The official opening of the U.K. Biobank’s purpose-built archive facility for storing the millions of biological samples researchers hope to use to help unravel the genetic and environmental causes of disease took place in July.
The Biobank repository houses The Automation Partnership’s purpose-built Polar™ -80ºC automated sample-management system. The custom system, designed for the storage, automated retrieval, and full tracking of up to 10 million human samples, is the largest of its kind anywhere in the world and will enable Biobank samples to be maintained for 25 years or more, TAP claims.
TAP has experienced a huge evolutionary leap since its origins as an engineering/ automation company focused largely on systems for compound management. “Some 10 years ago, these installations were core to our business and remained so for many years,” explains David Newble, CEO. “Our revenues were dominated largely by sales of huge ‘haystack’ systems—large-scale compound stores required by HTS and uHTS facilities.”
Cell Culture Automation Platforms
More recently, growth in demand for cell-based screening has led to a shift in product focus. “The last five years or so has seen the market for compound storage wane, as most large pharma and other compound-screening facilities already have the systems they need installed,” Newble continues. “Conversely, the market for automated cell culturing platforms has grown and become a significant part of our business, particularly for the screening market.”
Celebrating 20 years of automated cell culture in 2009, TAP sees this field as a major growth driver. The company is building a portfolio of mid-sized cell culture and cell-handling tools, along with consumables and reagents. TAP’s current products in the automated cell culture field include the SelecT™ and smaller CompacT SelecT systems. These automated cell culture and assay-ready plating systems grow cells from multiple cell lines in T-flasks for cell-line maintenance and expansion, and generate assay-ready plates, on demand, for cell-based screening and assay development.
“Things have moved on enormously since we launched our flagship large-volume, single cell-line production system, Cellmate, in 1989. Our aim is to provide a comprehensive range of systems for small- and large-scale laboratory facilities as well as for the cGMP environment,” Newble stresses. “By the end of this year, for example, we hope to launch a completely new benchtop platform for small-scale, suspension culture. At the start of 2009 we also made the decision to act as a distributor of complementary technologies from other manufacturers. As a result, we now market and support Aviso’s automated stem cell picker, CellCelector™, in North America.”
TAP views the field of stem cells and regenerative medicine as a major potential growth driver in the coming years. “In June 2009, we launched a GMP version of CompacT CellBase for the culturing of stem cell and other adherent cell lines. It heralds the first fruits of our continuing R&D for the scale-up of stem cell production. We have already installed a CellBase system in the U.K.’s first contract facility for scale-up of regenerative medicine therapies, at Loughborough University, and are working with FDA and the U.K.’s MHRA to understand exactly how automation fits in with GMP production of stem cells for regenerative therapies.”