Biospecimen Waste in Hospitals Can Be Used in Clinical Research for Drug Development


Billions of samples are discarded while investigators struggle to assemble collections.

The study of the human body is at the center of drug development. Diverse, high-quality biospecimens, including human tissue, biofluids and cells, are essential components in driving research by informing molecular insights and clinical information to discover certain disease drivers, effective drug targets, and more. However, an estimated 3 billion clinical specimens are discarded annually, leading to a shortage of biospecimens for research purposes.1 This waste of invaluable biological information and medical potential has long been overlooked and holds a key to addressing shortfalls in biospecimen supply that is critical to helping clinical investigators advance their work.

What’s more, the unrelenting pressure of precision medicine is driving investigators’ needs for increasingly specific biofluids and tissue samples for their studies. For years, approximately 4 in 5 investigators have limited their work because of such scarcity.2,3

However, we can solve this problem by rethinking how specimens are collected and stored from labs all over the world. By doing so, it would create opportunities for investigators to gain access to these valuable resources without compromising patient care or safety.

However, we can solve this problem by rethinking how specimens are collected and stored from labs all over the world. Image Credit: © arcyto -

However, we can solve this problem by rethinking how specimens are collected and stored from labs all over the world. Image Credit: © arcyto -

Preserve Valuable Biospecimens

Clinical labs are sitting on a goldmine of potential resources that could be used for future medical research. In 2023, one solution may be an online marketplace that would allow for fast, safe, and economical interactions between clinical labs (who have access to human specimens) and investigators (who need specimens to advance their research). Clinical labs could easily offer their biospecimens to investigators and receive compensation for their work to make the most out of this valuable resource. In turn, utilizing such a marketplace allows investigators easy access to these specimens to perform potentially lifesaving research and development. With such a marketplace, investigators would come to search, select, and acquire the biospecimens they need. As with any online marketplace, the “product” being offered would be described in extensive detail. In this case, descriptions would include the patient’s anonymized demographics, diagnoses, lifestyle (eg, smoking), past procedures, and possibly even genetic biomarkers. This differentiation is essential in our precision medicine age.

Simplifying Biospecimen Procurement Complexity

Biospecimens are complicated and require complex processes for procurement. The time-consuming method of procuring these specimens often delays research organizations for weeks or even months before they can begin their work. This can have a serious impact on the pace and quality of medical progress that could otherwise be achieved more efficiently if the processes were streamlined and automated.

Timing can be paramount when conducting research. An online marketplace for human biospecimens would cut weeks or months from the effort that research organizations now invest in gathering required specimen samples, often without success. Investigators describe today’s biospecimen procurement process as “challenging” and “inefficient.”3 They often procure specimens through a drawn-out experience full of phone calls, emails, and waiting on standby; these potential sample providers can collectively create a complex sourcing web for research organizations.

An online marketplace would help to centralize, streamline, and automate the specimen procurement process. Instead of calling or emailing specimen suppliers one by one, research organizations would simply the search through access to a vast network of samples on the online marketplace, which would allow them to point and click to fill their own carts or have the platform assemble collections for them.Investigators may also enjoy expedited delivery of the biospecimens needed for their work.

Revenue for Biobanks and Clinics

Streamlining biospecimen procurement would also provide sorely needed revenue to clinical labs and other organizations. While many of these organizations currently discard valuable biospecimens, others store them until they become obsolete. More than 50% of biobanks collect more specimens each year than they release, in many cases as much as a 10-fold difference.4

Further, biobanks need money to survive. Biobank personnel say the economic sustainability of their biorepositories is a major challenge.5 An online marketplace for human biospecimens would give biobanks a revenue stream to help defray the costs of handling, storing, and distributing useful specimens. The platform’s software would help suppliers manage orders, pick, and pack specimens and send the specimens on their way.

Privacy Assured

Since an online marketplace holds an abundance of data about specimens and the patients who donate them, all samples would need to be de-identified. Personal identifying information would never be shared, encrypted, or otherwise with the marketplace platform. Names would never leave the organization supplying the samples.

One vision of an online marketplace (iSpecimen Marketplace) that unites the world’s qualified research organizations and biospecimen suppliers is in its early stages, with more than 200 suppliers representing more than 80 million specimens interacting with more than 500 research organizations.5 The processes are evolving, and the transaction volume is increasing. These trends are helping to fuel medical progress, reduce costs, and accelerate research and development timelines, all while generating new revenue streams to help sustain the many, varied organizations that supply specimens.

The human body is still central to drug development. Today, there are ever-evolving ways of connecting people and their vital specimen contributions to emerging medical discoveries that aim to improve lives and help make the world safer and healthier for all of us.

About the Author

Evan Cox is vice president and head of product management at iSpecimen.


  1. Staff reporter. AACC Calls on Congress to Fund Clinical Lab Training Programs. 360Dx. September 17, 2020. Accessed January 2, 2024.
  2. Massett HA, Atkinson NL, Weber D, et al. Assessing the need for a standardized cancer HUman Biobank (caHUB): findings from a national survey with cancer researchers. J Natl Cancer Inst Monogr. 2011;2011(42):8-15. doi:10.1093/jncimonographs/lgr007
  3. iSpecimen Reports Full Year 2022 Results. Lexington, MA: iSpecimen; March 14, 2023. Accessed January 2, 2024.
  4. A Worldwide Study of the Factors Affecting Sustainable Biobanking Operations and Technology-Based Approaches to Increase Utilization Rates. iSpecimen. May 2018. Accessed January 2, 2024.
  5. Transforming biospecimen procurement. iSpecimen. 2023. Accessed January 2, 2024.
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