Company and Product
Highlights from Benchtalk 2023: Moving science forward, together
#Benchtalk2023 is a wrap! We hosted hundreds of R&D scientists and technology leaders in Boston and London for two days of sharing best practices, learning about our latest product innovations, getting hands-on in workshops, and having a bit of fun. Read on for a look back at the products we previewed at Benchtalk, sessions we hosted, and key industry trends we learned about with our customers.
Product innovations unveiled at Benchtalk
Benchtalk day one was filled with tactical workshops, where we opened up Benchling to get into the weeds with notebook and search functionality, drawing insights from your R&D data, and inventory and label printing. Then we followed with a welcome reception and 1:1 “speed networking” sessions where attendees could forge connections with their peers across the biotech community. On day two at the opening keynote, we made a few exciting announcements in support of our goal to shorten the distance from bench to proverbial shelf, and accelerate scientific discovery:
Managing massive amounts of data is one of the primary challenges of the 21st century, and nowhere is that more evident than in science. To address this challenge, we had to start at the source — collecting, managing, and sharing data that comes from instruments. In our 2023 State of Tech in Biopharma report we found that 60% of the industry connects less than half their lab instruments. That leads to data inaccessibility, fragmented analytics, and ultimately friction in data flow across the lab, which slows down innovation.
CPO Shawna Wolverton announced the release of our latest product, Benchling Connect.
To address these issues, we launched Benchling Connect: a flexible, open data platform built to help increase your R&D throughput and accuracy. It provides end-to-end data management, letting you connect, manage, and analyze data from all the lab instruments and data analysis tools you rely on.
In recent years we’ve worked with more than 100 customers in process development, and we’ve seen that these teams are supporting larger project volume than ever before — often with novel modalities. As a result, teams are spending 23% of their time structuring data for analysis and 19% of time structuring data for tech transfer*. Existing software tools don’t meet their needs: ELNs are too unstructured, LIMS are completely sample-centric, and LES are too rigid. Process development teams need a best-in-class solution designed for their work.
Benchling product experts demoed Benchling Bioprocess, our upcoming process development product.
Benchling Bioprocess is the only cloud-native, end-to-end solution for modern, high-throughput process development. It helps development teams accelerate their path to critical milestones, while increasing operational efficiency and simplifying technology transfers into manufacturing. Bioprocess includes essential capabilities such as a visual process designer, guided process execution, and pre-built instrument integrations, all with a modern, easy-to-use interface that promotes fast and accurate data collection. (Available Spring 2024)
Sessions led by industry experts
Several key themes were ever present at Benchtalk, from AI to FAIR data to process development. Here’s a peek at some of the sessions, led by customers and Benchling experts, with their key takeaways.
1. Machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI)
How can biotechs uncover the true opportunity with machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), one that best suits their business needs and capabilities? In our AI sessions, we heard from early AI innovators at Dyno Therapeutics, Sanofi, Cambrium, Ori Biotech, Generate Biomedicines, and Hoxton Farms.
The overarching lesson? Data is the fundamental starting point to AI. Teams need to do the upfront work to get this clean, structured, and organized — this is equally about the systems as it is the ‘good data culture’. It also pays to take the time upfront to be realistic in assessing where your organization should focus its AI efforts. Focusing on the things that matter and that are business-critical opportunities will help in getting buy-in, and knowing what your ultimate goal is helps teams to stay focused along the way.
→ Read our intro to generative AI, authored by members of Benchling’s AL and ML team.
2. FAIR data
Science — and the data required to perform scientific R&D — has grown increasingly complex. An effective data strategy is a must-have to get to milestone faster. At Benchtalk, leaders from Aera Therapeutics and Elevate Bio shared how their organizations are speeding up scientists’ work and improving data quality by driving automation and centralizing data.
In a conversation with Cherylene Plewa, SVP, Cellular Engineering at ElevateBio and Bob Gantzer, VP, Lab Technologies and Automation at Aera Therapeutics, we learned that building structure into your strategy is as important as building it into your data. “Our leadership sees the value of this investment. The importance of being able to have contextualized data is a huge competitive advantage for a company our size. We feel like we’ll be able to run faster by making these investments earlier”, Gantzer shared.
→ Read our latest white paper on transforming your R&D data strategy.
