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Automising Drug Discovery
Dr. Shripad Joshi, Country Sales Manager - Life Sciences, Group, Agilent Technologies The imminent demand for speed to market new drugs requires that today's drug discovery labs need to work much faster and with greater efficiency. Also, scientists today have much higher number of target molecules with potential as drugs. This in turn has slowly replaced the traditional methods with automation. The article gives an outlook of the growing trend of automation in laboratory processes.

The imminent demand for speed to market new drugs requires that todayís drug discovery labs need to work much faster and with greater efficiency. Also, scientists today have much higher number of target molecules with potential as drugs. This in turn puts enormous pressure on the scientists to screen them all with traditional methods.
This is where automation has potential to play a major role and help speed up the manual processes. Automation plays a very big role in Compound Management, High Throughput screening of every drug discovery program in Pharmaceutical and biotech companies.
Agilent's BioCel systems integrate plate management, liquid handling, barcoding and other essential functions for any efficient compound library management group. This is a big area for Automation solutions. High throughput workflows such as ADME also rely on Automation solutions for consistency and reproducibility of analyses and to make workflows involving thousands of compounds more reliable, efficient and manageable.

Newer Tools and Technologies
The need to automate sample preparation has played a very important role in development of automation tools over the last couple of decades. There has been significant improvement both in hardware and software. From standalone units to fully integrated systems, key sample preparation and creative walk-away automation approaches with personalized customer service are possible to provide complete solutions for your laboratory. Various novel tools available are:

• Liquid Handling systems can be used to dispense with high accuracy from 100nl to 200nl in 96 and 384 well microplates with either fixed or disposable tips for specific applications.
• Vertical Pipetting Station delivers industry-leading speed and unparalleled performance for sample handling and liquid-transfer applications. The two-axis positioning stage provides access to all quadrants of 96-, 384-, and 1536-well microplates. An intuitive user interface allows the operator to create and run complex pipetting protocols with ease.
• Compact, high speed microplate handler for benchtop integration.

Microplate Handler is a compact, microplate storage and handling system designed for integration with a variety of laboratory devices. It features a high-speed robot, and its modular design provides the flexibility and scalability required to meet the needs of the most diverse laboratory applications. It can be powered by the software or accessed through its ActiveX control for integration into any other software platform.

While developing innovative solutions with increased throughput and walk-away time, Agilent Automation Solutions has partnered with various laboratory instrument providers to deliver proven, reliable integrations quickly and efficiently. BioCel System automates any microplate-based protocol providing maximum walk-away time and throughput, all in the most compact design.

The new Direct Drive Robot brings speed and precision to a system that is both affordable and easily expandable. With modular cells, options for various enclosures, and environmental control, BioCel Systems are tailored to your individual needs.

Operated by Agilent VWorks software, the most flexible and efficient scheduling software available, BioCel Systems will deliver the longest walk away time and throughput of any integrated system.

Impacts, Advantages and Disadvantages of Automation
Automation offers many benefits in the drug discovery process. With the everspiraling costs, automation can help bring the costs down by increasing capability and capacity, improving quality by eliminating man induced errors and delivering very high precision and accuracy in results.

Automation also improves process efficiency and enhances productivity. Incorporating automation in a lab can free scientists from the hours spent manually in setting up and running complicated applications. Other big advantage is that they are customizable, scalable, and can be integrated with 3rd party instrumentation, as well as safe and reliable. However, it is also very critical to ascertain the right kind of automation need for your lab. It is important to choose a right solution based on your throughput needs, stability of reagents and samples, costs, design that facilitates integration into additional workflows in your lab etc.

It is also important to note how flexible your processes in the lab are. If one has a frequently changing processes with less throughput needs, having manual processes makes lot more sense. Hence identifying the right solution and a right partner who can partner with you to clearly specify and identify both short term and long term goals and thereby provide a solution is very critical.

Case Study
Many customers across the world have benefitted immensely from Agilentís Automation solutions. One example is that of Rigel Pharmaceuticals, San Francisco, USA. It is a clinical-stage drug development company that discovers and develops novel, small-molecule drugs for the treatment of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, as well as muscle disorders. Rigel uses functional genomics to discover small-molecule drugs for the treatment of inflammatory and/or autoimmune and metabolic diseases. The company uses a custom built Agilent Biocel 1200 platform as a complete solution for large-scale functional genomics screening from experiment start to finish. The platform covers DNA preparation, transfection, viral production, and analysis of the effects of the DNA on cells.

Future Growth of Automation in Indian Pharmaceutical Industry
Pharmaceutical Industry accounts for about 1/3rd of the total Automation market in India. With the increasing trend of global pharmaceutical companies outsourcing their R&D work to India, the market is expected to grow. In the last few years Indian Clinical Research Organisations (CROs) have consistently seen routine drug discovery assays and analyses outsourced by their Pharmaceutical clients and this trend is likely to continue. For CRO workflows in particular, reproducible and reliable liquid and plate handling of automation platforms along with barcode tracking capabilities will be quintessential today and going forward. Pharmaceuticals, Biotech and CROs will drive automation growth in India in the coming years.