I didn’t really fit into the company I was in before, so firstly, I think to enjoy any role the people you work with are important. Realistically, I probably spend more time speaking with my colleagues than I do my own wife and kids, so having great colleagues definitely makes Scimcon enjoyable.
Secondly, the challenges within the role are exciting. Whenever you start a new contract – as we do regularly, supporting clients in pharma and biopharma – there is either an implementation project that needs carrying out, or an issue that needs resolving. Sometimes, the task at hand is not something I am directly familiar with or have the exact experience doing, but that makes it a challenge. And it’s the challenge that I enjoy.
In my prior role, we partnered with Scimcon on a number of projects. I had been involved in building a platform for our mutual client and when they needed to take the project forward, they needed someone to train, support, and project manage the implementation of the project software. It seemed a no-brainer for me to join the consultancy team at Scimcon, and to continue to support the project and the client to help them to progress. The transition into Scimcon was seamless, and I later moved from that initial project within the vaccines space onto a biotech company in the Netherlands, whom I have been supporting on e-systems.
My background helps me to bring people and team skills into play, so I am very suited to the Scimcon way of working, to support clients and to manage processes, SOPs, digital, and software projects for scientific companies. The client I am supporting currently was initially reluctant to appoint a lab informatics consultancy that was not local, and questions were raised as to whether or not we could perform the role from the UK without impacting the level of support we provide. As a test run, we were initially only working on a 3-month contract. Their processes are crucial to the business scale-up and growth, and our experience with other big pharma organisations has come into play helping them to navigate the decisions needed. I think we successfully demonstrated to them that it is feasible to be productive offering great support from the UK – so much so that the original 3-month project is now 30 months.
Every child has a hobby growing up, and of course in England, playing sports is probably one of the most popular activities. For me, football was my favourite pastime which evolved into more than just a hobby. It actually paved a pathway for all areas of my life.
What started out as a recreational game became a profession, as I left school at 16 to become a full-time football player, At 20, when my professional playing career finished, football again opened a window of opportunity to move to Southern California and coach football for 3 months. I returned 12 years later!
At 27, football again paid for my University education at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, where I was sponsored via a soccer scholarship to study Business and Finance. I had never even enjoyed school, never mind imagined studying at University, but football provided a unique opportunity that was too good to refuse.
During my senior year at University, while coaching football in Denver during the summer, I was introduced to my fiancé Sarah who had also – coincidentally – attended University in the USA on a football scholarship. She was almost in a parallel to me, only she was based in Florida while I was on the total opposite side of the country in California.
Sarah and I had our first child then returned to the UK shortly after, where we now have four sons – aged 10, 7, 5, and 1. Our 10 and 7-year-olds are, like their mum and dad, football-mad, so we spend our weekends travelling to watch them play. Our 5-year-old is starting to get the bug, and we are yet to see if football is something our youngest warms to, but I can’t see the apple falling too far from the tree.
I still spend every day at some sort of football activity. Both our older boys are at the football academies so they each have 3-4 days a week training and playing. Football remains our outside-of-work life, having brought us together all those years ago.
And with the skills I learned at university, studying business and finance, as well as the team skills associated with playing sport, I am well placed to bring team leadership to the Scimcon family, and to focus on the best tactics and teams to work on a winning side.
Southern California was my home for 12 years, and having attended University in San Diego, that would be my obvious choice. We have a lot of friends and happy memories there, and we love the area – and the food!
We made the decision to return to UK as a family when we had the boys, for the support network of close family and friends. As I have been working from home for so many years anyway, personally my life hardly changed. However, it was a terrible impact for the boys. For any young kids, that transitional age and loss of companionship has been a huge negative experience. Luckily, the boys are pretty resilient and seemed to have bounced back into the new normal without any issues.
Funnily enough, I am not really a techie! I use a PC and a phone, but not much else.
Even though I don’t spend a great deal of time on gadgets and gizmos, I love the knowledge and benefits you can see from technology. For example, having spent so many of my formative years playing and coaching football, I am now still involved with my sons and their training and I see the technology to hand, which was never available when I was playing in the US. It’s absolutely fascinating, and there’s two pieces of tech in particular that I’m seeing used regularly at my sons’ training and matches. One is a Veo sports camera, which follows the ball and records the play, the other is an APEX GPS tag. This handy piece of kit is worn in the back of my son’s shirt when he’s playing, and all the data collected throughout the match is recorded on a smartphone, recording metrics such as speed, average position, and provides an overall performance review.
