a LIMS while providing functionality across many relevant spectra. We offer a flexible and customizable solution called SLIMS that addresses the laboratory sample and data management needs found in all fields of science. Additionally, our software can be highly customized to meet our customer’s specific needs, either via their own IT resources or via our company customization services.
NB: Our SLIMS platform is super flexible and goes far beyond sample tracking and data entry. Besides tracking the sample meta-data we also enable inventory tracking for studies, orders, reagents, reports, and more. Our system has a built-in electronic lab notebook (ELN) that allows users to perform digital note taking and linking of their samples, as well as their respective data, to current versions of their protocols. As a result of having all of that information in one location the papers and lab reports practically write themselves. In addition to the many features provided, the platform’s framework is built atop a modern coding stack that supports easier integration with other hardware and external systems.
EB: You are calling SLIMS a digital Team Member for any lab – who are you targeting to use the SLIMS Suite? What applications is it used for?
NB: Our platform is designed for anyone who wants control of the data in their lab, beginning from initial order to the final report. We believe your LIMS should bend to your needs and not the other way around. Since the SLIMS platform is technologically agnostic it can support all types of technology platforms and customer workflows. This is reflected in the myriad of clients currently using SLIMS across the many areas of the life sciences, both in research and clinical settings. This includes biobanks, medical device companies, genomics testing companies, and even water treatment facilities. A prominent example is the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), a leading technology university in Switzerland, which currently uses our platform to manage samples and data for all of the labs across the entire school.
EB: When selecting a LIMS solution, users have a choice between an off-the-shelf product or one that requires customization to the specific laboratory needs. Since both options require implementation time to get the system up and running, what is the advantage of either approach?
NB: The LIMS market has evolved in the last 15 years as software engineering standards have greatly improved. Building a LIMS from scratch was often a luxury for those that could afford it. Nowadays, the implementation and deployment times for complete custom systems can take a long time that standards change before the system is completed. As COTS products became available in the market they were easy to deploy but often lacked the ability to scale with the customer needs leaving them looking for yet another solution. With SLIMS we aim to hit the sweet spot by providing our users the most important functionality for their lab, via our core package, which includes configuration control out of the box. If our customers have customization needs they are welcome to use one of the multiple APIs to add functionality. And if need be, Genohm’s expert help can be added to customize SLIMS for specific internal workflow setups. The advantage of SLIMS is that it can greatly reduce set-up time. This can be achieved whether adding a new LIMS or a new workflow, through a combination of our COTS products and pre-designed applications provided via our app store. This still allows the important components to be tailored to customers preferences.
EB: Genohm is a European company that is currently in the process of actively entering the US market – how does Genohm differentiate itself from other players in the US market? What are some of the advantages when using SLIMS as a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS)? Who are some prominent European customers of SLIMS and how has it simplified their processes?
NB: Genohm has a major advantage from the software engineering side as the company’s founders were IT consultants in the health care space prior to starting the company. The experience and knowledge they possess allowed them to build a stable and scalable framework for the platform. Having seen how the market has shifted also allowed them to develop a roadmap to focus on the areas that have clearly become difficult for others in the vendor space. Unfortunately, providing a flexible product that offers solutions across multiple fields of science and technology makes the competitive landscape less clear-cut, and consequently more difficult to navigate as we compete against companies who offer more specialized products for a single purpose (e.g. software dedicated solely to a singular solution aka a Best of Breed solution). The few competitors that exist in our space build solutions that are based on older and more expensive systems that require complete customization by the company. So far, we have not identified any companies that offer the same flexible, yet customizable platform Genohm offers.
Besides the EPFL we also have numerous Swiss and Belgian hospitals who use our platform to handle their biobanking and clinical lab efforts. These include the CHUV (Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois), the entire research network of the Swiss National Center of Competence Research (NCCR) Kidney Stone Cohort, and the UZA tumor bank at the hospital in Antwerp. All of these institutions can manage their external requests, sample submission, sample processing, and data aggregation in our single Genohm SLIMS environment without the need for multiple pieces of software. Some of our prominent, overseas biobanking customers include the Qatar Biobank which is currently banking and managing the samples and data of their entire country’s personalized medicine research effort.
EB: SLIMS integrates with external analysis platforms for next-generation sequencing (NGS) laboratories: Does SLIMS, beyond sample management, also manage NGS data, analysis workflows, and help execute sequence data analyses?
NB: Yes, this capability is offered via one of two available APIs (RESTful JAVA and Python). Along with our built-in data analysis module SLIMS can execute programs for everything from sample de-multiplexing to downstream analysis, retrieving the data once the workflow has finished. Additionally, the system can also be configured to record and report the locations of the stored sample data on a local network drive.
EB: Besides the demonstrated GenePattern Integration, does SLIMS support customization and integration of custom NGS data analysis modules and pipelines?
NB: Yes, out of the box SLIMS is also built with support for Galaxy and R Bioconductor Additional integrations can be added using one of the two available APIs.
EB: A cloud-based solution may be required with increasing volumes of data. SLIMS is currently not cloud-based – will you eventually offer it as a cloud implementation?
NB: Indeed yes. The first cloud-based version of SLIMS is slated to be launched in early 2018 and a full cloud-based implementation will most likely follow late 2018/early 2019.
EB: Clinical research and diagnostics labs around the globe are currently deploying a variety of NGS applications. What are some of the biggest hurdles and challenges for streamlining NGS sample management and analysis, and how can we overcome them?
NB: The NGS market is very dynamic based on the ever-changing technology landscape and the increasing volumes of data being produced. Keeping up with hardware integrations can be very challenging as every 16-22 months a new sequencer is being released with its own ecosystem of library preparation and QC equipment. This poses a challenge for everyone, laboratories and vendors alike. Even though there is a plethora of vendors in the NGS field, it turns out the workflows have remained fairly standard, while the way labs operate always introduces some subtle variations. Consequently, we at Genohm work hard to keep our platform as flexible as possible. The biggest challenge for streamlining NGS is keeping track of the ever increasing volume of data being produced while making sure our product can keep up with the ever-changing standards. Our partnership with Qiagen has been instrumental, and building the software to support Qiagen’s GeneReader platform taught us a lot about designing and deploying better integrations for NGS-based laboratories and equipment applicable to future versions of our software.
Life in the lab is already challenging enough, and at the end of the day people deserve better engineered products to support their work. As more and more processes turn digital we hope that our product can help make a positive impact for lab teams around the globe.