Helping pharmaceutical enterprises collaborate across company boundaries
LabLinks is on a mission to link motivated people to learn together and transform the world through scientific innovation. Calvium has collaborated closely with LabLinks to bring this mission to life through a newly-developed online platform, marking a new era for cross-company collaboration and communication within the pharmaceutical sector.
LabLinks is the brainchild of CatSci CEO Dr Ross Burn, who spotted a real opportunity to shake up how the sector collaborates through new and evolving technologies.
The social enterprise’s premise is simple: to create a community to help scientists link, learn and succeed is their strapline; and to act as a place where those in the industry could give back by encouraging people coming into the industry, as well as supporting those in up-and-coming areas to level the field.
Calvium's role in LabLinks
Calvium has been on this journey with LabLink’s founders since the project’s early first concept, right through to shaping up exactly how the product should be developed and actually building the platform.
While Lablinks is a digital media platform at its core, we have extended it and tuned it for this particular community and purpose to ensure it is distinctive from the plethora of social media platforms already out there.
The result is a virtual space where scientists can meet to share knowledge and ideas, network, attend events and eLearning courses, innovate or simply sound out ideas and ask questions. The platform also includes a news aggregator feature that allows users to manage the scientific topics that interest them and get more bespoke news.
The final aspect which we thought would be fun to integrate, and really bring the platform to life, was a 3D environment built on Mozilla Hubs so that users can navigate through the platform as a LabLinks avatar and interact with one another in real time.
While all of these things have been done before, having this particular mix of features on one platform is what makes LabLinks so unique compared with other social networks. There are a multitude of ways to encourage collaboration and different channels for people to choose from and different ways to interact with each other. This gives users the freedom to collaborate in the ways they want to and that is incredibly powerful.
Building something from the ground up is always quite expensive and it was very challenging to meet the desire to have so many different features and aspects in LabLinks, while also making it easy for the user to understand, navigate, and get to grips with.
Take the 3D world, for example. We leveraged Mozilla Hubs, which is currently a free to use platform for people to adapt, but had to adapt it and strip it out so that it resembled a 3D environment not dissimilar from those found in the gaming world. On the flip side, we also had to ensure the environment wasn’t so distracting that it just ended up being like a video game, which meant thinking about how to ensure rooms are fit-for-purpose to encourage the collaborative and communicative behaviours LabLinks is all about.
Ensuring the routine was easy and seamless enough that the medium didn’t interfere with the experience was a big challenge and a matter of balance. The mission of the LabLinks platform had to come first – to be able to engage and communicate quickly with peers. It was crucially important that the gaming element wasn’t seen as a barrier to entry so that, for example, a mature scientist who’d never gamed before wouldn’t be put off.
Coming up with an intuitive design is always far harder than just adding every bell and whistle. We had to strike a careful balance between simplifying the experience but not simplifying it to the extent where it becomes pointless, or you don’t get any immersive experience at all.
Beyond the technical challenges, LabLinks is keen to develop a charity arm (the LabLinks Foundation) to advance science and education in the sciences for students and the general public across the globe. This requires monetisation of the platform and creating a revenue stream. Some of this will come from paid courses once they are up and running, as well as renting out virtual rooms to vendors, which would allow them to reach and interact with audiences in a new way.
At the time of writing, LabLinks is currently in soft launch and early users are coming on. We’re now assessing and analysing how people respond to it. The feedback we get from early users and ambassadors of the platform will be vital in the future success of LabLinks and this will continue to influence the development of the platform and the way we evolve the user experience.
As we learn from the users, we are particularly interested to know what more we might need to do to make the platform trusted within the sector. In the groups areas of the platform, for example, whether it would be possible or desirable to set up private groups.
The wider potential for LabLinks is huge, not just for the pharmaceutical sector but for other scientific disciplines and industries as well. The open nature of LabLinks means there is also a real opportunity to collaborate and share knowledge for good. For example, on Covid-19 and the vaccine – especially now with the waiving of IP. If we can continue to develop the platform so that it makes it easier for people to have straightforward IP agreements or ways of collaborating, then this will encourage engagement rather than put people off.
We have thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with the team on this innovative project and hope to continue to play a key role in the growth and development of LabLinks in the pharmaceutical sector and beyond.