Victoria advancing standards for global biobanking

Australia’s first industry standard biobanking facility will soon be up and running in Melbourne. 

Biobanking Victoria will open at Monash University in Clayton in 2020, thanks to a $1.5 million funding allocation from the Victorian Government.

The facility will manage a variety of biological materials and associated data – blood samples, plasma, saliva, tumour tissues, breast milk and mouth swabs – with samples stored in tubes and containers depending on desired storage temperature and specimen type.

While it won’t be fully operational until 2020, Biobanking Victoria is already functioning at a significant capacity. Currently, it holds a massive 2.8 million specimens – growing at a rate of about 80,000 samples a year. An important research partnership has been established with a leading international research practice in the US, Brooks Life Sciences/RUCDR Infinite Biologics, co-located at Rutgers University, New Jersey. Further, the partnership will link researchers and local biotech companies to an established international network of biorepositories in New York, Montreal, Singapore and Shenzen.

Michelle in the labAccording to Professor Melissa Southey, Chair of Precision Medicine at Monash University and project lead of the facility, "Biobanking Victoria will facilitate increased national and international trials activity, academic research funding and attraction of new business from pharmaceutical and therapeutics industries."

Adherence to international regulatory standards combined with increased connection and visibility of Victoria’s resources (biological data, human resources and infrastructure) will pave the way for a whole raft of global collaborations, she says, adding "we anticipate that continued expansion of this framework nationally and internationally will enable other jurisdictions to participate similarly."

What’s pertinent is that the facility won’t just be a storage centre: its focus is collaborating with other centres throughout the world to drive medical research and take clinical trial take-up rates to the next level. "Biobanking Victoria offers a complete solution to researchers and clinicians whose work requires the collection, processing, storage and analysis of biological material. Engaging with one facility to support all the work related to biologicals offers simplicity and quality assurance. Of course, the facility has storage capacity but the focus is workflows and data delivery."

For Melissa and the team at Monash, the most exciting aspect of the opening of the facility is its ‘whole of community’ vision and the fact that it’ll be a ‘one stop shop’ for biologics management. "Impacting research, clinical trials and healthcare of all Victorians, it will be a base for learning and teaching, it will support expansion of best practice biobanking across the state including rural areas, and it will provide a platform for collaboration and connectivity of our sector."

That’s been a major stumbling block of late. In many contexts, says Melissa, researchers and clinicians have had to put studies and trials together piece by piece, and the collection and management of biological material is often complex, specialised, and with protocols varying between studies. "Organising the management of biological material is a time-consuming and often difficult process, especially for those who don’t have immediate access to laboratory facilities that can manage the entire workflow," she admits.

Taking that into account, the relevance of Biobanking Victoria can’t be underestimated: Any clinical trial or research project that plans to collect biological material for analysis will benefit.

All in all, the centre is about helping to improve medical care and boost biobanking best practice. "Biobanking of human biological material is integral to precision medicine, genomics, clinical trials, translational research and commercialisation, and will soon become part of standard of care in numerous clinical streams," predicts Melissa. "Currently there’s no central infrastructure for the coordinated collection in Australia. Having such a facility to support our work is urgently needed and anticipated by the community."

The facility’s positive financial impact can’t be underestimated either. Victoria’s medtech, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology sector annually generates $12.7 billion in revenue, and the global biobanking market is projected to grow to US$6.9 billion by 2021, largely due to the rise of precision medicine, which accounts for more than 40 per cent of all drugs currently under development.