The drive to produce more data, more quickly, and at less cost is fueling new strategies for lab automation, especially as applied to the drug discovery process. Overcoming bottlenecks of speed, efficiency, and data integration are among the topics to be discussed at “LabAutomation2010” later this month in Palm Springs.
Flow cytometry has existed for more than 20 years and taken on a number of new capabilities. Scientists at Vivia Biotech have gone back to the simple roots of flow cytometry, in screening primary cells with antibodies, but they’ve magnified the scale and brought it into the realm of personalized medicine. “We wanted to develop assays that are closer to the target than traditional screening methods and by testing patient samples directly, this brings the technology closer to personalized medicine,” says Teresa Bennett, Ph.D., vp of research.
Vivia Biotech has engineered a fully automated process for analyzing the impact of drugs on blood or bone marrow cells from patients with hematological malignancies. “We do re-profiling screening, looking for new indications of known drugs, and also screen the drugs for a particular indication to determine ex vivo which drugs a patient may be resistant or sensitive to,” Dr. Bennett reports.
“By using specific markers for cells along with assessing apoptosis, we can evaluate both healthy and cancerous cells simultaneously. In a short span of about 48 hours, this approach allows for the ex vivo analysis of thousands of drugs or combinations of drugs on patient samples. Traditional analysis via flow cytometry can screen only 10–100 drugs per sample.”
To accomplish this goal, the company automated the process from the beginning. It incorporated liquid handlers to prepare samples in tissue culture hoods and developed an automated flow-cytometry system to run the assay. To handle this much data also required development of proprietary software. “One important accomplishment is that we don’t have to analyze each individual well separately, we can use one file for the whole plate and this is analyzed within a few minutes. Ultimately, this approach could tell much more rapidly how a patient would respond to a drug regimen.”
The company has already identified a new drug candidate and will proceed into Phase I/II trials in the fall of 2010. Additionally, a clinical study for personalized medicine testing will begin in early 2010.