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Tutorials : Mar 15, 2012 (Vol. 32, No. 6)

Efficient Compound and Sample Management

Software Aims to Streamline the Process of Finding Novel Therapies
  • Mark Gedrych
  • ,
  • David Booth

Research programs using large compound or sample repositories, such as those prevalent in the drug discovery industry, require efficient management to maximize usability and minimize costs. Such collections can be very diverse, ranging from small molecule chemical reagents to biopharmaceuticals and tissue samples.

As the number, diversity, and size of sample collections around the world continues to swell, the need for dedicated software management tools increases. While large collections provide researchers with more options, the larger and more complex they become, the more difficult it is to ensure that they can be utilized easily and effectively.

In some large pharmaceutical corporations, there is a desire to amalgamate all sample types—be they chemical reagents, drug candidates, bioreagents, or biological samples—into a common framework to reduce overall maintenance and auditing costs.

In the past, many organizations have chosen to set up and maintain their own sample-management software systems. However, this has often proven impractical, inflexible, costly, and resource-intensive. For this reason, many have now turned to outsourced solutions. Titian Software has supplied its Mosaic sample-management system to customers ranging from large pharmaceutical companies to biotech start-ups and CROs whose chemical and biological sample collections typically contain anywhere between 25,000 and 5 million entities.

To meet such a diverse range of needs, sample-management solutions such as Mosaic need to be flexible but powerful. In some cases, samples may be in small collections and require frequent access with minimal automation, whereas others may be in large repositories, stored across multiple sites that span the globe. Therefore, while Mosaic can be integrated with all of the leading providers of automated stores, it also supports manually-accessed storage locations (for example via PDA, Figure 1), or semi-automated retrieval of containers from carousel-based stores.

Keeping Track—Sample Accountability

In one example, a medium-sized biotech company working in small molecule drug discovery decided to implement Mosaic in order to provide its 120 users with easy and reliable access to its compound libraries. Originally, the company had used a basic set-up, designed in-house to track compounds stored in microtiter plates. This had proven difficult to extend, and compounds in individual vials were often lost or otherwise unaccounted for. Therefore, the main aim of the new installation was to ensure that compound delivery would be easy to track, while simultaneously incorporating the management of powders in vials and variable volumes of liquid in microtubes.

By implementing the Mosaic software suite, which was able to easily interface with the company’s existing automated hardware, the operational efficiency was increased. To simplify management of the collection, every detail about each plate, well, and sample is stored inside the Mosaic Inventory, and the locations of items are presented in a hierarchical tree (Figure 2). Once Mosaic was in place, compounds were accurately tracked and a thorough audit trail was established.

Speed of Compound Delivery

Organizations often turn to advanced compound-management solutions to increase the speed of compound delivery while reducing the variability between individual shipments to maximize downstream accuracy and repeatability. In one case, a biotech with a constantly evolving library of over 1 million powder and solution stocks chose to implement Mosaic at its compound-storage facilities in order to speed up compound processing and increase quality.

Mosaic enabled the company to establish a new “Express Route” service, capable of providing a four-hour turnaround time for primary assays, and all compound requests are now completed within 24 hours. This was a significant improvement on the seven days it could take to fulfill a request using the company’s previous system. Customers of the sample bank also reported an improvement in the quality of the samples supplied to them.

Taking Advantage of Automation

Mosaic helps another of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies to accurately manage its huge collection of samples housed in sites across the globe, including close integration with a wide range of automatic dispensing machinery. These include compact and large-scale automated stores, automated powder dispensing systems, robotic sample processing workstations, acoustic plate well dispensers, plate replicators, and robotic work cells.

This can be achieved because Mosaic has a configurable workflow system that appropriately routes samples for efficient delivery to the recipient. As an example, a compound might need to be dispensed from powder stock (at a Mosaic-managed dispensing station), followed by dissolution and pipetting into an intermediate stock vessel (at a robotic liquid-handling instrument), and then serial dilution into a low-volume microtiter plate.

Users do not need to specify details of how the samples are converted from the stored form (e.g., powder) to the chosen delivery format (e.g., specific form, mass, concentration, and container type), as the preparation steps are automatically managed by Mosaic. This makes it easy for users to order compounds from a complex library without having to worry about the details.

When tubes and plates are shipped from one site to another, Mosaic tracks the shipment and allows users at the receiving site to reconcile the contents of the shipment actually received with the expected contents.

Customizable Access Control

Mosaic can be specifically adapted to meet the needs of different sample collections. For example, in some cases it may be necessary to restrict the ordering of a sample to specific users, limit usage according to recorded consent, or control sample storage location in order to match the required storage conditions.

For this reason, Mosaic supports role-based permissions for users, which can be used in tandem with specific business processes and restriction configurations. This makes it possible to implement the system in environments that work under specific regulations such as 21CFR/11 while providing a thorough audit trail to support compliance.


Mosaic has been deployed in a wide variety of situations, configured to support the needs of various sample collections with their related usage patterns and business rules. Mosaic can improve efficiency, quality, and processing speed by providing a clear, concise and flexible workflow, controlled via an easy-to-use interface. Every step of the process is fully accountable.