As the dust continues to settle from the many phases of COVID-19 over the last 3 years, the landscape around lab automation has evolved in tandem. Labs had to rapidly adapt their processes to address strict social distancing protocols. As a result, many scientists leveraged automation to keep instruments running when people weren’t able to. What started as a stop-gap measure to keep experiments running during a pandemic has now become common practice for many labs and is an essential component in accomplishing their research goals.
During the peak of COVID-19 before the mass rollout of vaccines, labs experienced a mountain of challenges.
- As noted in a 2020 McKinsey report, thousands of trials and trial sites were in partial or complete lockdown, and across R&D groups, companies reported operating at below 50% normal capacity.
- An Ernst & Young LLP survey of 200 supply chain executives across life science and other industries found that 72% reported that supply chain issues had a negative effect on their business in 2020.
The life sciences sector did see some positive effects as a result of the pandemic. As noted in the Ernst & Young survey, these effects included increased customer demand and bringing new products to market. As a result of this increased demand, companies found a way to not only meet these challenges but surpass them.
- While decentralized clinical trials (DCTs) have been around for years before the pandemic arrived, GlobalData surveys found that 60% of contract research organizations anticipated using DCTs within two years of the pandemic’s start (data based on date of publish in August of 2021), a pivotal step in making the process more efficient.
- Rapid drug development, as showcased with the mRNA vaccines that brought the most challenging parts of the pandemic to an end, were a remarkable achievement for researchers in the face of great odds.
- Leading labs employed new digital solutions that allowed for more flexibility to connect and automate their key processes, such as implementing AI and machine learning, and incorporating modern connected software applications within their lab. These digital transformations are still underway, but with the start of COVID over three years behind us, the practices these companies have adapted appear here to stay.
While lab automation has been around for a few decades, COVID quickly showed a new swath of scientists that automation and new ways of approaching complex problems can make a major difference in their day-to-day work, making research faster and more efficient. As a result of rapid adaptation to maintain productive labs in the face of a pandemic, automation tools have expanded and are better able than ever to streamline workflows.
3 Learnings in the Post-COVID Era
COVID Reinforced the Advantages of Automation
One thing we learned from the last three years is that many labs are still too dependent on their scientists to accomplish tasks manually. And it’s those experiences that are driving scientists to champion the benefits of automation and leading many to seek out information about their options to safely move samples between instruments or floors. This keeps workflows running in the absence of staff and allows for more data to be captured throughout the experimental process. It is an exciting time for automation and orchestration experts to partner with new customers who want to automate processes in their labs or build production-ready systems.
Automation Tools and Integrations Continue to Expand
Technology vendors are also taking some of the same notes. We’re seeing more companies that already offer physical automation solutions, such as liquid handlers and robotic arms, beginning to launch digital automation tools that collect and move data between systems and also monitor instruments, software, and results remotely. Commercial digital automation solutions are rapidly emerging as an alternative to home-grown solutions and there’s sure to be much more conversation in the future about how scientists benefit from these systems.
Workflows are Becoming More Efficient
We are also seeing automation evolve in the kinds of workflows that scientists want to implement. More labs are leaning toward comprehensive, end-to-end workflows that incorporate multiple workstations. These workstations are more streamlined, easier to operate, and simpler for staff to learn than ever. They also have multiple touch points that can be tailored to work for people with different skill sets and even make it possible to incorporate manual steps when needed. As automation providers, we have to think critically about how each touchpoint is set up to ensure that they work for the people who are most likely to use them.
Want to learn more?
Watch our recent SLAS2023 tutorial
If you’re interested in how Biosero is helping scientists adapt to the intense demand for scientific innovations, check out our recent SLAS2023 tutorial presentation.
Adapting to Demand by Orchestrating Your Lab
- Ryan Bernhardt, Chief Commercial Officer @ Biosero
- Ansley Tanoto, Senior Automation Engineer @ Metagenomi
- Derrick Miyao, Vice President of Molecular Foundry @ DeepCure
- Yaw Etse, VP of Engineering and Lab Automation, Invitae
Virtual or live tours of automated systems’
Sometimes you just want to experience the thing before you buy it—like the test drive on a new car. Biosero Acceleration Labs provide you with the opportunity to test drive an automation concept before you actually bring it home. Virtual and in-person experiences are available.
Get Biosero’s help launching automation for your lab
At Biosero, we can help scientists understand the landscape and select the solutions that work for them. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us to discuss your needs.