Better Health
Dec 07, 2023
| 4 min read

Part of the Solution: How Product Managers Help Researchers Find the Needle in the Haystack

Developing a therapy for incurable and untreatable diseases is a challenge. Out of 10,000 drug candidates in the lab, only one will make it to market. Driven by a commitment to advancing access to healthcare, the product management team for lab products and services at Sartorius is working to accelerate the work of researchers; to help them find that one promising candidate faster than ever before.   

This article is posted on Sartorius Blog.

Kimberly Wicklund, Head of Product Management for the Lab Products & Services Division


Finding the 1 in 10,000 with bioanalytical tools

Kimberly Wicklund heads the forty-plus-strong team. After joining Sartorius in 2017 through the acquisition of Essen BioScience, she worked her way up to lead the product management for laboratory products and services, which include products ranging from bio-analytical tools, to lab weighing, to liquid handling and lab water, to reagents and consumables, to software solutions.
"Our role is to make sure that our products meet the customers’ needs and make their experiments easier and faster, for example through automation of data acquisition and analysis," she explains.

Sartorius’ BioAnalytics portfolio, for example, covers a wide range of steps in the lab – from disease modeling to therapeutic development to cell line development: "The iQue®, the Octet®, the Incucyte® and the CellCelector address pain points of our customers: They decrease the likelihood of failure, and they reduce time and cost," Kimberly points out. "In other words: They speed up the search for that one promising drug candidate."

Incucyte SX5 instrument

Incucyte®

At the beginning of the research process, the Incucyte live-cell analysis system helps scientists to better understand the mechanism underlying a disease. Sitting directly in an incubator, it tracks and analyzes cell reactions and interactions 24/7, for example how cells grow, move from one location to another, change in size, or shape, or how they react to a drug candidate. With this knowledge, scientists can study the behavior of target molecules in living cells. For the design of coronavirus therapeutics, for example, one target was the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

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iQue Advanced Flow Cytometry Platform

iQue®

Once a target molecule is identified, researchers screen large compound libraries to see if one of these can address the target – that means it can bind to the target and has potential therapeutic effect. For this screening, a large number of samples with cells or particles that have been treated with potential drugs need to be analyzed. The iQue®3 helps to identify the most promising ones more quickly with the fastest sample acquisition time in the industry followed by automated analysis.  With this technology, scientists can screen thousands of compounds in hours instead of days.

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Octet®

Once a promising lead has been identified, it needs to be further optimized. The Octet® helps measure how well different drugs bind to the target molecule, analyzing binding affinity and kinetics in real-time. These factors are important to study in that they may affect the drug's optimal dosing and efficacy.

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CellCelector

In a next step for many biologics or biological products, scientists aim to find and develop a cell line that can be used to manufacture the drug candidate. The CellCelector can screen large numbers of clonal cell lines for their productivity, growth rate, or other characteristics to help identify the most promising candidates for further development. Crucially, it can accurately identify clones that have been generated from a single cell, thus ensuring 100% monoclonality, a requirement for developing cell lines that are the biological factories of certain protein therapeutics.

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Improving Upon the Power of the Brain


The team also works on utilizing the powers of Artificial Intelligence with the goal of helping customers analyze complex data more efficiently.

"With AI, we can build products that enable us to harness some miraculous capabilities of the human brain – and create product functions that even exceed what the brain can do," Kimberly says. "Our brains have an unbelievable ability to recognize patterns and make visual connections. I’ve always been amazed when working with scientists as they look at images of cells on a screen and point at one cell and say 'That's the one I 'm interested in!' Then I would sit for hours trying to develop a set of image processing steps that would capture it. And sometimes it wasn’t possible...but now we can use AI."
 

With AI, we can build products that enable us to harness some miraculous capabilities of the human brain – and create product functions that even exceed what the brain can do.

