PharmaTec Series Adds Clarity to a Vision of the Lab of the Future

Synthace’s Director of biologics, Adam Paton, had the pleasure of attending the PharmaTec Series conference in London this September, here are his thoughts on this new event.

What does the lab of the future even look like?

Bringing together an audience with an interest in the "Lab of the Future" and the "Digital Lab" generates an interesting mix of views and personas from both the customer participants and the solution providers in this space.

For many years the phrase “Lab of the Future” has been used to describe or frame any conversation or meeting where some aspect of technology gets included in a discussion about research, development and manufacturing.

The reality is that, until recently, it has not been particularly clear what this even is, much less how it can be achieved and delivered.

That being said, it was evident from this meeting that what the ‘Lab of the Future’ looks like is now beginning to be better defined and understood, and in some cases is being implemented, albeit at a nascent stage.

The Computer-Aided Biology landscape paints a picture of how an integrated ecosystem of tools connecting the digital world with the physical can drive the realisation of the lab of the future. Taken from the Computer-Aided Biology White Paper

Two drivers are enabling a realisation of the lab of the future

The major shifts in mindset needed to achieve a ‘lab of the future vision’ are many. However, there are two distinct drivers that are allowing momentum towards the realisation of this goal.

The first is the understanding that the most realistic way to transform a lab from the current state to one of an automated utopia is to deliver new process, capability, hardware and technology in phases. As opposed to trying to fully automate and digitise everything in one giant step.

By assessing and transforming a particular unit operation through the power of both physical and digital automation, in a controlled manner, immediate value can be gained. And, learnings and failures can rapidly be acted upon and addressed, enabling a cohesive and optimised strategy for achieving the grand ‘utopian’ plan.

As science often naturally splits itself into discrete activities this approach fits well with the way work is done without being too disruptive. It also allows an organisation to look at the selection of instrument vendors and software solutions on the market and ensure that they are working together with a partner that will enable them to achieve their vision.

The second driver is that the appearance of greater numbers of generation Y in decision making positions within research and development.

There is a definite shift in scientists' views on technology in the lab and how it can not only help how we work today but more importantly how it can fundamentally change the way we work tomorrow.

When you have grown up and progressed through your working life surrounded by technology and have experienced how this positively impacts your day to day activities it is natural to think about how similar approaches can be taken into the workplace.

More and more interest around the topic of automation is coming from the life science industry.  Active projects to set up digital or automated labs are fast becoming the norm.

It takes an ecosystem to build the lab of the future

When the scientific community and those who are looking to create and provide solutions come together it leads to an excellent and exciting mix of opinions and needs which in turn are shaping the way that technology can underpin the vision of the Lab of the Future.

Working with pioneers and early adopters allows both vendors and customers to deliver projects in a truly collaborative fashion that is helping deliver some of the most exciting innovations that we have seen for years.

Complementing both of these is a perceivable change in the way that a number of solutions providers are interacting.

A fully automated and digital lab is a very complicated reality with most setups involving numerous scientists from varying disciplines: data scientists, automation engineers, corporate IT and quality and validation teams. These need to be coupled with the vast array of instrument manufacturers, data formats, legacy hardware and software systems in order to create a solution.

This ecosystem of people, hardware and software has historically led to resistance when considering multiple commercial entities trying to work together. It is therefore positive to see and have discussions with other technology providers who have a willingness and openness to work together in order to deliver the future vision. Flying solo is simply not feasible.

The word ecosystem was often used during the event and this is truly the situation we find ourselves in as we increasingly realise the potential of the digital lab.

Click below to download our white paper on Computer-Aided Biology to learn more about the emerging ecosystem of tools that will deliver the Lab of the Future.