Stephanie Staelens, Ph.D.
Head of Early Drug Discovery Project Management, Confo Therapeutics
Goal: Easily pinpoint precise scientific expertise.
Introduction: Confo Therapeutics is a Belgian biotech company focused on GPCR (G protein-coupled receptors) drug discovery.
The drug discovery team at Confo Therapeutics is seeking scientific expertise only gained from consulting with the top scientific researchers for each drug target. Finding out who’s working on what in the scientific world is fragmented. They need a solution that is quick, yet thorough, and that gives them the ability to proceed with confidence.
The adoption of a user-friendly, comprehensive scientific intelligence platform is enabling Confo’s drug discovery team to pinpoint scientific experts in seconds. They can now see a clear 360° view of the existing research landscape for the potential drug target on AcademicLabs. Seeing who the scientists are and what they’ve published, along with patents, collaborations, clinical trials, and startups all in one place creates a clear picture of the biology related to the target, its technological opportunities, clinical developments, and insights on the competitive intelligence landscape.
Stephanie is using AcademicLabs every week as a shortcut to finding the scientific experts and information she needs to proceed confidently with her project — she no longer feels they’ve missed something. Further, they can now see the entire research landscape for their target in a user-friendly interface. Time saved is time earned. They now have the top experts from around the globe in one click and a panoramic view of the research landscape, enabling the team at Confo Therapeutics to explore more promising drug discovery projects.
Confo Therapeutics identifies scientific experts seamlessly using AcademicLabs, eliminating a time sink in their drug discovery pipeline and allowing their work to move forward with newfound confidence.
Confo Therapeutics is a Belgian biotech company leading the way for GPCR (G protein-coupled receptors) modulating therapies. Their technology platform is used to build a multi-indication pipeline of drug candidates of agonists as well as antagonists to previously inaccessible GPCR targets.
Stephanie Staelens is the project manager responsible for all drug discovery projects until hit finding. She explores new drug targets and determines whether there are any opportunities for further exploration for drug discovery. She explains that “the easy targets are gone,” so they’re, “focused on opportunities where their platform can make the difference”. She consults with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) for their expertise on potential hits and to determine if she’s on the right track.
Information about KOLs and scientific experts is distributed across the internet. Multiple data sources meant there was no 360° view of expertise, current activities, and existing collaboration networks.
Manually counting authors in the literature to identify KOLs was very time-consuming and resulted in Stephanie gaining only a partial view of the research landscape. When the data was unorganized, it was difficult to zoom out to discover trends and insights.
Drawing the full picture of the research landscape for a specific drug target took days of tedious searching. The data subsequently had to be validated and cross-checked due to incomplete and out-of-date sources and websites.
When exploring a new drug target, Stephanie gathers all of the information available. She thoroughly searches the literature, patents, and funded projects, and reaches out to KOLs to ask specific questions.
Before implementing a dedicated scientific intelligence platform, she relied on manually searching PubMed, Google, LinkedIn, university websites, patents, and funding announcements to figure out who the right KOLs are and who to reach out to. She spent days researching and clicking through the labyrinth of information to find the who’s who in a specific field. She was keeping track of their names; matching them to a research group; taking note of when they last published; factoring in whether they were published in a top journal which became confusing and laborious.
A key objective of her work is to be aware of all of the available information about a candidate drug target, even searching for what is yet to be published. Along with her literature searches in PubMed, she combs through the recent and relevant patents and newly funded projects for clues on what might be coming next. To round out her search, she looks at who is collaborating with companies or institutes on the topic and she also checks out the competition via a pipeline database.
A user-friendly interface for exploring, filtering, and analyzing the latest information under one roof allows Confo Therapeutics to precisely zero in on its target and reach the relevant experts in no time.
Cutting time from the exploration stage frees up bandwidth to go deeper in her search.
Confidence in her results enables her to proceed in presenting her proposed drug targets to the executive committee.
Once introduced to AcademicLabs, Stephanie had a chance to play around with the platform. As soon as she understood what information was available, she decided it fit the bill and she could eliminate the use of multiple silo databases that each provide only a piece of the puzzle.
Stephanie remembers, “AcademicLabs was introduced by Christel Menet, our Chief Scientific Officer, to identify knowledge gaps and collaborators. But the platform became more than that to me, it is a central entry point to find anything, from patents to literature, researchers, clinical trials, funded projects, and startups.” The information she needed was captured in AcademicLabs, the x-factor was its user-friendliness.
“The other platforms we tried were too difficult to use. We would have needed huge periods of training and trial and error to find our way.”
She liked how she could intuitively navigate the information. “I can easily navigate to where I want to end up, and it’s easy to always know where I am. In other databases—typically, this is not done well—I easily get lost and don’t know where I am with my searches and links.” If she couldn’t find her way or a specific result, she found support was readily available and quick to respond to her specific case.
AcademicLabs has changed her workflow and importantly, the speed and confidence at which she can move.
Stephanie is using AcademicLabs every week as a shortcut to the desired information, allowing her work to move faster.
Now, she can explore targets more effectively, go deeper in her search for KOLs, and accelerate the initiation procedure of discovery projects with confidence.
“I no longer need to read the first, like 50 publications to understand and track who the most frequent authors are and google the groups they belong to,” she explains. “This alone saves a lot of time, enabling me to go deeper and conduct more targeted searches than if I searched PubMed.
By just using the different tools AcademicLabs has to query topics, I can gain an understanding of who’s doing what and what they’ve published. Before, I didn’t have a full picture of the research landscape.”
In addition to finding KOLs, Stephanie needs to stay on top of what’s happening across the GPCR research landscape as a whole.
She views the research landscape broadly to understand if a target is well validated towards a disease. With the use of handy filters, she can quickly scan and keep track of her searches. Once a potential target has been identified, she can pinpoint an expert from their recent publications, location, and seniority. She then connects the dots to find patents, funding, clinical trials, and their existing collaborations with companies or institutions.
“With the new addition of finding biotech companies, I just created an alert for startups and spinoffs, not specific to any targets but GPCR as a very broad query—just to see what is coming and for general awareness.”
When proposing new targets to their executive committee, her team has to feel confident that they’ve covered all of their bases when presenting an accurate picture of the drug target landscape.
To ensure she is not missing anything, she talks to the key players to quickly uncover the latest advances in biological knowledge, clinical developments, and technological approaches related to the target or indication of interest—information only revealed by talking to an expert and picking their brain."
“Very often when we contact people, we see that they are indeed a world leader. We are well prepared and spot-on when finding the experts we need to answer our questions.”
Stephanie admits she sometimes still checks the literature on PubMed after an AcademicLabs search to make sure she hasn’t missed anything—old habits die hard.
“I do go to PubMed to feel comfortable again, to ensure I haven’t missed anything.” Upon circling back to her old method, she finds she is capturing the same information, and more, but a lot quicker.
With regards to validating if the scientists she’s reaching out to from her AcademicLabs searches are of the same quality as before, she says they have been on target concerning their level of expertise and the quality of information extracted.
Stephanie jokes, “I can’t say we would not have found these people by scanning publications as I can’t split myself in two to run such an experiment.” In saying this, she explains that her time is limited in her search, “I think we have found key experts that we otherwise would not have come across. We can’t spend four days finding the key opinion leader—you simply would not do that. Without AcademicLabs, the expert search is more superficial.”
Stephanie describes AcademicLabs to colleagues as follows:
“I would say that it’s a great tool to find key experts and a good entry point to look into literature, patents, clinical trials, and projects all in one place—it has handy filters and is very user-friendly.”