Just as many industries across the globe were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, biobanks worldwide were also feeling the strain.
The facilities had to deal with operational changes, disruption to their supply chains, loss of staff members to illness, issues related to data management, and remote working. It also brought a slowdown to the accessibility of donors and added challenges concerning obtaining the consent of those potential donors. These were all issues that had to be overcome as biobanks have been vital in the fight against the Covid-19 virus due to, amongst other things, providing critical support to biomedical researchers by conducting clinical trials with new vaccines to fight the pandemic.
Also, in line with the rest of the world’s workforce across all industries, the biobanks had to adapt their risk management and emergency plans and pivot in line with demand. Social distancing measures were put in place, hand sanitizers with at least 70% alcohol content were introduced, similar to the standards brought in for the general public, and extra safety precautions such as double gloving were implemented. The development of the virus also meant that biobanks introduced new handling techniques, and employees working patterns changed as many had to follow similar work-from-home requirements in line with people across the US.
However, to cope with demand where possible, biobanks even switched their operations to function as diagnostic labs to increase capacity for Covid-19 testing, and shift work was introduced so that staff could receive and process samples during the day and the night. While these changes were significant, they also brought on a new train of thought to carry forward as LHH suggested regarding post-pandemic work, the world as it was before the crisis will never look the same again. Although these changes were challenging at the time, they’ve served as a catalyst for positive change going forward in all aspects of operations at many biobanks, from staffing and supply chains right through to looking at power and the services with healthcare suppliers.
Now standard operating procedures are such that all samples entering the buildings are treated as infectious; therefore, safety procedures are always heightened. Covid-19 biobanks also have to apply for ethics approval before handling and storing infectious or contagious materials.
Biobanks across the world hadn’t previously had a joined-up approach prior to the pandemic, and now as recognized by Labiotech, public health institutions have been able to establish better practices to help with data sharing and security, not only with each other but also with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Doing so has already helped with research into Covid-19 and pushed towards universal data accessibility on a virtual platform, something that we previously noted in ‘Virtual Biobanking Trends and Challenges in Covid-19 Pandemic Era’ as transformational. This is because virtual biobanks can gather information from specific samples, which is something that commercial biobanks cannot. Also, better lines of communication give a much more extensive list of contacts and expertise for researchers to call upon should it be needed.
This collaboration has become international and has allowed for sharing of information, which has led to the rapid deployment of specialist teams during the pandemic, showing that the industry can be adaptive and, crucially, more responsive. The improvement in communication has passed through to the public, too, as public health literacy is now essential. People now better understand the reasons behind recommendations and consider the outcomes of their actions.
Infrastructure wise, although biobanks have backup generators, the pandemic has also brought to the fore that an in-house Liquid Nitrogen (LN2) plant as the liquid is needed to reserve samples. But not only that, but a contract with suppliers to supply LN2 in an emergency at comparable prices should also be in place as part of a thorough preparation plan.
Article contributed by Richard Johnson, seasoned medical writer and consultant. The opinions expressed here are the author’s own.