LIMS software buyer's guide — How to choose the right LIMS
Are you suffering from productivity droughts? It could come down to your laboratory information management system (LIMS). As your company grows, you need tools that will help your teams and lab stay productive, efficient, and organized — and not all LIMS provide the features needed to match these needs.
LIMS are commonplace in life science labs, and are meant to be a tool to manage samples, reagents, and workflows to keep R&D processes moving. However, most LIMS used today were originally built for labs developing last-gen small molecule therapeutics, and they are often unable to handle the complexities of modern life science labs without time-consuming, clunky configurations. If you're looking for a LIMS that will work with modern chemistry and biology workflows, such as for cell and gene therapies, protein and antibody therapeutics, vaccine development, agbio, and industrial microbiology, you'll want to make sure that your LIMS includes the right features you need — such as sample management, inventory management, customization options, and more.
Here, we review the features and considerations to keep in mind when evaluating a modern LIMS for your modern life sciences lab.
LIMS software FAQs
1. What is LIMS software?
Ask 10 people what a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) is, and you'll likely get 10 different answers. That's because both the functionality that any given LIMS provides, as well as the way that any given company uses their LIMS, can vary dramatically. In this article, we'll discuss specifically LIMS for large molecule R&D.
At its core, the purpose of a LIMS is to help scientists and lab heads track samples, aggregate data from across experiments and teams, automate workflows, and integrate instruments into their data infrastructure. These functions are particularly important for companies doing large molecule R&D, where teams have to manage, collaborate on, and query across an unprecedented amount of data. The end goal of all of this is to generate results more quickly and with greater detail, and to cut down on the wasted time, duplicated efforts, and unnecessary expenditures of messy R&D processes.
A modern LIMS serves as a central productivity hub to manage lab data, workflows and teams and increase lab operational efficiency, productivity and effectiveness in delivering results. A LIMS should deliver the capabilities of an electronic lab notebook with fully integrated molecular biology tools, sample management, inventory management, integration with lab instrumentation, electronic signatures, and complete audit trails.
2. Why are LIMS important for modern labs?
Today, scientists are too often asked to manage data, navigate fragmented technologies, and administer logistical tasks that leave them less time to focus on the work that really matters.
Legacy LIMS can exacerbate these challenges. Overly rigid, costly, onerous to maintain, and built for chemistry, not modern biology– these outdated LIMS solutions cannot efficiently support the complexity of managing R&D for cell and gene therapies, antibody-drug conjugates, and RNA therapeutics. These modalities require advanced, built-for-biology software to process, analyze, and scale novel biomolecules into marketable products.
In response, companies have developed workarounds by cobbling together makeshift solutions that combine siloed on-premise systems, unwieldy spreadsheets, and email to enhance their legacy LIMS. The result is over-investment in multiple product suites and lots of custom code to connect all the dots.
A modern LIMS built for biology helps address these challenges, and brings many benefits to modern labs, including the ability to:
Optimize handoffs across teams
Manage data over R&D lifecycles
Share operational insights
Oversee scientific ecosystem
Maintain data integrity
A modern, unified LIMS empowers teams to get more science done more effectively with adaptable, connected capabilities that unlock valuable lost time and supercharge the R&D lifecycle.
3. What types of LIMS are there?
The three most common types of LIMS are on-premise, cloud-based, and hybrid LIMS. Often technology providers will offer multiple options for deployment, but it’s important to consider the pros and cons of each to fit the unique needs of your organization, as well as the future needs of your laboratory when implementing LIMS software.
1. On-premise: An on-premise software solution for LIMS is installed on your server. Once implemented, ownership is handled internally, thereby requiring a higher degree of maintenance on behalf of the company. This type of product can therefore be more expensive, and requires a higher degree of technical support to maintain managed services. The result, however, is that you are in complete control of your data and its security, making this a desirable option.
2. Cloud-based: Cloud-based server computing delivers computing resources to users in real-time. Cloud computing services subscription models do not require additional infrastructure or license fees. In exchange for an annual subscription, cloud services are provided for you. Cloud-based software is typically less expensive than on premise software, as you do not need to purchase additional hardware. In addition, cloud-based software and cloud resources can be accessed from anywhere there is an internet connection. While this is a benefit, this accessibility can also result in a disadvantage. There can be security concerns with the cloud, and so your data is opened up to greater potential risk.
3. Hybrid: Hybrid cloud computing, or “on premise in the cloud” allows for more control you over your data more than the other types of cloud-based software. This hybrid environment brings together both on premise and the cloud, meaning that it is stored on your own servers. With on-premise in the cloud, you are in complete control of your data. However, access is only available when there is an internet connection available, and any downtime like an internet outage will stop the services.
4. What features should you consider when choosing a LIMS?
In addition to considerations such as pricing and deployment, there are a few important LIMS features to consider when evaluating a software solution.
