Economics and Sustainability in Biobanking - Dr. Jim Vaught

February 21, 2017

Biobanks come in many different sizes and serve various important purposes, including supporting basic, epidemiologic and clinical research. Biobanks are recognized as critical resources in the advancement of personalized or precision medicine.

Over the past few years, researchers engaged in biobanking have become increasingly aware of the need to introduce business planning practices into the development and operation of their facilities. They have generally been considered to be support services that are centrally funded by the institution or department in which they are located. Biobanking is not inherently a good “business,” and depending on its mission can be a very expensive proposition. During recent years, economic pressures and reductions in public funding have forced biobankers to consider a more professional approach to business planning. The economics and sustainability of biobanks have become hot topics at the International Society for Biological & Environmental Repositories (ISBER) annual meetings. In the context of biobanking, sustainability is the term used to address challenges in meeting long-term funding needs and other support functions in the face of uncertain public and private support.

As I mentioned above, biobanks are critical resources, but not good business propositions, although for-profit tissue brokers do exist. Many published studies have confirmed that to remain viable in the long term, academic and government biobanks require a combination of public funding, and if allowed, some form of partial cost recovery. There are a few instances of academic biobanks managing to be financially successful through collaboration with pharmaceutical and biotech companies. However, the general consensus is that biobanks will continue to need at least partial support from government grants and contracts (e.g. the NIH in the US), or, for example, from foundations devoted to supporting biobanks to study rare diseases.

As the Editor-in-Chief of Biopreservation and Biobanking, ISBER’s official journal, I have been pleased to see a significant increase in the number of papers submitted with topics addressing economics and sustainability. Moving forward I expect that biobank business planning will become more widespread and sophisticated, and more formal studies and publications will emerge. In the past few years we have seen publicly available web-based biobank cost analysis and business planning tools developed by the US National Cancer Institute and the Canadian Tissue Repository Network (CTRNet). This trend is consistent with the overall professionalization of biobanks, which includes the expansion of biological resource degree programs in a number of academic centers, particularly in Europe. These trends, along with the international implementation of best practices, are all consistent with the need to assure that reliably high-quality biospecimens and data are available for sharing, since biobanking is a truly global endeavor.

Jim Vaught, Ph.D.
Past-President, ISBER
Editor-in-Chief, Biopreservation & Biobanking
Senior Research Fellow, International Prevention Research Institute, Lyon

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