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Lab Automation - Articles and news items
As RNA interference (RNAi) enters its teenage years from the first critical observations, it has now reached a multi-billion pound industry. There are few research areas that have expanded as quickly and spectacularly as the field of RNAi. The potential of RNAi initially sparked a functional genomics gold rush. Different uses of this technology in genomewide screens have identified genes involved in fundamental biological processes. There are now hundreds of research papers reporting genome-wide screens using cell culture to investigate the building blocks of the cell. However tempting it may be to speculate that this technology could be the new magic bullet to all our research needs, especially after some of the previous successes, some basic aspects of the RNAi technology and screening process still need to be addressed and improved upon. This review will investigate the strengths and weaknesses of our current technology, suggesting improvements and highlighting some of the novel growth areas in this field.
Our foundations of cell biology rely upon an understanding of cellular pathways, the components of which have been investigated over the last 40 years or so. Recent embellish – ment of the pathways has been carried out using models in cell culture with RNAi technology1. Many techniques have been used to reveal the functions of core pathway proteins, but few have sparked the imagination like the RNAi screen with the potential to systematically knock down the expression of every gene in the genome.
The pharmaceutical industry has significantly influenced laboratory automation trends in the past two decades. The need to screen large collections of chemical entities in a short time with minimised consumption of reagents has driven a strong demand of parallelisation, automation, simplification and miniaturisation solutions from the suppliers of instruments, labware and assay technologies. Currently, the levels of automation and miniaturisation seem to have reached a plateau and the new paradigms are flexibility and information content.
In this article, an overview regarding advances in assay formats for specific target classes and options that should be considered when considering hardware will be given. There has been a significant growth in the assay and automation technologies that are available for compound screening activities and it is essential to evaluate a variety of these before beginning a drug discovery program, the aims of these being to ensure the most relevant assay formats that are available are adopted.
Over the past decade we have seen a significant realignment of activities associated with drug discovery and this will continue for a multitude of reasons. Within the pharmaceutical industry we have seen significant changes e.g. a decrease in the numbers of drugs that are being approved by the regulatory authorities and the looming expiration of patented drugs, both of which have an immediate and direct consequence on revenue streams. In light of these issues, the pharmaceutical industry is responding appropriately. These changes have included a re-assessment of the strategies being employed in the pre-clinical phase of drug discovery, some of which are discussed in relation to automation solutions.
Participants: Dr Gordon R Alton, President and CEO, Altonyx Consulting / Dr Scott Bowes
Scientist, Novartis / Dr Sheraz Gul, Vice President and Head of Biology, European ScreeningPort /
Chris Molloy, Vice President of Corporate Development, IDBS
In 2010 a diverse group of scientists, engineers and professionals from around the world will come together once again for this laboratory automation event. At LabAutomation2010 participants will develop long-lasting connections through networking and expand their minds by exploring cutting-edge information and strategies.
There has been a continuous move by the large commercially orientated players involved in Drug Discovery to initiate novel methods to increase income streams and productivity. An example of the former has been the acquisition of companies and their drug pipelines and in the case of the latter, rationalisation of internal Research & Development activities. This is well illustrated by GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals which have formed small focused research units called the Centres for Excellence in Drug Discovery (CEDD) and the Discovery Performance Units (DPU) each of which having increased accountability1.
Among the challenges for the pharmaceutical industry, declining research productivity and increasing research costs take a prominent position. This is often put in the context of efforts in the pharmaceutical industry to automate and “industrialise” research activities, combinatorial chemistry and High Throughput Screening being the most prominent examples. An argument is being put forward that the industry replaced scientists with robots and scientists’ ingenuity with mindless screening. It is then concluded that the investments into automation were misguided and led to a decline in research productivity.
High Throughput Screening (HTS) has for many years now been playing a central role in drug discovery efforts to aid the identification of small molecule chemical entities that are capable of modifying the activity of disease relevant targets1. In order to make HTS a viable option to provide appropriate starting points for drug discovery efforts, large libraries of compounds are required that contain diverse chemical space.
From around the world, a diverse and highly innovative group of academicians, scientists, engineers, post-doctoral associates, graduate students, and business leaders will converge at LabAutomaton2009. The show will be held on 24-28 January 2009, at the Palm Springs Convention Centre, Palm Springs, California.
Laboratory automation development is being increasingly outsourced to the commercial market according to a recent industrial member survey by the Association for Laboratory Automation (ALA). ALA polled 400 of its members in industry with 14 questions and received 72 responses representing 47 different companies in the Pharma, Biotech and Agriculture Science sectors (an exceptionally good response). This article discusses the four questions that pertain to how the practitioners of laboratory automation in industry get their job done.
The increasing need for improved efficiency, precision and 24/7 operation imply more and more sophisticated measures in laboratory automation. This is true for a variety of fields – from pharmaceutical to food, agricultural, and the petrochemical industry, as well as forensics and medical diagnostics. Chemical and biological tests have to be supported by very small individual samples in medicine and forensics, up to continuous flow production with inline quality control in the chemical industry. A vast variety of physical, chemical, and biological methods need to be supported by experiment design and control, data acquisition and evaluation, documentation as well as simulation. Time constraints, high performance, extensive resource utilisation, and reproducibility of results demand a high degree of automation including unmanned operation. Global collaborations within multinational companies are the order of the day. Regulatory compliance with its diversity of validation processes increases the complexity of tasks. In addition, laboratory automation is no longer limited to R&D or production laboratories; it is now totally integrated into almost all production systems in a globalised enterprise. Adequate automation solutions always need the expertise of domain experts and automation specialists.
ABB Analytical Measurement Analytik Jena AG Aptalis Pharmaceutical Technologies ASM - Aerosl-Service AG Azbil BioVigilant, Inc. B&W Tek, Inc. bioMérieux BioTrends – Archilex SA BMG LABTECH GmbH Bruker Daltonik GmbH CAMO Software AS Catalent Pharma Solutions Chemspec Europe Ltd CI Precision Dow Chemical Company Ltd EUROGENTEC FOSS NIRSystems, Inc. GE Analytical Instruments Gerresheimer Group HAMAMATSU PHOTONICS EUROPE I Holland Limited IDBS IONIMED Analytik GmbH LI-COR Biosciences Lonza Natoli Engineering Company, Inc. Pall Life Sciences PANalytical B.V. Patheon Inc PhyNexus, Inc. ReAgent Roche Sirius Analytical Instruments Ltd Vala Sciences Veltek Associates Inc.