It’s amazing to see two of my previously completely separate worlds – football and technology – coming together, and it is really interesting to see how this technology is enabling football. As a coach, it also allows me to see and read the data available, so that we can then determine what is needed to improve in a game.
Scimcon is not a technology company, it is a people company that helps to solve the technology challenges for our clients, whether they be implementation, process or project-related. I am happy that I am not a techie, but very much a team and a people-person who can always learn and bring new skills to the table.The role of AI and ML in the future of lab informatics?
A few months ago I read an article on bioprocess 4.0, which discusses how combining AI and ML with extensive sensor data collected during biopharmaceutical manufacturing could deliver constant real-time adjustments, promising better process consistency, quality and safety.
This led to a discussion with some of my colleagues about what the future of Lab Informatics could look like when vendors start to integrate AI and ML into products such as lab information management systems (LIMS), electronic lab notebooks (ELN) and others.
AI: In simple terms, AI (artificial intelligence) makes decisions or suggestions based on datasets with the ultimate aim of creating truly instinctive system interfaces, that appear like you are interacting with a person.
ML: ML (machine learning) is one of the methods used to create and analyse the datasets used by AI and other system modules. Crucially machine learning does not rely on a programmer to specify the equations used to analyse data. ML looks for patterns and can ‘learn’ how to process data by examining data sets and expected outcomes.
The following example is extremely simple, but it helps to illustrate the basic principles of ML. The traditional approach to adding two values together is to include the exact way the data should be treated within the system’s configuration.
By using ML, the system is given examples, from which it learns how the data should be processed.
Once the system has seen enough datasets, the ML learning functions learn that A & B should be added together to give the result. The key advantage of ML is its powerful flexibility. If we feed our example system with new datasets, the same configuration could be used to subtract, multiply, divide or calculate sequences all without the need for specific equations.
Possibly without realising it, we already see ML in everyday life. When you open Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or Apple TV+ the recommended selections you are presented with are derived using ML. The systems learn the types of content each of us enjoy by interpreting our previous behaviour.
Most of us also have experience of personal assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri. These systems are excellent examples of AI using natural speech to both understand our instructions and then communicate answers, or results of actions. ML not only powers the understanding of language but also provides many of the answers to our questions.
The fact that we all can recognise such an effective and powerful everyday example shows just how far AI and ML have come since their inception in the 1950s.
Voice recognition software has been available for decades; however, it has not made large inroads into the lab. It has been used in areas where extensive notes are taken, areas such as pathology labs or for ELN experiment write ups. These are the obvious ‘big win’ areas because of the volume of text that is traditionally typed, the narrow scope of AI functionality needed, and the limited need to interface to other systems.
However, companies such as LabTwin and LabVoice are pushing us to consider the widespread use of not just voice recognition, but natural language voice commands across the lab. Logging samples into LIMS, for example, is generally a manual entry, with the exception of barcode scanners and pre-created sample templates, where possible. Commands such as “log sample type plasma, seals intact, volume sufficient, from clinic XYZ” is much simpler than typing and selecting from drop downs. Other functions such as “List CofAs due for approval”, “Show me this morning’s Mass Spec run” would streamline the process of finding the information you need.
Take stability studies where samples are stored in various conditions (such as temperature, humidity, and UV light) for several years and ‘pulled’ for analysis at various set points throughout the study.
The samples are analysed for decomposition across a matrix of conditions, time points and potentially product formulations or packaging types. Statistics are produced for each time point and used to predict shelf life using traditional statistics and graphs.
Stability studies are expensive to run and can take several years to reach final conclusions.
AI and ML could, with access to historical data, begin to be used to limit the size of studies so they can focus on a ‘sweet spot’ of critical study attributes. Ultimately, this could dramatically reduce study length by detecting issues earlier and predicting when failure will occur.
Instrument downtime, particularly unscheduled, is a significant cost to laboratories. Using ML to review each new run, comparing it with previous runs and correlating with system failures, could predict the need for preventative maintenance.
