Laboratory Robotics: Driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution

October 7, 2021

Advances in industry since the 18th century have continued to improve people’s lives and health globally. Many of these advancements have exponentially decreased the time taken to research, test, manufacture, and ship medical devices and drugs worldwide.

We now find ourselves on the brink of a new era that promises a fourth industrial revolution: the use of robotics. At the forefront of this movement are life science and laboratory service providers, such as MedPharm, who are paving the way to improve health by utilizing robotics in the lab. Here we discuss four innovative approaches employed by MedPharm using robotics to resolve the challenges surrounding manual scientific techniques.

1. Reducing Experiment Variability in Wound Model Performance
The nature of manual scientific techniques means that variability in sample preparation is inevitable. Utilising robotics in research and development minimises variation brought about by human inaccuracy.

Manual-handled ex vivo wound models are an example of where variation can lead to inconsistencies and uncertainty in product development. These models are typically used to study wound progression, healing, and efficacy of therapies. Previously, wound models would require the manual use of a biopsy punch to drill down to a non-determined depth into the skin before lifting and excising the section with scissors.

MedPharm has recently solved the variation associated with manual wounding by developing a new proprietary device that accurately cuts a series of eight wounds to a specific depth and circumference. The skin can then be mounted on high throughput process development cells and used to support the development of treatments to accelerate wound healing and pharmacodynamic studies.

The device also offers the benefit of doubling output by allowing the screening of 15–20 compounds simultaneously as opposed to the5–10 compounds that would typically be achieved using the manual model.

2. Increasing Integration Between Instrumentation
Many commercially available systems do not consider sample collection standards, thereby limiting integration with other instrumentation. MedPharm has leaned on 25 years of experience to develop and engineer its own systems to maintain sample collection standards between instruments.

This can be seen in the company’s automated design for two critical gold standard tests used in the development of topical and transdermal products: in vitro release testing and in vitro permeation testing. Some of the key concepts that were built into these designs were experiment automation, sample collection in microplates, optimised fluidics for human tissue and synthetic membranes, and computer-controlled data collection.  The resulting benefit means faster test results, less entry errors in the data, etc.

3. Reducing Sample Preparation Time
Manual preparation of samples is time-consuming and results in laboratories having limited testing capacity proportional to the number of hands available.
MedPharm has solved this issue through critical evaluation of the experimental workflow from end-to-end and the redesign of experimental assays to utilize a high-throughput approach with automation.

The approach allows samples to be processed and analyzed 24 hours a day and in parallel with other experiments. This is highlighted by the use of robotic liquid handling for routine sample preparation coupled with sample managers attached to analytical instrumentation.

4. Increasing Testing Accuracy
MedPharm’s use of robotics has increased the accuracy of testing by diminishing variability associated with manual testing. Using liquid handlers to automate pre-formulation steps allows for highly accurate assessment of drug solubility and stability within solvents and solvent systems. Automated instrumentation, such as the LUMiSizer®, also provides a more accurate prediction of longer-term physical stability as compared to harsher centrifugation techniques.

Moreover, MedPharm has optimized its process development and
scale-up operations using IKA laboratory reactors. These allow for accurate identification and optimization of critical processing parameters, as well as increased reproducibility, when manufacturing larger batches in future development.

Looking to the Future
In addition to the current automated systems outlined, MedPharm continues to advance the implementation of robotics in formulation development. New systems have been designed to handle a range of excipients with complex viscosities used in the development of semisolid formulations.

With these advancements in the use of robotics in laboratories in mind, it can be expected that the fourth industrial revolution, steered by innovative life science leaders, will continue to advance new waves of health benefits to the global population.

About MedPharm
MedPharm is the world’s leading contract provider of topical and transdermal product design and formulation development services. MedPharm is experts at reducing risk and accelerating development times for generic and proprietary pharmaceutical customers through their unique, cost-effective and industry-leading performance testing models. Well established as the global leaders in dermatology, nail, mucosal membrane, and transdermal product development, MedPharm can also offer innovative solutions for ophthalmic and airway preparations recognised for their scientific rigour by regulators and investors. MedPharm has fully established Centers of Excellence in the USA and the UK.