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December 01, 2009 (Vol. 29, No. 21)

TAP Shifts Focus to Cell-Based Screening

Compound-Management Systems Are No Longer the Company's Core Business

  • Collaborations

    Click Image To Enlarge +
    TAP Quality Assured Pipettes are individually checked during manufacturing.

    In June this year, TAP announced its involvement in the U.K. government-funded RAFT (rapid automated fabrication of tissues) collaboration, with scientists at University College London (UCL). The technology, licensed by TAP from UCL, involves generating complex 3-D tissues by mixing cells with collagen, casting the gel into a mold and compressing it into a sheet.

    This structure has properties much like natural tissue and allows the construction of multiple layers with different cell types, TAP claims. Automating the production of tissues will allow the size, shape, thickness, and cell density to be reproducibly controlled to allow the consistent manufacture of tissues for potential therapeutic use, as well as providing a low-cost method of producing tissue models for drug discovery and development. 

    The three-year RAFT program initially aims to manufacture 3-D human corneal tissue using corneal limbal stem cells, as a means to evaluate whether the technology could be used to produce a range of different tissue types.

    The UCL project also complements TAP's involvement with ESNATS, a European initiative looking at the use of stem cells in drug development, and the Remedi consortium, a U.K.-based group of industry and academic partners, including Cambridge University and Intercytex, researching cost-effective production of stem cell-based therapies. TAP contributes both to the leadership of the overall program and advises on the manufacturing and automation elements of the project.

  • Advanced Projects Group

    Expanding into new areas for automation solutions is the focus of TAP’s advanced projects group, which works to provide novel custom systems for drug discovery, biologics development and production, and sample management.

    “The advanced projects group is working on diverse automation projects, ranging from huge biorepositories such as that installed at the U.K. Biobank to low-volume dispensing,” Newble points out.

    “We are currently partnering with Cellectricon to develop automation for a new ion-channel screening platform based on novel microfluidic technology. Another collaboration with a major U.K. biotech group aims to develop a high-throughput protein purification system, and our partnership with a DARPA consortium is focused on developing systems for producing red blood cells from stem cells.”

    While new projects by the advanced projects group will push the boundaries of automation, both for large-scale and miniaturized cell-related applications, TAP’s partnership services group continues to work with existing clients to maximize value from installed systems, through technical support and engineering services. “One of the roles of the group is to carry out obsolescence management and ensure that stores we have already installed will run for at least another 10 years,” Newble says. “We also carry out related services around our equipment such as decontamination and can support third-party equipment.”

    TAP believes that its success combines the benefits of 20 years of state-of-the-art engineering expertise with a strong understanding of biological processes. “Our strengths are in creating the right engineering solutions for different applications. You have to step back and evaluate which parts of a process would benefit from automation before attempting to develop solutions that combine software, hardware, and the integration of additional technologies. This is only possible if you have detailed biological know-how as well as the engineering expertise.”

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