Genentech racks up savings with data-driven cage cleaning

The headline-grabbing initiatives to cut R&D waste tend to focus on the big flaws in clinical trials, yet all companies face smaller, lower-profile inefficiencies too. Genentech noticed one such issue with the cleaning of its animal cages, and after an IT investment the company is saving $410,000 a year.

Researchers at Genentech's animal lab began working on the problem after noting that some of the animal cages were being cleaned unnecessarily. The old approach cleaned a whole rack of 160 cages every two weeks. However, some of the enclosures contained fewer mice, or had been moved from one rack to another, so were in a better condition than adjacent cages. A preliminary analysis found more than 6,000 cages were being changed unnecessarily every week. Each of these small actions used up time and money, but to eliminate the inefficiency Genentech needed a system to track which enclosures were dirty or running low on food.

Genentech principal programmer analyst Erik Bierwagen was tasked with streamlining the cage change procedure. The system developed by Bierwagen's team--Directed Cage Change (DCC)--tracks the status of individual cages, based on their occupancy and when they were last cleaned. Now Genentech knows which cages contain a single mouse--and therefore only need changing once every four weeks--and which are breeding enclosures housing 10-day-old pups.

DCC makes use of mobile devices already carried by veterinarians at the lab. When a researcher views a rack of cages on their tablet, the enclosures that need cleaning are highlighted. Having this information readily available has cut the number of weekly cage changes by 40%. This translates into annual savings of $411,000 a year. DCC required a $40,000 investment. "I was not surprised that there was a positive return on investment, but was very happily surprised at the magnitude," Bierwagen told Bio-IT World. The cage changing procedure won Genentech the Judges' Prize at the recent 2013 Bio-IT World Best Practices Awards.

- here's the Bio-IT World feature