3. Process development
While the number of FDA-cleared therapeutics remains steady, the percentage of drugs that are first-in-class has spiked. This represents a new paradigm of complex therapeutics coming to market at record speed, placing tremendous pressure on biopharma organizations to accelerate these innovations through the development phase. In “From the bench to the clinic: The rapidly changing expectations of process development”, we heard from Cue Biopharma, Genentech, and Moderna on what they’re doing to keep their companies at the cutting edge.
“When I started years ago, drugs took as long to develop as kids took to go to college,” said Clark Leininger, Digital Product Team Lead for the Process Development, Drug Product Development, and Tech Dev Operations groups at Moderna. “Now, we’re witnessing drugs and vaccines hit the market in just a few years. So it's an amazing condensation of the timeframe and of the tech development required. A challenge is that a lot of these new therapeutics are going to require entirely new platforms to manufacture. Those teams need to have data, and they need to understand what's going to be required of them, almost as soon as anybody can even conceptualize it or know it, and often before the experiments are conducted. Having access to that end-to-end data immediately, as soon as possible, and with as much context as possible, is going to be really critical for getting things to patients as fast and as successfully as we can.”
→ Read our latest white paper on why bioprocessing needs a digital fix.
4. R&D efficiency
In London, Benchling CEO Sajith Wickramasekara shared the stage with Prof Sir Mene Pangalos, Executive Vice President at AstraZeneca. Pangalos shared reflections from his experiences at AstraZeneca and Pfizer and gave advice for R&D companies looking to stay ahead in an increasingly competitive market. The overarching theme: R&D needs a mindset shift. Companies need to focus on fewer targets, but better ones. He shared how the 5R Framework — right target, right patient, right tissue, right safety, right commercial potential — has powered more successful, more efficient drug discovery at AstraZeneca.
Benchling CEO Saji Wickramasekara chatted with Prof. Sir Mene Pangalos, Executive Vice President, Biopharmaceuticals R&D at AstraZeneca (retiring), in London.
5. Inclusivity and women in biotech
We had a fully packed house to discuss the growing and critical role of women in biotech. Hosted by Benchling Leader of Professional Services Meritxell Orpinell, leaders at Evox Therapeutics, bit.bio, and Octopus Ventures took the stage to share their insights on the industry, their experiences on their career journeys, and tactics for pushing the boundaries to build a more inclusive workforce in biotech.
Leaders at Evox Therapeutics, bit.bio, Octopus Ventures, and Benchling took the stage for our women in biotech session in London.
Plus workshops on all things Benchling
To help our customers get the most out of Benchling, we hosted a variety of workshops on best practices, including:
Tips for admins: Empowering admins with strong processes is a key part of ongoing system success. In this session, attendees learned how to activate admins during implementation for smooth adoption and change management. We also covered two key aspects of strong adminship: data structure and governance, and system maintenance.
Structured data capture in Benchling: Without structured data capture, your scientists’ hard work can be hard to surface, inconsistent, and a nightmare for downstream data teams. In this workshop, we explored the methodology and best practices behind structured data capture, reviewed examples of workflows with standardized data capture at every step, and showed the complete lifecycle of data in Benchling.
Scientific accelerators: Benchling Solution Accelerators are best practice models, templates, and dashboards created from over a decade of learnings from 1000+ customers. We brought together the experts to share how to identify the right accelerator for your science, and how these can level-up your Benchling workflows.
Thank you to our attendees and the biotech community at large
Benchtalk is truly a one-of-a-kind event that brings together innovators across the biotech community who are working to save lives and help move science forward, faster. The energy at Benchtalk further reinforced the important role modern software needs to play in the lab — centralizing data, collaboration, and insights to simplify life for scientists and accelerate scientific discovery.
As R&D data continues to grow exponentially and becomes increasingly paramount in how R&D is done, Benchling’s R&D Cloud is helping scientists across Fortune 500 biotech companies, startups, and academic institutions design and develop next generation biologics, collaborate on high throughput experiments, and ultimately get breakthrough products to market more quickly. Thank you to all of our customers, partners, and employees for joining us. One attendee, Simon Gumble, who works in R&D digital and technology at GSK, even drew a depiction of the atmosphere we felt: such incredible energy!
Head on over to our online Benchling community to continue the conversation, and I can’t wait to see everyone at Benchtalk 2024!
*Source: Blinded survey of process development professionals, conducted by third party research firm, 2023.