Cooperation between digital startup Kemialytics and Pfizer: The SOP generator as a solution to the problem with SOPs
The Berlin-based startup Kemialytics has developed an approach to optimize the creation and maintenance of standard operating procedures (SOPs), with the ambitious goal of generating SOPs in a fully automated way. For the development of the so-called SOP generator, the young company has been supported by Pfizer - the Healthcare Hub in Freiburg has teamed up the startup with colleagues from its large facility in Freiburg.
We talked to Kemialytics founder Adam Kubina about how Pfizer is supporting this young digital startup to tackle various challenges and about why it is important for startups to get customer feedback as early as possible.
Elaborate and inconsistent: the problem with SOPs
Generating SOPs in a completely automated way - that is the goal of Adam Kubina, founder of Kemialytics. Even though the fully automated generation of SOPs is still a dream of the future, his efforts have already been partially successful in addressing a pressing problem that affects CROs and the life sciences as well as all other areas where work is highly regulated: The creation and maintenance of SOPs is extremely time-consuming.
This issue with SOPs is also no stranger for the Pfizer facility in Freiburg: here as many as 870 SOPs are currently in place, and 150 new versions are created each quarter. Even just formatting an SOP may take several hours and there is a constant and noticeable effort around editing, approving, and testing the new versions. In addition, the organic growth of SOPs results in an excessive amount of information that often turns out to be unstructured, redundant, or contradictory. To address this problem, Pfizer's internal quality committee highQ has instructed the Freiburg Healthcare Hub to scour the startup scene for a solution to optimize these processes.
A flexible web platform and self-teaching templates
The SOP generator will format and standardize SOPs and thus the information they contain. In a following step, the relevant information will be made available to the groups of people who need it, where they need it.
To achieve this, Kemialytics is working on these three fronts:
- A web-based and flexible platform will simplify the creation of SOPs via collaborative workflows thanks to a structured editing software
- Self-teaching templates will be used to standardize the presentation of SOPs and avoid errors
- The tools should be optimized for the respective professional group and their work context
How the collaboration between Kemialytics and Pfizer came about
The first contact between Kemialytics and Pfizer took place at the 5-HT-X Linker. The cooperation between Pfizer and Kemialytics was then initiated via the Smart Green Startup Accelerator and the GROW program. In a first step, the Smart Green Startup Accelerator identified potential solutions. This was followed by a matchmaking process with several startups to assess the potential for collaboration. As a result, an initial meeting was arranged between Kemialytics, the Healthcare Hub Freiburg, and Pfizer's specialist department. "The SOP generation module is still very much pie in the sky," this is how Kubina described the state of development of the software during the first meeting.
However, this did not deter the project managers at Pfizer; on the contrary, they saw a much welcome solution and enormous potential in terms of optimization, and wanted to know more about the current version. And so Adam Kubina's team organized a presentation to illustrate the current state of their project. Pfizer’s team leader Markus Schimmelpfennig found the presentation very convincing and quickly agreed on supporting the development of the SOP generator. The system was thus first tested with real SOPs from Pfizer. The next step was to check the feasibility of the solution and work out its details: Which features are necessary, which are superfluous? Should the generator run on-premises or on the cloud?
From Problem to Solution: The Development of the SOP Generator
As with many startups, the SOP generator is not the idea that lead to the founding of Kemialytics. In 2013, Kubina and his co-founder Dr. Aliz Kiss developed a mining system that filters out methodologies from existing publications for analytical chemistry. When the service was not accepted as planned, Kemialytics decided to change their focus, as it happens in a lot of startups. "We asked our customers: what problems do you have in your daily work? How can we optimize typical processes?" explains Kubina. The topic of SOPs emerged rather quickly: SOPs are used on a daily basis in many labs, but they are complicated and difficult to navigate - a real pain. "We quickly realized that there was enormous potential for optimization there and then developed our first prototype," recounts Kubina.
Product development with the target group in the real laboratory
Collaboration with larger companies is often a major hurdle for startups because it is a situation in which two very different cultures meet, each with their own set of rules. "As a startup, we need people in larger companies who are keen to work with startups, and we have found them at Pfizer in Sarah Port and Markus Schimmelpfennig," says Kubina. The Pfizer Healthcare Hub builds a bridge through these "internal champions," as they are called by the startups. It's a win-win situation for both parties: Pfizer benefits from the solution, which simplifies the handling of SOPs, and the Kemialytics team can test the application of the software in a real laboratory of sorts: "It's incredibly important to talk about the product as early as possible and to keep getting feedback. Quite a few startups have ended up developing highly complex tools, only to find out that nobody really needed them in that very form. It is incredibly valuable for us to be able to develop our product in direct collaboration with our target group: we get first-hand feedback on what is really needed," says Kubina.
Currently, Kemialytics is working on the finalization of their live system. At Pfizer, the next step will be to decide on the implementation of the editing software into the Pfizer system. Kemialytics is planning to launch a fully functional SOP generator by spring 2022. We are looking forward to this innovative tool for process optimization!