Cloud-based robotics labs accelerate drug discovery and development

Drug discovery and development is an incredibly expensive and time-consuming process, taking 12 to 18 years and costing an average of $2 billion to $3 billion. Given the slim chance of success, with only 10% of drug candidates reaching the clinical development stage, pharmaceutical companies need to prevent further erosion of profit margins.

Automating drug discovery and development processes with robotics enables faster analysis and generation of results, which helps reduce the time and cost of moving a drug from the lab to the clinic.

robots can improve drug discovery and development

GlobalData’s Smart Pharma 2021 survey found that 22% of industry professionals believed robotics would be one of the most disruptive technologies for optimizing the drug discovery and development process. However, most respondents also indicated that their company is not currently investing in technology, suggesting that the use of robotics has not yet reached its full potential in drug discovery and development. Industrial co-bots in lab environments perform repetitive and complex workflows, and if connected through the cloud, workers can also benefit from real-time results. Many pharmaceutical companies already use robots for high throughput screening in drug discovery, handling liquid compounds and testing millions of samples for activity against a biological target. For instance, Astra Zeneca automates the design-make-test-analyze cycle for drug discovery in its Swedish iLab.

Remote-controlled robotic laboratories

Suppliers specializing in robotics such as Strateos, Automata Labs and InSilico Medicine offer lab setups with cloud-connected robotic equipment, including caged industrial robots and industrial co-bots. These cloud-based robotic labs allow researchers to perform drug discovery and development processes remotely via a computer platform, including the design-build-test-analyze cycle.

Lab robots are connected to a cloud platform and the data collected by the robot can be transmitted to all other robots on the same platform, allowing researchers to access results in real time and analyze results remotely. Lab-specific industrial co-bots can perform complex and repetitive tasks such as handling liquids. This reduces human error and provides more reliable and reproducible results and increases the speed of drug discovery and development processes.

Eli Lily is the first major pharmaceutical company to publicly invest in cloud robotics labs, having designed the Lilly Life Sciences Studio Lab with Strateos in the United States. The closed-loop robotic laboratory consists of more than 100 instruments and provides storage for more than five million compounds, accelerating the design-manufacture-test-analysis cycle by automating the design, synthesis, purification, analysis, sample management and hypothesis testing. Eli Lilly has already seen positive results, with the lab generating nearly 20% of the company’s compounds that pass through biological screening. As the deployment of robotics in the pharmaceutical industry increases, cloud robotics labs will help companies rapidly produce new therapies for emerging diseases.

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