Embracing Automation for Better Health Outcomes

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The label “life sciences” covers a lot of bases: pharmaceutical research, biotechnology and medical device manufacturing, just to name a few. It’s a sector full of businesses that could greatly benefit from automation. 

While recent trends show an uptick in companies taking advantage, there are still many who have yet to witness automation firsthand. From advancing research to speeding up discoveries to leveraging robots for human-centric tasks, let’s take a look at what’s possible in the life sciences industry.

Common life science industry challenges automation is trying to solve

Accelerating and improving drug discovery

Discovery is an expensive and slow endeavor, averaging $1 to $2 billion and 10–15 years of research per drug. AI looks poised to make the journey faster, cheaper, and less likely to fail.

Start with development. Finding molecular compounds that affect targeted diseases or disorders in the first place, and then identifying the most effective ones, are massive time sinks. Worse yet, the process inherently limits creativity and experimentation. Making small tweaks to known compounds takes far less time than experimenting with thousands of untested combinations. As a result, companies are incentivized to modify existing formulas, rather than designing brand-new first-in-class drugs. AI speeds up the process and generates more creative compounds.

Then there are clinical trials. As big players like Amgen and Bayer discovered, AI can shorten the time it takes to identify potential participants—and reduce the number of participants needed for later phases. AI can also quickly process trial data without the risk of human error. 

Maintaining reproducibility

Reproducibility is key in any form of research. The slightest accidental change in methodology can seriously affect outcomes. Even if researchers notice a slipup in time to correct it, that’s time wasted double-checking results and repeating the experiment. There’s also the risk of outside contamination any time humans have to work in an aseptic environment. In both cases, automation can help. Robots don’t get tired or distracted, nor do they carry contaminants.

AI provides a big assist here as well. A 2019 study showed that in cases of gene set analysis, as sample sizes increased, so did reproducibility. Unfortunately, humans can only process so much at a time. With AI’s help, researchers can focus on putting the data to use instead of spending time parsing through it.

Boosting efficiency

Automated solutions can take the boredom out of many routine tasks. Take bacterial cloning. It’s as essential as it is time-consuming. Scrutinizing colonies to identify high-production strains and transferring bacteria to Petri dishes via pipette is delicate and repetitive. With automation, you don’t have to do as much of it.

An automated process can screen around a thousand bacterial clones at once. Robotic systems can pipette a 96-well plate in 20 seconds without a single slipup. That frees researchers up to focus on more complex, fulfilling tasks. Any medication a lab develops can get to pharmacy shelves sooner, too. Advanced vision technology, plus new packaging solutions, allows rapid filling of vials of personalized medicine, blister packages or ampules at high speed.

Manufacturing therapeutics fast and at scale

As advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMPs) become more prevalent, the speed at which we can manufacture them becomes a serious issue. Consider stem cells, which offer incredible breakthroughs in the treatment of Crohn's disease and knee osteoarthritis. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are especially promising, given they can be derived from many different tissues like bone marrow, adipose fat or even dental pulp. But manufacturing MSCs takes time—and scaling up from a research environment to widespread clinical use is a daunting, expensive proposition. 

Risks can be mitigated, and money can be better spent, with a closed automated manufacturing solution. We’ve already seen it in action with other ATMPs—just look at Cell Shuttle, a scalable, flexible, fully closed system that manufactures T-cells. Another example is a project like AUTOSTEM that is developing solutions for MSCs.

Staying compliant

The life sciences industry faces an especially tough regulatory environment. Even a small operation in a single market can struggle to stay compliant—and it only gets harder as operations expand. Many of the tasks required—data entry, document management, submitting reports—aren’t even complicated in and of themselves, they’re just time-intensive. 

Enter robotic process automation (RPA). RPA bots can take on many of the tasks essential to compliance, performing them more quickly and accurately than humans. They can also flag potential violations before they become serious problems. It’s a simple solution that companies of any size can rely on—as multinational giant Merck Life Sciences can attest.

These are just a few of the solutions automation can offer the life sciences industry. From vision solutions to generative AI, every development in automation promises to enhance efficiency and improve research outcomes. To see the latest solutions for yourself, join us at Automate from May 6–9 in Chicago, IL. With 800+ exhibitors to meet, you’re sure to find something right for your business!

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