AI/ML interventions such as these could significantly reduce the cost of downtime. This type of functionality could be built into the instruments themselves, systems such as LIMS, ELN, Scientific Data Management Systems (SDMS) or instrument control software. If this was combined with instrument telemetry data such as oven temperature, pump pressure or detector sensitivity we have the potential to eliminate most unplanned maintenance.
Another major concern with instrumentation in labs today is scheduling and utilisation rates. It is not uncommon for instruments to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds/dollars/euros, and getting the highest utilisation rates without obstructing critical lab workflows is a key objective for labs. However, going beyond the use of instrument booking systems and rudimentary task planning is difficult. Although it is not hard to imagine AI and ML monitoring systems such as LIMS and ELN, there is far more that can be done to ensure this functionality can go even further. Tasks such as predicting workload; referring to previous instrument run times; calculating sample / test priority; and even checking for scientist’s free diary slots are all tasks that can be optimised to improve the scheduling of day-to-day laboratory work. The resulting optimisation would not only reduce costs and speed up workflows, but would dramatically reduce scientists’ frustration in finding available instruments.
Over the last few years, there has been a massive focus on data integrity within regulated labs. However, many of the control mechanisms that are put in place to improve integrity or mitigate issues are not real-time. For instance, audit trail review is often done monthly at best, and generally quarterly. Not only is it tedious, it is all too easy to miss discrepancies when reviewing line upon line of system changes.
ML could be used to monitor the audit trails of informatics systems and instrument systems in real-time and AI could report any out of the ordinary actions or result trends that do not ‘look’ normal to managers. Where appropriate, the system could interact with the corporate training platform and assign specific data integrity training to applicable teams. The potential increase in integrity of data while reducing the headcount needed to do so could be significant.
Lab directors, IT professional and the Lab Informatics industry are quite rightly focusing on the digital lab and digital lab transformations. Done right, this will form and excellent platform for the next level of informatics development using AI and ML to propel not just digital science forward, but to revolutionise the everyday life of scientists. Personally, I cannot wait!
To find out more about how Scimcon can support your informatics project, contact us today.
That’s an easy question, I love the constantly changing challenges that informatics consultancy throws up and helping customers and our own internal teams to creatively meet those challenges.
We help customers in pharma, biopharma, and clinical trials to identify and evaluate the goals and challenges ahead and use this to influence information system strategies. We assist with programme and project direction; vendor and product selection (of LIMS, SDMS, ELNs and ePRO solutions); and to drive successful software implementations.
The works is often equal parts frustrating, challenging, and exciting but as people who have been involved in this type of work will recognise, it is ultimately extremely rewarding.
I am somewhat cursed by having multiple passions to fit into my spare time. Being a keen mountain biker, avid photographer and relentless traveller does present some time-management dilemmas.
Photography is something I have been fascinated by since I was at school, and is something that I have picked up and put down intermittently since then. However, three years ago I was lucky enough to spend a week riding bikes with a professional photographer and this really inspired me to develop my skills and style. You can view some of my results of my photography journey on my portfolio site.
My addiction to mountain biking started when I moved to Scotland ten years ago, as there is some of the best riding in the world, right here. The mixture of physical demands, technical riding skills and the pure pleasure of being surrounded by forest and mountains has proved irresistible. Not that the abundance of local riding has stopped me traveling with my bike. Ten years of truly amazing riding has taken me to some of the best trails in Morocco, Nepal, USA, New Zealand, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Chile! Like most people, I am looking forward to when travel once again becomes possible, then maybe I can put my planned trips to Kyrgyzstan and Bhutan into action.
I’m not sure I can pick a favourite, as it depends on the activity involved. For a chilled afternoon walk drinking coffee, I would have to say San Francisco. Relaxed attitude, wide open streets and great culture make it a hard place to beat.
For mountain biking, it could be any of those places I mentioned above. My trip spending a week on HMS Gassten, a converted World War Two minesweeper, with a group of good friends riding high above the fjords in Norway deserves special mention. Also, I think Nepal’s Mustang Valley was a special trip. Amazing culture, fantastic people, and as for those mountains – they build them big over there!
