It would be a very brave company indeed that invited financial analysts to tour a facility that was anything other than ultra-modern and efficient. The phrase “welcome to our manufacturing plant, please try to ignore the holes in the ceiling” has probably never been uttered.
So when news of a tour of Covance’s lab in Indianapolis, US arrived in Outsourcing-pharma.com’s inbox earlier this week we decided to ask the contract research organisation (CRO) for more information about the 'focus on process efficiency’ that was reported.
Jonathan Koch, corporate vice president and global general manager, central laboratory services told us the firm “employs a global strategy for automation, continuously fine-tuning the level of automation at each of our five sites for optimum efficiency and scalability.”
Koch gave the example of the lab’s ambient blood tube processing capacity – which was recently tripled thanks to the installation of a custom-designed, pre-analytical handling system – as an example of the work being done.
He said that: “In addition to significant benefits in terms of scalability, using this system, we're also able to deliver test results more than an hour earlier than before the automation was introduced, improving responsiveness to investigator sites and patients and enabling faster decisions by sponsors.”
Automation for the sponsors
So far, so efficient but what about the suggestion that Covance is using automation to help drug industry customer cut timelines? Here too the analysts were right according to Koch, who cited Covance’s lab kit capabilities to support his contention.
“Our global kit production facility is the largest of its kind, typically shipping 10,000-15,000 kits per day,” he said, adding that “we constantly evaluate and modify our kit production processes and operations to improve scalability and improve kit build accuracy in response to sponsors' needs.”
This evaluation prompted Covance to upgrade component feeders and labelling systems which – according to Koch – increase throughput and reduced “the placement and labeling time for some items to less than one second.
“With this decrease in component processing time, the overall kit production operation runs more efficiently, ensuring that >99% of our high quality collection kits are shipped on time to our sponsors' investigators, with an error rate of much less than 1 item in 10,000.”
The other thing to attract the analysts’ attention was the lab’s biomarker capabilities which they predicted would benefit Covance as the complexity of clinical trials continues to increase.
We put this to Tom Turi, Covance’s vice president of biomarkers, who agreed and told us that trend is forcing some sponsors to work with numerous specialist providers which – in turn – is creating an opportunity for the CRO.
“Seeing these dynamics in the market, Covance developed a full complement of biomarker capabilities supporting client needs from preclinical research through large-scale, late-phase clinical trials.
“We see the trend in clients requesting both the delivery of complex esoteric tests along with their core central lab services continuing. Thus, CLS' investments in expanding biomarker, genomic, and companion diagnostic development will continue into the foreseeable future.”