On Your Own vs. Getting Help
Gerace points out that the big, expensive solutions for drug discovery have given way to off-the-shelf solutions that can be customized. Instead of using a dedicated programmer to develop a solution in months, these systems can be taken out of the box and be up and running in days.
Others, however, still might need some help. According to McNary, "Customers are realizing that they can't do it alone. They want providers who can come in and do the whole lab automation scheme. They're looking for a single vendor with a broad product portfolio to act as process consultants and as a single point of contact from lab construction through ongoing applications support."
Caprion (www.caprion.com), a drug discovery and development company applying its proteomics technologies to create pharmaceutical products for cancer and infectious disease, uses lab automation for plasma profiling in blood samples from clinical trials. The objective is to look for pharmacodynamics.
Gregory Opiteck, Ph.D., director of the department of protein analysis at Caprion, points out that, "We couldn't do the routine, mundane jobs or get the level of reproducibility without robots."
Although some pharmaceutical companies have hired entire departments to build robots, the plasma profiling field can take off-the-shelf solutions developed for combinatorial chemistry and high throughput screening and adapt them to its purposes. "I'd rather spend the time and money finding biomarkers than reinventing the wheel," Dr. Orpiteck adds.
Greg Hollis, Ph.D., vp of applied technology at Incyte (www.incyte. com), believes that automated pipetting tools "allow scientists to exercise their gift for science, rather than doing mundane tasks." They save time, allow drug discovery companies to do more, move faster, minimize ergonomic problems, and provide higher accuracy.
"Liquid-handling tools can screen many samples at a time," says Dr. Hollis. "If a company has 300,000 compounds in a high throughput screening library, it can move from stock solutions to plates and screen 50,000 to 100,000 samples per day. That means a lot of people or one pipetting machine."
Dr. Hollis finds lab automation powerful because he uses it in focused ways. Rather than automate a whole process, his lab does a specific task and then moves to another piece of equipment.