Kimberly Wicklund, Head of Product Management Lab Products & Services Division

In the past, image processing was not very accessible to biologists. "It was more of a specialized skill that took many years to become truly proficient," Kimberly explains. Today, with the help of machine or deep learning techniques, it is possible to develop algorithms that can be trained to do that job and to recognize cells and their characteristics. "We integrated such AI modules into the Incucyte®, so today, it gets the answers to biologists starting from the first day of use. Now a scientist can leverage our Incucyte® AI-trained models to reliably identify live and dead cells," Kimberly says.
 

Making Advanced Cell Models Workable


Another focus lies on advanced cell models, which are used in a variety of fields including the research phase of cell therapies, drug discovery, toxicology, and tissue engineering. Designed in the lab to mimic the complex biological systems found in the human body, this new generation of cell models can represent cellular behavior more realistically than cell models of the past.

"Customers use them to study disease mechanisms or the behavior of stem cells in a controlled setting, predict how a patient might respond to a treatment, and screen and evaluate potential drugs more accurately – without using animals," Kimberly says. "But they are very complex and sensitive, and difficult to generate reproducibly. Our reagents and consumables team provides a portfolio that simplifies working with these cells: from animal-free growth factors and cytokines, which regulate cellular processes like growth and differentiation, to reagents to assist with characterizing the models, to validation data. These allow customers to accelerate their studies and finally develop new therapies more efficiently."

Press Release: Qkine and Sartorius Partnership Delivers a Complete Workflow Solution for the Analysis of Advanced Cell Models

Disease Modeling: Advanced cell models offer a unique opportunity to recreate human diseases in the laboratory. By using these models, scientists can study disease mechanisms and test potential treatments in a controlled setting. This helps in understanding the underlying causes of diseases and developing targeted therapies, ultimately leading to improved patient outcomes.

Drug Discovery and Development: Advanced cell models play a crucial role in drug discovery and development. They allow researchers to screen and evaluate potential drugs more accurately and efficiently. By using these models, scientists can identify promising drug candidates and assess their safety and efficacy before moving to costly and time-consuming clinical trials.

Personalized Medicine: Advanced cell models hold the potential to revolutionize personalized medicine. By using a patient's own cells to create organoids or other cell models, researchers can predict how an individual might respond to a specific treatment. This enables healthcare providers to tailor therapies to each patient's unique genetic makeup and medical history, increasing treatment effectiveness and reducing adverse effects.

Regenerative Medicine: Stem cells, a key component of advanced cell models, have tremendous regenerative potential. They can differentiate into various cell types, making them valuable tools in regenerative medicine. Researchers are exploring ways to use stem cells to repair and replace damaged tissues and organs, offering hope for treating degenerative diseases and injuries.

What It Takes to Be a Product Manager

But who are these fierce people in Product Management? The 40-person team is spread across Germany, England, Scotland, Sweden, and the U.S. "We are a diverse group of people, who bring different skills and views – but we have a common goal: Understand the customers challenges and make their work easier," Kimberly says.

Asking the right questions is essential to that. "I believe product managers need to have profound technical knowledge, but first and foremost they need to challenge everything. Whenever a customer has an issue, we ask 'Is the problem a problem? Is it a problem all the time? Is it caused by another problem? Are we able to truly understand the root of the problem?' We need to look at it from all angles to understand and solve it."

I believe product managers need to have profound technical knowledge but first and foremost they need to challenge everything.

Kim Wicklund, Head of Product Management Lab Products & Services Division

Of course, the team also works together with product development to make sure their end result truly meets the needs. Then, they work with the marketing functions, and also the brand team on topics such as naming, pricing, launch activities and training.

"To be honest, the job can be very stressful at times," Kim points out. "But at the end of the day, a product is like your child, and it is very rewarding to work with the team and see a product go from an idea to its launch, to being adopted by customers, and supporting their research for discover new cures. It might even end up in a Nobel Prize winner’s lab. I’ve seen that in the past, and it’s super exciting and highly worthwhile." 
 

 Check Out Job Opprtunities for Product Managers

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