Startups

Labstep wants to fix the way science experiments are recorded and reproduced

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Labstep, an app and online platform to help scientists record and reproduce experiments, has raised £1 million in new funding, including from existing investors. The company, whose team has a background in commercial R&D and academic research, including at Oxford University, is backed by Seedcamp and says it plans to use the new capital to double its team to 12, and for further product development.

This will include the launch of a marketplace for lab supplies, and is one of the ways Labstep plans to generate revenue. The startup will also add features to its app that streamline how scientists outsource elements of their research.

First conceived of in late 2013 and soft launched in 2015, Labstep has set out to digitise the lab experiment tracking and sharing process, and in turn give scientific research a major leg up.

As explained by CEO and co-founder Jake Schofield, science experiments are often recorded in an archaic way, relying on a mixture of pen and paper or entering resulting data into legacy software. Not only is this cumbersome but it also means that experiments are prone to mistakes and can be especially hard to replicate and therefore validate, either by a team working together internally or when sharing and cross-checking with the wider scientific and research community.

Enter: Labstep. The platform and app enable scientists to build libraries of experimental procedures — a bit like recipes — and then easily record progress when following a procedure in the lab, including building a timeline of the experiment. Procedures can also be shared with teams or more broadly, as well as deviated from in a transparent way. In fact, Schofield says one way to think about Labstep is as a ‘Github for lab experiments’. Procedures can be made public or private and can be optionally forked.

“Rather than following paper printouts, when actually carrying out your experimentation you can walk through these procedures step by step on a mobile device at the bench,” Schofield tells me. “Interactive features streamline and make it much easier to capture, comment, and record when you deviate from these processes”.

“Our API allows you to connect all the devices in your lab and automate the upload of results,” he explains. “Every action creates a timeline post, this automatic audit trail increases accuracy and saves the huge amounts of time normally spent writing a progress diary after the fact. You can form lab groups, like internal slack channels, that allow you to share these protocol libraries and real-time updates to see how your colleagues are progressing, this is massive as people are often collaborating and working in different geographical locations”.

In addition, the record of the steps that lead to a scientific conclusion can be attached to academic papers in the form of a URL so that other scientists can attempt to replicate the findings. This feature alone could go some way to tackling what the Labstep founder says is “a global reproducibility crisis,” estimated to cost billions per year in wasted research.

“At the point you publish your results, the competitive emphasis on keeping your research private shifts as you now want others to reproduce and validate your findings. We generate unique IDs that can be put in your publications and methods sections to link the protocols and the process that lead to these results,” he says.

As a route to monetisation, in the coming months Labstep will roll out a marketplace to make it easier to source the lab supplies needed to reproduce findings. It also plans to harness the real-time data that the Labstep app captures on how supplies in the lab are used, and Schofield says that by streamlining the ordering process, the reproducibility problem can be further addressed.

In another nod to collaboration, Labstep will also launch cloud features that allow users to outsource elements of the experimental process. I’m told that although outsourcing of research is commonly done in commercial R&D, it is used much less in academia.

Meanwhile, Labstep says it has users from over 600 universities globally including Stanford, Harvard and MIT in the U.S., and Oxford, University College London, Imperial College, King’s College and the Crick Institute in the U.K. It’s also not the only startup in this space to have got the attention of investors. Benchling, a graduate of Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator, raised a $14.5 million funding round a couple of weeks ago.

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