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Unlock your lab’s potential with automation

Russell Green: How labs can unlock the real potential of automation


30th January 2023 Russell Green

Trying to do more with less is a constant headache for any business, but it’s particularly acute in the life sciences industry. Not only is the skills shortage making hiring more staff challenging, but new lab space is increasingly hard to find. With a limited number of scientists available and a limited amount of physical space to expand into, budding life sciences companies will inevitably face the question: how can I scale?

Limited staff and physical space has budding life sciences companies questioning how they can scale

The most effective solution is automation, which can enable labs to unlock the hidden potential they already have. For example, reproducibility is an important factor for scientific experimentation. For decades, scientists have been generating an enormous amount of data, but replication can prove to be tricky. This can only be improved by layering in higher-quality, better documented data.

This is where automation can really bring value – replicating and repeating more expansive experiments over and over again to generate significantly more data than could be done by a human in the same timeframe. In addition, ‘out of hours’ automation means that experiments which need fewer, if any, human touchpoints can be left to continue overnight and during weekends, making use of anti-social hours where no work would previously have been done.

Automation of cell culture is a great example of this. Right now, these experiments are designed based on the hours that lab technicians want to work. With automation, labs could see an order of 5x increase in capacity, resulting from running out of hours, which also brings with it a greater degree of flexibility as to when experiments could be started, rather than limiting designs based on when it is most convenient for operators to carry out tasks.

Cell culture labs rely heavily on manual processes and demand lab workers come in out of hours to tend to cells. Automation can relieve them of these repetitive tasks.

This also unlocks the ability of scientists to spend more time doing valuable tasks, such as analysing results and designing new experiments. After all, scientists are highly qualified and skilled individuals, and the bulk of their time shouldn’t need to be taken up with doing menial tasks such as exchanging media or splitting cells in order to obtain results. For larger businesses which are able to roll these benefits out on a mass scale, this could significantly accelerate drug discovery time, resulting in enormous financial savings at the same time.

Widening the funnel

In addition to providing significant benefits for ongoing experimentation in the lab, automation also means that businesses are able to ‘widen the funnel’ when it comes to developing new treatments and cell therapies. This could be transformational to R&D efforts.

Automation means businesses can ‘widen the funnel’ when it comes to developing new treatments and cell therapies transforming R&D efforts.

Typically, a lab might start with thousands, or even millions of potential leads in the discovery process. Current approaches are aimed at reducing this to a small number of minimally characterised hits to move forward to the next phase as quickly as possible. This means that potential leads that did not meet some limited criteria may be missed, or those that are taken forwards might have characteristics that might make them unsuitable. Either scenario may mean stepping back in the process in order to move forwards.

Instead, automation makes it possible to keep the funnel wider for longer, testing out a higher number of leads in order to qualify the best ones, while also gathering deeper and broader datasets about potential hits. This allows scientists to generate a larger pool of hits with greater data attached. Imagine the impact of this approach in the cell line development phase and the potential this could have on process development.  

Ultimately, increasing automation within the laboratory unlocks a significant amount of previously inaccessible potential – freeing up scientists’ time to focus on valuable research, making existing equipment work harder and even out of hours, and enabling higher quality scientific development from an early stage. Thriving life sciences companies – at any stage of their growth – must consider how an automation solution could unlock untapped value within their business.

If your lab would like to expore the opportunities and benefits of open, integrated lab automation, speak to a member of our team.