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Remotely accessible assays help researchers work from home

Remotely accessible assays help researchers work from home

15 July 2020
Image: Claudio Schwarz

Scientists in academic centres and companies around the world desperately search for novel therapeutics and vaccines to treat and prevent COVID-19.

However, with lockdowns and limited access to laboratories, researchers are being forced to work from home, putting research continuity at risk. 

To help scientists continue their R&D, and ensure research continuity, Arctoris has established a range of remotely accessible COVID-19 assays. These include biochemical profiling for COVID-19 drug targets, as well as cellular and molecular assays conducted in its robotic facility in Oxford.

Highlighting one of the available capabilities, Daniel Thomas PhD, Head of Discovery Biology at Arctoris, explained: "To discover new treatments for COVID-19 requires profiling novel compounds against key targets in both biochemical and cellular contexts. Pursuing these steps in parallel expedites the generation of comprehensive data sets critical to progress new compounds towards the clinic. Our platform enables these activities to be executed at an unprecedented quality and speed, while ensuring greater depth of data and insights." 

A recently completed project saw Arctoris deploying its unique platform, guided by an expert team of drug discovery scientists, to rapidly generate mechanistic pharmacology for both marketed and research inhibitors against the JAK family of kinases. The possible candidates were identified by Novartis and other pharma companies for COVID-19 repurposing. Four target-based assays (JAK1, JAK2, JAK3, and TYK2) were developed, optimised, and fully automated in a total of less than 100 hours, generating comprehensive datasets containing more than 1 million data points. 

In addition to making its advanced robotic capabilities available to researchers around the world, the Arctoris team is also directly involved in projects that aim at enabling population-level screening for COVID-19. Martin-Immanuel Bittner, MD DPhil, Arctoris Co-Founder & CEO, co-led a research project focused on increasing testing capacity for COVID-19 by developing a mathematical decision support tool which can aid testing efforts making use of sample pooling approaches. Thanks to the high sensitivity of PCR-based diagnostic approaches, several patients’ samples can be assessed in one test, only continuing with further tests if the pooled test came back positive, thereby saving time and resources. Sample pooling approaches are now under investigation by several countries worldwide, including the US, Germany, and India.

The research project was funded by the Young Academy of the German National Academy of Sciences, bringing together a team of mathematicians and computer scientists from the Technical University of Braunschweig, the University of Stuttgart, and Arctoris. The results of the work are already available to the public through a preprint on arXiv and as an open access online tool that can be used by frontline medical staff, lab technicians, and policymakers.

"This study is unique in that we bring together expertise from the academic and the corporate sector to provide a theoretical framework and practical guidance on how to maximise the number of people that can be tested during the COVID-19 pandemic. The results of this research project show that by adopting sample pooling approaches, we can increase testing capacity by a factor of eight with the current lab infrastructure." said Martin-Immanuel Bittner, MD DPhil, CEO of Arctoris, and one of the lead authors of the study and member of the Young Academy of the German National Academy of Sciences.

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