The drug discovery industry is essential to the health and wellbeing of millions of people, but it needs to continue to innovate and advance in order to bring new treatments to market.
To do so, being able to scale effectively will be critical.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need to be able to quickly develop drugs and treatments, and the industry has made great leaps in areas from precision medicine to novel vaccines and cell and gene therapy in recent years – largely due to significant government investment and new technology.
Despite this, the industry still faces challenges in scaling and maintaining growth, without compromising on quality.
Currently, the three main challenges are the finite amount of lab space for expansion in the UK, manual processes impeding scaling and reproducibility, and a reductive R&D funnel.
The issue of lab space is particularly prevalent, with consultancy firm Bidwells finding that the demand for lab space in Oxford and Cambridge is significantly surpassing what is available – with 10 thousand sq. ft available in Cambridge compared to two million sq. ft of demand.
Due to this, drug discovery is at a serious risk of a slowdown simply because there is not enough space – and investors may look towards other leading cities like Boston to set up labs.
Alongside space constraints, it’s also a challenge for drug discovery labs to meet the pace and accuracy they want while using manual processes.
When researching new drugs, labs need the ability to conduct highly repeatable experiments, and be able to test out as many leads as possible.
This is where automation technology comes in.
Increasingly, labs are embracing automation in place of manual processes to help scale, be more innovative, and work more efficiently – in order to drive drug discovery forwards.
Unlocking the potential your lab space holds
In 2023, biotech and life sciences organisations are finding it harder than ever to expand into new spaces.
The high costs and limited availability of labs mean companies now have to work out how to scale, while being constrained to smaller spaces.
Space and equipment optimisation is a must in these situations, especially in smaller or unusually-shaped labs – the latter of which is more common in re-purposed buildings such as old department stores.
Being able to scale up output and efficiency in these spaces requires flexible and adaptable workflows, that can change depending on the needs of the lab.
Labs today can configure their equipment and workflows, regardless of their stage in the automation journey, to accommodate different spaces and evolving needs.
Automated lab benches that can be configured in a modular set up, for example in an island shape or bending around tricky corners, are of great benefit here.
Modular benches allow labs to easily change their workflow setup and scale up or down over time, and always be able to keep reaping the benefits of automation.
Keeping the funnel wide
Alongside providing significant space benefits in the lab, automation also means that labs are able to ‘widen the funnel’ when it comes to developing new drugs – which could be transformational in early-stage drug development.
Often, a lab may start with thousands, or even millions of potential routes in the R&D process for drug development.
However, to explore the routes in the required amount of depth, these routes need to be quickly narrowed down to just a small number of options.
The problem arises when the shortlisted routes turn out to be incorrect – meaning significant R&D resources and time have been wasted.
Automation can help scientists avoid going back to square one in these situations, as it gives labs the ability to keep the funnel wider for longer, testing out hundreds of different routes in order to qualify the best ones.
This means that scientists can quickly root out the incorrect options and focus on the highest-quality ones instead.
This may not necessarily speed up the process, it does mean that research teams are able to do more science early on in the process, leading to higher quality results later on in the drug development pipeline.
Ensuring accuracy through repeatability
Automation is key to ensuring research is accurate, an essential factor of a successful drug-discovery process. Inaccurate data can cause hours or even days of research to be written off as unusable, as unrepeatable processes significantly lower the quality of experiments.
Repeatability is the key to accuracy but remains a challenge for numerous labs.
Not being able to achieve repeatability can hamper drug discovery through inaccurate experimentation – but this is where automation can really bring value.
For example, automation can facilitate the replication of complex experiments multiple times and generate more extensive and well-documented data than a person could in the same timeframe.
This not only increases the quantity of data available, but also its accuracy and reliability, leading to more robust scientific findings.
This is essential to drug discovery, as scientists need strong and well-supported conclusions to develop safe and effective drugs.
The integration of modular automation empowers labs in the drug discovery industry innovate and grow while maintaining accuracy.
This kind of automation optimises available lab space, while also giving scientists the freedom to experiment more than they would be able to when working manually.
By embracing modular, integrated automation, labs can optimise efficiency, leverage existing resources, and drive advancements in drug discovery without compromising on quality.
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