Sample tracking is generally considered the most basic function of every LIMS, but it can actually be one of the most complicated to configure for life science R&D labs. This is because the meaning of “sample” varies between labs, and can refer to proteins, cell lines, plasmids, miRNA, oligonucleotides, and more. Further, each of these sample types goes through different processes, generates different types of data, and is connected to diverse downstream entities and sample offspring. All of this ultimately requires unique configurations to accurately capture these distinct data types and sample histories.
To manage extensive networks of complex biological samples like plasmids, cells, and proteins, look for a LIMS that is flexible enough to easily accession, annotate, and track any of these sample types without expensive customizations.
Many LIMS are designed around a very narrow view of sample management, focusing on small molecules and their derivatives, and have no connection to a common database used by other necessary applications such as inventory management. To track the locations, expiration dates, lot numbers, and amounts of their reagents and consumables, modern life science labs need a LIMS with built-in inventory management capabilities. Ideally, your software should allow you to organize inventory structures and hierarchies the way you need to, and it should save you time by using label scanning and unique barcodes to track inventory entries.
To take inventory management to the next level, look for LIMS inventory management capabilities that seamlessly integrate with an electronic lab notebook (ELN). This will not only allow you to keep track of reagents and physical samples, but also link entities and reagents to protocols and notebook entries.
Frequently, LIMS attempts to standardize life science R&D workflows but lack simplified dashboards and are incompatible with newly introduced instruments and software. This creates delays when transitioning through the commercialization lifecycle because it is difficult to review and analyze data from across the organization and a product’s history. These attempts at standardization also weaken the health of the company’s overall software infrastructure with clunky customizations and macgyvered configurations.
Biotech companies need a LIMS that allows them to standardize, organize, and track R&D workflows from discovery through bioprocessing. Since modern life science R&D is becoming increasingly multidisciplinary, companies need a LIMS with dashboards that can be tailored to the needs of different teams to track and visualize relevant processes.
To manage your workflows and meet your study and productivity goals, look for solutions that offer easily customizable dashboards to visualize workflows, workflow templates to standardize processes, and the ability to capture, manage, and analyze data generated from diverse instruments, software, and teams.
Reporting and regulatory compliance
Preparing for an audit by a regulatory body can take a lot of time and effort, especially if you need to pull records from multiple software systems. LIMS reporting tools should make this process easier, but for many organizations, the reality is not so straightforward, especially as companies scale. Invest in LIMS that can scale as your organization does while still providing a validated, compliant environment. With the right LIMS features, you can meet regulatory requirements and comply with GxP with ease.
To streamline reporting and ensure you are meeting regulatory standards, look for a LIMS that provides a validated environment, data security, standardization, and application controls that ensure user compliance.
Instrument and software integration
Life science R&D labs can involve dozens of diverse, data-generating instruments and complex software that all fuel operational insights and breakthrough discoveries. Integrating a LIMS with a network of instruments and software can automate data recording and analysis, bolstering data integrity, productivity, and scientific insights. However, current LIMS are often unable to integrate with many instruments and software. This disconnect leads to data silos and repetitive manual tasks that ultimately keep scientists away from what matters most—the science bringing products to market.
To combine your workflows and data collection with sample management, inventory management, and ELN capabilities, look for a LIMS that can interface with your laboratory instruments, software, and databases and incorporate the data from these sources.
Each lab, and oftentimes each team, has specific instrument, software, and process requirements. So, a LIMS solution must be highly configurable and adaptable to meet each team’s needs. However, these configurations can take time and may be more of a burden than a benefit. While getting a LIMS with customization capabilities that meet the specifics of your workflow is important, we suggest also taking a close look at the amount of time and effort it will take to make it a perfect fit that can also adapt as your teams’ needs evolve.
To ensure the LIMS will work and grow with your team, look for a LIMS that seamlessly integrates with your instruments and software, is useful for multiple departments within your organization, and minimizes the burden on your IT support team.
Codeless configurations, cloud-based platforms, and a supportive tech partner that will help you deploy your LIMS are signs of easier customizations and updates.
Modern science requires modern information management
The potential to actualize a lab of the future is possible today with advances in technology, automation, robotics, and digitalization. These advances are reshaping how scientists run R&D labs, conduct experiments, share data and make decisions. However, legacy infrastructure and disconnected solutions are creating barriers that prevent achieving the promise of a lab of the future.
Improving data capture, management, and visualization across R&D is the unlock that allows you to realize benefits from your digitization strategy. In order to compete in today’s increasingly complex world, labs need to evolve the way in which they approach data management. Labs of the future require a modern, connected, adaptable solution that manages work traditionally done in siloed solutions. With a shared solution connecting R&D data, teams can manage samples and processes with seamless handoffs and complete traceability.
Curious to measure where you stand when it comes to digitizing your lab? We've worked with top biotech companies and surveyed nearly 1,000 scientists on their digital efforts. Take our Biotech Digital Transformation Assessment to see how you measure up.