A Lab of the Future to Fall in Love With

Recently a hundred or so experts gathered for the Lab of the Future Congress at the Wellcome Genome Campus, to discuss the tricky business of developing next generation research tools and facilities for the life sciences.

Panel discussing the human experience at the Lab of the Future congress (Credit: S.Wong)

Don’t forget the human touch

Throughout the two days, there was no shortage of consensus on the importance of getting the human experience right in our labs of the future.

Panel discussions and breakout white-board sessions covered topics from removing barriers to knowledge sharing and encouraging interaction between staff and stakeholders, to technologies disrupting the space and the status quo of R&D as a whole.

One of the themes that arose was the potential of the Lab of the Future to empower scientists to ‘do more science’, by augmenting their strengths with sophisticated robots and powerful artificial intelligence.

Steve Martin, VP and Head of Biopharma Discovery at GSK, pointed out that one way scientists’ time could be freed up was if automation could be employed more effectively in the lab.

However, automation has a historical reputation of not being user-friendly or flexible. Naturally this can make end users sceptical of its widespread implementation in the lab, especially if it means significant downtime or disruption to current ways of working during the installation process.

So, as encouraging as it is to see that senior executives can and want to invest in such initiatives, the key to success here will be sustained commitment to complement top-down strategy with bottom-up buy-in.

In plain language, scientists have to love using their new tools and facilities.

Enhancing scientists’ daily experience

Pioneers from across the global ecosystem shared their experience in creating more efficient processes and human-centric working environments that would enhance the day-to-day experience of scientists. To give a few examples:

AstraZeneca’s Michael Kossenjans highlighted their modular and organic approach to building up the integrated instrumentation in their Gothenburg iLAB, where they also host student tours to inspire the next generation of scientists (below).

Roche’s Bryn Roberts explained the “neighbourhood concept” behind their unusual high-rise Basel Innovation Center to be completed in 2023, which will use meticulously designed interiors to encourage cross-pollination between the wide variety of teams within their Pharmaceutical Research and Early Development (pRED) unit (above).

Empathising with and empowering the scientist

Only when we think about lab of the future from the end user’s perspective can we prioritise what is most important to them.

At Synthace we think the lab of the future should enable scientists to:

·      have more time to think

·      easily share insights

·      give and receive training more easily

·      utilise the right tools at the right time

·      feel valued

That would be a lab to fall in love with.

The table below show how emerging tech solutions can help scientists achieve these ideals in the lab of the future.

How technologies can fulfil the ideals of the lab of the future.

Making Advanced therapies in the lab of the future

In the cell and gene therapy space bioprocessing engineers are encountering significant pain points that need addressing to take the bioprocessing lab into the future. One big pain point is the time it takes to wrangle data from different on-, in-, at- and offline equipment in a unit operation to get insight into the bioprocess. It can sometimes take weeks to analyse the data from a single run.

With our cloud-based platform Antha we are implementing the above-mentioned ideals to solve bioprocessing pain points. As our CSO Markus Gershater and Oxford Biomedica’s Head of Automation, André Raposo explained in their joint talk, “Computer-Aided Biology: How automation and digital tools are transforming R&D labs”.

Markus introduced the issues facing bioprocessing engineers in obtaining clean structured data with full sample provenance from their bioprocessing runs, and how the lack of clean data is hampering any uptake of advanced learning technologies.

Indeed, bioprocess engineers have to spend large amounts of time wrangling data into structured formats before they can analyse it. This is dead time and is in stark opposition to the top ideal listed above.

By automating the planning and execution of the bioprocessing run with our cloud-based platform Antha, scientists are freed up to spend more time thinking about and designing ever more sophisticated experiments.

André then presented data and examples of how his lab are using Antha’s Bioprocessing Informatics solution to automate the planning and execution of their viral vector production. The data viewer enables near real time insights into each bioreactor where factors such as viral titre, metabolites or gas concentrations can be easily tracked and compared. And, ultimately shared between team members within the organisation. This drastically speeds up the time to insight for bioprocess engineers.

Oxford Biomedica’s André Raposo explains how Antha is at the centre of their bioprocessing ecosystem. Credit: Adam Tozer

The Lab of the Future is exciting but how do we get onboard?

Now that we’ve got growing interest within the industry, a key question is how can we get even more scientists excited about the lab of the future?

A pragmatic way is to break down the high-level benefits into smaller, more specific benefits that require less upfront investment and a shorter timeline to deliver concrete improvements (exemplified below). It won’t come as a surprise that most scientists will be more comfortable with putting their reputation on the line for better defined ideas that have a higher perceived chance of succeeding.

Delivering on the promise of the Lab of the Future

Many speakers and delegates at the Congress raised concerns about difficulties in shifting cultures within organisations small and large. We can’t ignore that a lot of hesitation around new solutions stems from fear or, sadly, actual experience of broken promises.

It’s up to us solution builders to make sure we don’t let down our early adopters and give them the best chance to establish trust in emerging technologies within their organisations.

If you’re ready to start bringing the future into your lab, get in touch to book a demo with Antha.