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Synthetic DNA has become the central component of countless scientific and technological innovations across many applications, from biopharmaceuticals to biofuels. However, research and drug development pipelines are often hindered by the cost and the length of time that it takes to obtain long sequences of DNA or multiple DNA variants. Ribbon Biolabs, based in Vienna, is addressing this issue by combining automation and adaptive algorithmic control with highly precise, optimized enzymatic synthesis.
The use of enzymes as biocatalysts in industrial applications has steadily gained popularity, as it offers an efficient way to use raw materials while minimizing waste. This approach has been successfully scaled for commercial processes in the pharmaceutical, food and beverage industries, largely thanks to the use of automation to screen, optimize and produce suitable enzymes. Roal Oy in Rajamäki, Finland – a leading producer of industrial enzymes – has automated large parts of its enzyme discovery and screening activities to accelerate product development and optimization.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced everyone to look at laboratory routines to see if they are really pandemic proof. For example, the explosive demand for high throughput genomic analysis often creates upstream pressures to process many more samples and prepare high quality DNA. The rapid shutdown of non-essential workplaces and services, coupled with the surge in demand for laboratory testing, put immense strain on multiple aspects of normal laboratory operations, such as strict rules on the need for personal protective equipment – which was in limited supply – and required physical distancing. Consumables stocks and reagents also dwindled, as they were being used at a much faster rate and supply chains were affected by global demand. Now that the limitations of current laboratory routines have been highlighted, it’s time to consider how to make laboratories pandemic proof.
SARS-CoV-2 has hit the world by storm and testing has had a major part to play in the fight against the virus, helping to track cases and slow rates of infection. ABC Labs, based at the Karolinska campus in Stockholm, was founded soon after the start of the pandemic with the specific purpose of establishing large scale and high quality PCR and ELISA COVID-19 testing in Sweden. The laboratory analyzes thousands of tests on a daily basis in partnership with the country’s Public Health Agency and a number of regional and private healthcare providers, to help stop the virus.
Hormones are specialist chemical messengers that provide a communication system between different parts of the body. They affect everything from growth and metabolism to appetite and mood, while also playing a vital role in puberty and fertility. When hormone imbalances occur, they can lead to a number of health issues, including infertility and menopausal problems in women. Medicare PLUS is using saliva testing to identify these hormone level imbalances for individuals across Slovenia and further afield.
Cell culture is at the heart of the production process for many biopharmaceuticals, but finding the optimal conditions to maximize yield can be a complex and time-consuming process. Traditional process development relies on costly and labor-intensive set-ups, significantly limiting throughput and the range of experimental conditions that can be assessed. Scientists in Roche Pharma Research and Early Development (pRED) have adopted an alternative approach, combining single-use microbioreactors with advanced automation and analytical platforms to streamline the workflow.
The ever-increasing throughput and ever-decreasing cost of next generation sequencing have made this technology a practical and affordable solution for everything from molecular diagnostics and antimicrobial susceptibility testing to crop research and environmental monitoring. For many of these applications, the bottleneck in the workflow – which can account for considerable hidden costs – lies in sample extraction. Tecan has partnered with Zymo Research to offer labs an automated and optimized solution for nucleic acid processing.
Recent viral outbreaks have alerted the world to the serious consequences of viral disease, yet the development of new antiviral drugs is challenging because of problems such as resistance or lack of molecular targets. Researchers at Zhejiang University’s College of Pharmaceutical Sciences are seeking to identify new antiviral drugs by combining insights from traditional Chinese medicine with modern high throughput technologies to discover novel lead compounds.
Understanding how and when laboratory automation assets are being used is crucial to maximize productivity and enable effective resource planning in high throughput facilities. California’s Ambry Genetics has a portfolio of almost 60 Fluent® and Freedom EVO® liquid handling platforms, and has worked closely with Tecan on the development of Introspect™, a cloud-based service that provides a comprehensive overview of precisely when and how laboratory automation systems are being used.
GAP Peptides has developed a novel approach to synthesizing high crude purity peptides that minimizes solvent and raw material consumption, while simultaneously reducing waste. Laboratory automation is helping this start-up company to accelerate its research and development, a process crucial to achieving commercial success. The company founders have collaborated with Tecan to establish a unique liquid handling platform, designed and built specifically to meet its workflow needs.