The biggest difference is that I have been at home for the longest period in about 22 years! In the last 12 months, I have only managed to travel down to our office in Newmarket twice (from my home in Scotland). I would normally travel 2 or 3 weeks out of 4, so it has been a big change.
Distancing from family and friends has also been difficult, as it has for most. I have stayed in touch as much as possible with family and friends the same way anyone else has; telephone calls, meeting in car parks and standing 4 metres apart, in addition to several Zoom quizzes!
I have had a long fascination with technology, which of course in part has led to my role at Scimcon. We have obviously come a long way since I first became involved in technology. I started programming on home computers during the explosion of affordable devices in the UK during the early 1980s.
Everything has continued to stem from there, to a point where I’m now the co-founder of a scientific technology consultancy, using technology to drive change and deliver scientific value.
In terms of devices, I use pretty much anything you can imagine. I have electronic shifting on a couple of my bikes, and I have some amazing camera equipment that even five years ago would have been inconceivable.
I don’t think my use of technology in my everyday is too different to how I would use it at work. At Scimcon we try to use technology in a way that enhances people’s work lives, so that they can focus on what is important. If I look at technology in bikes and cameras, what excites me is the same thing – not the technology itself, but what it allows you to do.
For example, when I started photography at school, the process was incredibly different to how it is now. You tried different methods of taking photographs and would be left with a roll of film afterwards that if you were lucky, you’d get developed a week later. Of course, you could guarantee that you would get the photos back after all that time and wonder “what on earth was I trying to do?” Nowadays, we have digital cameras, so you take the photo, see the result, and if it does not work you can just try again instantly.
That’s exactly how we try to use technology at Scimcon. We don’t want technology to get in the way or slow down the result you want to achieve, we want it to enable you to do the work you are trying to do – whether that’s riding bikes, taking photographs, or integrating your LIMS to streamline your workflow.
With 91 million results in google search for the term ‘digital laboratory transformation’, this area seems to be the buzzword of the 20s. Scimcon has long been a stalwart in this area, having provided global partnership in information management to big pharma, bio and clinical organizations for over two decades.
The combined experience of our team spans more than 200 years of hands-on project roles in life sciences! What Information Management projects need, Scimcon has delivered: we have seen every type of project from every type of angle and have a unique perspective on how to ensure success.
And digital laboratory transformation is our lifeblood.
So with the establishment of our new website, we are launching a blog to address the subject of the digital lab and eClinical systems, and try to tackle some of the challenges, whilst also dispelling some of the myths.
Analytical projects including Information System Strategies, LIMS, ELN & LES, SDMS, CDS, DMS, Stability Management and Instrument Integration to mention a few.
Scimcon’s original pedigree lies in the field of Information Management projects in the analytical laboratory. The company and its project consultants have extensive experience in:
With such an extensive knowledge of Information Management in laboratories and life sciences, Scimcon has more recently been invited to supply similar services for the clinical trials industry and especially in the move from paper to digital records. The development and adoption of new Drug Development Tools (DDTs) lies at the intersection between regulatory, science, academia and pharma drug innovation. It is generally thought that paper is a poor format for patient compliance in diaries, and data/ electronic adoption improves both compliance and record-keeping in clinical trials. With our relatable experience, Scimcon has been involved in applying its successful project leadership to the areas of:
Our blogs will help you to navigate the world of outsourcing project leadership for either your analytical or clinical Information Management project.
The first step is to recognize why partnering is helpful:
Successful projects happen when you can trust the partner who is helping you. You do not need to relinquish control of your Information Management projects, but to successfully take them forward a trusted supplier who is not afraid to challenge, and who is vendor-neutral, can bring so much to the table.
In both the largest and the smallest organization alike, the knowledge of the organization rests with its employees. This leads to a natural gap of knowledge between best practice, external and competitor knowledge, and learning from others.
Scimcon fills that gap, its combination of deep hands-on experience, combined with information systems skills, extensive scientific systems and organizational experience, and a commitment to project success, means that we are always committed to bringing successful projects over the line.
We know the shortcuts, we understand the limitations with vendor capabilities, we recognize the scope of your existing systems and we know how to get the best from your teams. And our 100% year-in, year-out experience as a project partner means that we are always working, always able to move projects forward, even when faced with organizational challenges.
Talk to us now, or contact us to discuss your projects, past and future alike.