Innovation by Design
In the latest issue of Front Line Genomics Magazine, we spoke to Rajan Kapadia, Director of Marketing-Automation at Beckman Coulter Life Sciences about getting closer to researchers to realise the full potential of NGS; Beckman Coulter Life Sciences are building a new wave of innovation.
What does your average day look like? How much of that is spent doing mundane tasks that keep you from putting your brain to good use? If you work in a lab, then there’s good news – you could be automating those jobs freeing you up for the fun stuff. Of course, you wouldn’t trust your experiments to just anyone. That’s why the team at Beckman Coulter Life Sciences have gone, and continue to go, to great lengths to make sure their automation systems are exactly why you need from them.
FLG: Could you give us a brief overview of what Beckman Coulter do and your role?
RK: Beckman Coulter Life Sciences is headquartered here in Indianapolis. We have 5 business units, but, in Indianapolis, we primarily develop and manufacture automation systems and genomics reagents. As for me, I’ve spent some years now focused on the molecular oncology market. During this time, I had the opportunity to launch one of the first companion diagnostic products in the market in partnership with Pfizer. I also had the opportunity to lead the oncology and genetics franchise at Abbott Molecular, where I had oversight of a business with a leadership position in one of the most frequently used technologies in oncology research and diagnostics. From there I joined Illumina where I had the opportunity to lead a portfolio of next generation sequencing products. I was also tasked with leading strategic efforts as part of the clinical transformation strategy that was focused on finding ways to migrate NGS into the clinic. Coming here to lead the Automation business unit was a great opportunity because this unit has a really strong brand name in Biomek. We’ve had a long history of partnering with cancer researchers, providing reagents and automated workstations to enable genomic sample prep workflows dating back before the human genome project. Throughout these years, the Biomek brand has built a legacy in providing reliable solutions for a variety of workflows.
FLG: It sounds like you’ve been involved in lots of impressive projects and there’s a lot of passion there. Where does that come from? What was it that hooked you into genomics and this line of work in the first place?
RK: I was an engineer by background. I loved solving problems and seeing science advance through innovation. When I started off in the auto industry, it was fascinating seeing the output of your work come to life in a finished vehicle. However, I had family members affected by cancer and other diseases. I really recognised the need to advance science and chose to apply myself to healthcare. That’s what really got me to Abbott in the first place. When I was there I developed a really strong passion to help clinicians gaining greater insights to inform patient care. I’ve seen the struggles that patients face, I’ve seen the struggles that clinicians face in trying to advance the field of healthcare and oncology. Seeing the greater insight generated by technology, like NGS, has opened up a whole new paradigm of research that I truly believe will advance healthcare. Although the tools are there, customers face many challenges with working with challenging samples and adopting and scaling NGS workflows. I feel Beckman Coulter is well positioned to help address many of these challenges.
FLG: What are the limitations of those challenges and how are you addressing them?
RK: We lead all our new product development efforts with strong customer insights that we refer to as Voice of the Customer (VoC); we look at the user experience, we gain insights into the science, and we understand what our customers’ challenges are. That’s a fundamental principle of the Danaher Business System that’s been embedded into Beckman Coulter Life Sciences. We also focus on ‘continuous improvement’ and it’s something that continues to drive us to bring to market solutions even faster. An example of that is a process that we have called Speed Design review, which has enabled us to shorten the time it takes from collecting input from a customer and bringing an innovative product to market. Those are two principles that I think have enabled and positioned Beckman Coulter to grow on the history and legacy of our Biomek brand and in what has historically been the Agencourt brand for our reagents. An example of these principles, we recognise that customers are challenged with extracting sufficient material from FFPE samples. We also know that these customers want a total biological picture of their sample. In response, we recently launched FormaPure DNA. This is a product that helps these researchers get more information from these FFPE samples. We have new data that we’re about to publish that shows how this product can extract both DNA and RNA better than existing solutions on the market. By maximizing the useable total nucleic acids from a given sample, now our customers can perform all the biological assessments necessary.
FLG: Who are your customers and how do you process and translate that feedback into improvement?
RK: We take a purposeful and proactive approach to innovation. One of the resources we have is that we’ve built up a large customer base through our Biomek legacy, so we’re in large genome centres, academic research centres, and even clinical labs that have taken products and built LDTs off them. With the luxury of having a great install base, we are able to extract great insights. We use a three-pronged approach to uncover those customer insights. One is through what we call – going to Gemba – which is targeted VoC where we go out and gain a first-hand understanding of their overall world – understanding their workflow, environment, and challenges.. We bring this information back and translate it into what we call UX DNA, or User Experience, to keep what our customers live in front of our development teams. The second is through key opinion leaders – people who we see are advancing science in many different ways. In addition to those in academia, we also include partners that have built market leading kits, such as Illumina, New England Biolabs (NEB), Kapa, and other companies that are innovating in that space…