In November 2017, IBBL relocated its entire staff and operations from Luxembourg City to a permanent location in Dudelange. The precision and rigour of the underlying management ensured a seamless transition. The newly built facilities, in the Laboratoire National de Santé (LNS) building Phase 2, boast a 2,000 m2 floor area and a storage capacity of about 5 million samples. The bespoke building is already allowing IBBL to expand its operations and service offering.

No longer a ‘start-up’

A prefabricated building and 6 visionary scientists. That was IBBL at its inception in early 2010, perfectly embodying the spirit of the budding life-science community in Luxembourg. However, the significant success it achieved in just a few years and the remarkable growth of its activities meant that a larger building was needed to sustain the biobank’s development in the medium term. It was time to look forward and make a move…literally! In 2015, having recognised this need, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Higher Education and Research offered IBBL the opportunity to move permanently to Dudelange into a building then under construction. Fast-forward to November 2017, the relocation of IBBL’s staff, equipment, samples and operations was completed. “Moving from a temporary building to permanent facilities shows that IBBL is no longer a “start-up”: IBBL has grown into an established player in the Luxembourgish and European scientific landscapes. Our new high quality facilities are witness to that”, produdly states Dominic Allen, Chief Operating Officer at IBBL. The new LNS Phase 2 building, shared with the Laboratoire de la Médecine Vétérinaire de l’Etat and the LNS itself, further strengthens IBBL’s ties with these two national research players.

“Preserving sample integrity during the move was of course our number one priority, but making sure the staff was happy was a close second!”

Estelle Sandt

Project Manager

A rigorous project plan

The rigour and precision that characterise IBBL’s approach to the management of scientific projects were also evident in the way the relocation to Dudelange was handled. The move was treated as a project in its own right, with its own project manager and associated project management methodology. A first plan was written in May 2017, detailing the main steps involved, the individual sub-tasks to be performed and the respective responsible actors.

Weekly meetings among members of the project team also took place from the beginning, together with regular site visits to ensure the construction works were advancing as planned. “It was truly a ‘crowd move’”, comments Estelle Sandt, the Project Manager at IBBL responsible for the move. “The drawings of the new building were made available to the entire staff well in advance, giving everyone the chance to familiarise themselves with the changes and be actively involved throughout the entire process”. In addition, a quality plan was established and a risk assessment carried out, allowing the identification of risks and the implementation of related preventive actions. This resulted in a comprehensive and solid move plan, stemming from the close cooperation between IBBL’s biorefinery, biorepository, IT, quality and marketing and communication departments. The move took place in two phases. In October 2017, the biorepository, with its freezers and liquid nitrogen tanks, was the first to be relocated, with IBBL staff and laboratory equipment following suit in November. A specialised moving company ensured the integrity and safety of the 500,000 samples throughout the move, by using trucks with generators to power the freezers and maintain the appropriate temperature. For an additional level of security, the Luxembourgish police escorted the biospecimens.

A seamless transition

Such a momentous change has its risks. However, the meticulous planning bore its fruits. The move proved to be a smooth process, with no significant service interruptions and no damage caused to any of IBBL’s samples or equipment. Given the significant impact of such a change on its operational infrastructure, IBBL voluntarily suspended its ISO 17025:2005 accreditation, but its Quality Management System (QMS) continued without interruption. Not only was the process seamless, but also efficient – all staff and laboratory equipment were relocated in 4 days, 1 day ahead of schedule. “Preserving sample integrity during the move was of course our number one priority, but making sure the staff was happy was a close second!”, explains Estelle Sandt. “Client satisfaction is paramount, but so is that of our people. Without their buy-in and cooperation, none of it would have been possible”. A move survey was in fact part of the plan, reporting that 8 in 10 people were satisfied or very satisfied with the move and its internal communication.

“Thinking that all our biorepository activities alone used to be performed in a single 90 m2 room really puts the importance of the move into perspective.”

Katy Beaumont

Biorepository Team Leader

‘Building’ new opportunities

The idea behind the move being to increase IBBL’s service capacity, it was pivotal to ensure that the operational needs of its departments were translated into architectural and technical specifications. “The public buildings administration (ABP) and all the architects and technical design offices working for them have done a very good job in adapting the design of the building to our requirements”, comments Dominic Allen. A good example is the installation of a lift entirely dedicated to the transport of samples from the biorepository department on the first floor to the biorefinery on the third, not initially foreseen in the original design.

The completed building boasts a total area of 2,000 m2, of which 500 m2 for the biorepository alone and 1,000 m2 for the laboratories. This represents a doubling in floor area compared to the previous facilities and a tenfold increase in storage capacity, meaning that IBBL is now able to accommodate up to 5 million biospecimens, compared to the previous capacity of 500,000. The new building also provides additional space for new equipment, new facilities such as a walk-in freezer room and more automation in the laboratory. Moreover, it has enabled IBBL to separate its laboratories according to different activities, such as DNA and RNA extraction, to prevent cross-contamination. “Thinking that all our biorepository activities alone used to be performed in a single 90 m2 room really puts the importance of the move into perspective” states Katy Beaumont, Biorepository Team Leader at IBBL. “The flexibility that comes with the new facilities is already enabling IBBL to expand its operations and services to support an increasing number of partners and clients internationally”. Indeed, IBBL is preparing to become compliant with GMP storage regulations for the storage of stem cells for use in therapeutic applications (see chapter “A pioneer in quality and standardisation”).