Genetic testing is at the forefront of modern medicine, and powerful tools are now available to identify inherited DNA characteristics that are potentially detrimental to health or conversely show susceptibility to targeted therapies. One such service, the Sanford Chip, has been developed by Sanford Health as a screening tool to identify pathogenic and likely pathogenic genetic variations that can be used to estimate the risk of some cancers and cardiac conditions.
Stem cell research has seen explosive growth in recent years, with the technology holding promise for the treatment and cure of a wide range of conditions, from cancer, diabetes and heart disease to neurological conditions, inherited disorders and conditions of aging, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The Stem Cell Institute (SCI) at the University of Minnesota, founded in 1999, was the first integrated stem cell institute to be established in an academic environment, and focuses on basic and translational research with these versatile cells.
The initial screening of chromatographic conditions can be a major bottleneck in the development of protein purification protocols. Italian company BiCT – Biological and Chemical Technologies – has turned to automation to overcome this issue, implementing parallel processing of miniature chromatography columns on a liquid handling platform to enable rapid simultaneous screening of a range of conditions. This maximizes the prospect of achieving the best result for each project while saving time and resources.
Quality control of milk is important to ensure compliance with regulations and to support dairy farmers in their herd management. However, analyzing multiple milk samples from many individual cows is a time-consuming process. French laboratory AGRANIS is using a new, automated genotyping technique to analyze bulk tank milk samples, saving time and money on its testing services.
Detecting adverse off-target effects is crucial to ensure the safety of potential therapeutics, but limited throughput and ethical considerations have traditionally forced pharmaceutical companies to perform safety pharmacology studies at a late stage of the drug development process. Human stem cell-based cellular models and automated screening processes are revolutionizing drug safety studies, enabling much earlier testing, with companies such as Ncardia at the forefront of this workflow transformation.
Automated laboratory workflows are commonplace in the pharmaceutical sector, offering increased throughput and process security throughout the drug discovery process. Most of these systems are dedicated to a specific task or assay, and have been optimized to streamline these repetitive tasks. Roche has taken a different approach for drug metabolism work, creating a centralized automation facility that is agile enough to respond to the changing demands of R&D.
Clinical diagnostics company Ambry Genetics focuses on the identification of germline mutations, detecting large deletions and duplications primarily by next generation sequencing. Automation holds the key to efficient high throughput assays, ensuring optimum productivity.
Access to human pluripotent embryonic stem cells is enabling Genea Biocells to pioneer novel therapies to treat a number of neuromuscular diseases. Drawing on almost 30 years of research heritage, the company is using its expertise to model spinal muscular atrophy and facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy to identify potential therapies.
The rising global problem of antimicrobial resistance has led to growing pressure on food producers to eliminate the use of prophylactic antibiotics as an additive in livestock feeds. To help combat the potential risk this poses to animal health, Agro BioSciences is harnessing the power of the microbiota present in the gut of chickens, pigs and cows to try and eliminate the growth of pathogens.
Microbiome research is still in its infancy, with little currently understood about the role micro-organisms play in both maintaining our day-to-day health and the genesis of disease. Researchers at the Karolinska Institute are using next generation sequencing to establish a baseline of the microbiota present in healthy individuals as a starting point for the development of new therapeutic strategies for a wide range of diseases.
Maintaining a flexible approach can be difficult in biopharmaceutical research; core laboratories must balance the ability to adapt to individual project requirements with the need for efficient, high throughput processing of ever-increasing sample numbers. Novo Nordisk’s Research Bioanalysis Department has adopted a semi-automated workflow, which combines the versatility to work across the company’s various research areas with accurate and reproducible testing of thousands of samples a day.
The biosimilars market is expanding rapidly as the patents expire for an increasing number of high profile biopharmaceutical agents. The complex nature of biologics requires extensive characterization of the production techniques and in vivo effects of new biosimilars before they can be released onto the market. Coherus Biosciences is using advanced laboratory automation to help screen chromatography conditions as part of its downstream purification processes for new biosimilars.
The Monash Antibody Technologies Facility (MATF) in Victoria, Australia, has added a new dimension to its high throughput service, off ering screening for antibody functionality. This time-consuming phase is crucial for many projects, and can now be outsourced to MATF, where comprehensive and fl exible automation completes testing in a fraction of the time.
The Institute for Product Quality, based in Berlin, has grown into a service laboratory that provides virtually any and every test required by the food market, from microbiology to pesticide testing. Using its expertise in food analytics and kit development, and with new, state-of-the-art equipment and facilities in the Berlin-Adlershof science park, ifp provides testing services and kits to the industry and public alike.