Dr. Karin Lachmi
Co-founder, Chief Scientific Officer and President, Bioz, Inc.

Researchers across the globe are working around the clock on critical missions—whether it’s finding a cure for cancer, Alzheimer’s, the Zika virus or other threatening illnesses. Unfortunately, time is not on their side, especially with so much to discover. Further, the tools to assist and guide them are not always there—affecting us all in some way or another as progress is slowed. While researchers have very little room for error and inefficiencies in the overall disease cure and drug discovery process, everyday in laboratories around the world, they waste valuable time and money fumbling around determining what equipment to use in a specific experiment.

Determining equipment that will perform best in an experiment is often an educated guess, or even shot in the dark. To get to that optimal decision, objectivity and certainty must enter the equation. However, this means today’s researcher would need to be knowledgeable about each and every piece of lab equipment offered (tens of thousands of items), as well as every technology on the market.

There is no doubt the pace of scientific achievement is improving every year as scientific discovery and breakthroughs become faster, and techniques more creative, global and sophisticated than ever. However, the way researchers access and view key scientific information for the selection of the best equipment to use for the next experiment hasn’t really changed much over the past century, as researchers still manually scan journals for relevant articles and also manually compare, process and contrast information within them.

A most unfortunate fact is that lab researchers are making critical research-related decisions while knowing they are disconnected from the existing wealth of rich scientific data available and laboriously documented by fellow scientists. This is due to the inaccessibility of those findings. Why have researchers been left to make important decisions in the dark? The answer is simple, as it is simply not humanly possible for researchers to:
•    Read more than a tiny fraction of the relevant scientific papers available today
•    Analyze, aggregate and correlate and cross-reference scientific information that is spread out over hundreds of millions of pages of dense scientific papers
•    Decide which equipment to use, and how to use it most effectively, without having an objective comparison method
Indeed, it is quite absurd that life science researchers eat up valuable time as they use manual means to access research with often a small sample size and dated and antiquated reference material.

As a previous life science researcher who spent years in the lab trenches, I fully understand the obstacles out there. I also know that change and modernization is necessary. Here are four things the industry must consider to move decision-making and purchasing of lab equipment out of the dark ages:
1. Catch up on e-commerce: Thankfully, some vendors of life science lab equipment are placing emphasis on advanced e-commerce platforms to streamline the procurement of lab equipment. Until recently, the sales strategy of life science tools companies primarily depended on traditional sales and marketing vehicles, such as direct sales, mailings and trade conferences. Such traditional approaches are proving themselves less effective than advanced online purchasing platforms that are now common in many other industries. Early adopters of e-commerce in the field are, in fact, moving swiftly ahead of their competitors. A recent analysis anticipates that by 2020, e-commerce sales in the life science research market will approach 80 percent, with traditional sales methods declining to 20 percent. This is further validated through Merck’s $17B acquisition of Sigma-Aldrich, as Merck named the latter’s leading life science e-commerce platform one of the key drivers of the acquisition.
2. Catch up on objective ratings: I predict less value will be placed on user-generated reviews and ratings of life science equipment, with researchers becoming more dependent on data-driven objective product rating parameters. Amazon and Yelp provide user-generated reviews and ratings, and while this approach can be useful in many industries, they are less effective in life science research, where biased agendas can impact the ratings of a product or assay. Moreover, the lack of data-driven objective product and service rating parameters has led to a flood of fake reviews in many industries, with some sites reporting that 30 percent of their reviews are fake. Going forward, objective, unbiased rating algorithms that are based on reliable sources of data will form the basis for accurate rating platforms that will facilitate better researcher decision-making.
3. Catch up on quality: Increased demand by researchers for greater transparency in the disclosure of the quality and compatibility of life science equipment is needed. Each year, more than $30 billion in taxpayer money is allotted to the National Institute of Health, which means that every taxpayer has reason to expect transparency from life science tool companies—especially since their equipment is used by researchers whose work involves seeking cures for diseases and developing new medication and treatments for ailments affecting the general population.
4. Catch up on data transparency: In the spirit of transparency, and with increasing public and government pressure, journal publishers need to make more scientific articles publically available. In an industry as imperative as life science research, it is unacceptable that researchers are still blocked by publisher paywalls. These typically require researchers paying very high fees to access articles their research and experimentations depend on. With researchers’ work providing the basis of article content, and with taxpayers funding their work, it is implausible that publishers are still impeding access to articles.

Millions of life science research studies are performed every day by millions of researchers around the world. It goes without saying that it is in our collective best interest to ensure they are empowered with knowledge of the best technology and data for planning and conducting experiments, writing grants and performing the actual research. By expediting the overall experimentation process and use of more modern technology and techniques, we can help life science researchers discover findings that will benefit us all.