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AMDeC Aiming to Harness Labs' Group Power to Drive Savings

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – As biomedical research institutes have felt the squeeze of tightening science budgets at federal and state levels, the Academy for Medical Development and Collaboration (AMDeC) has been expanding its mission to create new ways for institutes to share resources and information and save money.

AMDec, a consortium of New York-area institutions that conduct life sciences research, was launched in 1997 and claims to be the only such umbrella organization for biomedical research in the country. It is currently developing new initiatives to help its members pool resources and access savings and services to survive in a time of "decreased funding and skyrocketing costs," AMDeC President and CEO Maria Mitchell told GenomeWeb Daily News.

The consortium has launched, or is currently developing, a program to enable core labs to share services and technologies, a partnership program with life sciences vendors, a group purchasing program, and a benchmarking initiative to compare processes, practices, and costs across its member institutes.

Countering the Funding Squeeze

As GWDN reported early this year, biomedical inflation has been rising at a rate of around 2.8 or 2.9 percent in recent years, even through the recession of 2008 and 2009 and afterward. But research spending at the National Institutes of Health began flattening out, when adjusted for inflation, in the middle of the last decade.

After 2008, Mitchell said, the financial challenges facing institutes, core labs, and individual investigators have intensified, and that squeeze on the research community to pay higher costs with less money spurred AMDeC to begin to make adjustments.

"Our mission has always been to serve our institutions to advance biomed research enterprise in New York, [but] the way to get there has varied over the years," Mitchell said, explaining that while AMDeC initially focused on finding funding for large collaborative research projects, it now is trying to help its members find ways to deal with tighter budgets.

She said that "rather than raising money for these large collaborative research projects, we are looking at ways to create revenue [and] create savings, both at the investigator level and the institutional level, so that they expand the dollars they have for research."

One of the ways it is trying to achieve that is through shared tools and services. Under AMDeC's Facilities Instrumentation Resources Services and Technologies (FIRST) program, core labs share information about their available services and technologies and about the tools they are seeking. The online, real-time registry lists more than 1,000 services and technologies from around 100 core labs, and it enables the sale or purchase of services between labs.

"The goal is sharing, collaborating, creating revenue, and not wasting resources on equipment, services, and technology that might be best used buying or borrowing somebody else's equipment or services," Mitchell noted.

The registry provides information about each core lab, so that members can look at what resources the other members have. "So if somebody does gene sequencing at a major facility and they have excess capacity, a smaller lab or somebody that has run out of capacity may have those services available [to them],"she said.

Mitchell said that services available on AMDeC FIRST include cores for proteomics, microarrays, histology, animal services and housing, and "basically anything you can think of that can't be done in a particular lab," because "not every institution is going to have every service available or every piece of equipment available."

AMDeC also has launched a vendor partnership program with the goal of snagging deals for its members and linking tools and services to new customers.

Mitchell said the program provides new or small companies that would like to get more business within the AMDeC community a platform for getting information about their offerings to the right audience. But these vendors also could be large companies, she explained, like Qiagen or Sigma-Aldrich, that are looking for "a deeper penetration within a market segment" and would like to focus their sales on certain types of core labs.

In addition to Qiagen and Sigma-Aldrich, the current vendor partners include Fluidigm, NuGEN Technologies, Xiacon, iLab Solutions, Access Scientific COMET Informatics, and Acumenta.

Another way AMDeC is trying to extend its members' money is through a program it is developing to buy research necessities, such as costly consumables, using group purchasing to score deals — a method that has been used successfully in other industries.

"[Group purchasing] has been done for years on the hospital healthcare side in many industries, but it has never been done on the research side because of the complexity of research institutions," Mitchell told GWDN.

She noted that AMDeC's members represent about half a billion dollars worth of research spending. "So, combining that spending power to take advantage of much better pricing for all of our members is what we are looking to attain," she explained.

She said AMDeC has hired a consulting firm with expertise in supply chains and purchasing, and it is creating the infrastructure for the group purchasing program. It also is sending out requests for proposals to companies for possible discounts that would take advantage of the members' spending power, particularly in the areas of consumables and research services.

Benchmarking Core Labs

Addressing a lack of information on best practices, processes, and metrics from core labs, AMDeC also has begun the process of creating a benchmarking program to help provide information to its members about how other labs operate, and where their expenses go.

"Core labs increasingly are required to operate like businesses," Mitchell explained, noting that they are expected to sell their services externally or internally to generate revenues to help cover their costs. "However, there have been no benchmarks for them to follow, because this is new. This is not a way that academic institutions have operated in the past."

She said AMDeC has recently completed a pilot survey to develop core benchmarking, with the initial focus being on genomics and flow cytometry cores. She said the data from those surveys has been compiled and analyzed and it will be presented to AMDeC's board in October.

Having solid benchmarking information would "tell core directors how to best manage their cores and compare themselves with one another, in order to operate more efficiently," Mitchell said. "The real purpose of core benchmarking is to collect data to help core labs to better manage their labs, both individual [labs] and overall within an institution."

She also said that the findings from those benchmarking surveys that AMDeC has looked at has suggested the organization is on the right track with its programs.

For the genomics core in the survey, the vast majority of the total budgets were spent on labor and negotiating pricing for consumables and service contracts, Mitchell said. Having the ability to save anywhere from 10 to 30 percent through programs such as AMDeC FIRST and the group purchasing program could be very meaningful for their bottom lines.

"Savings should be very substantial and allow [the cores] to operate very differently going down the road," she explained. "Instead of cutting out people in tight budgets, they can cut back what they are paying for equipment and consumables and service contracts and then put their dollars toward the very important research and the sciences that they need to support."

Among AMDeC's members are Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory; Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons; Hospital for Special Surgery; Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center; Mount Sinai School of Medicine; Mount Sinai Medical Center; NYU Langone Medical Center and Weill Cornell Medical College. The full list of members can be found here.