SLAS Europe 2024 in summary  

SLAS Europe 2024

DDW Multimedia Editor Megan Thomas travelled to SLAS Europe from 27-29 May in Barcelona, Spain. Having attended a range of sessions and spoken to industry attendees and exhibitors, she reflects on the event.  

Opening keynote 

Professor Luis Serrano presented the opening keynote of the event on engineering of a human lung bacteria for treating lung diseases. He has an impressive biography, which includes being a Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA) Research Professor, and the Director of Systems Biology Program at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG).   

The keynote explored the local group’s work in the recent years, where the CRG has focused on the engineering of the genome-reduced MPN as a live biotherapeutic (Mycochassis). Serrano outlined how the CRG has demonstrated its potential application as a vector for the treatment of Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms not only in vivo, but also ex vivo in endotracheal tubes of ventilator associated pneumonia patients.   

Spotlight solutions  

The theatre on the exhibition floor had a number of exciting events taking place throughout the day; one such session was the solutions spotlight on transformation laboratory workflows. Simply: making automation easy to use. This began with a presentation from Gerd Grosshauser, Account Manager of Liquid Handling for North Germany & Nordics at Formulatrix. Formulatrix supplies software and robotic automation solutions to the life science industry, and Grosshauser explained how the company offers a suite of liquid handling and automation solutions designed for affordability and workflow optimisation. Elaborating on what makes the company’s offering unique, Grosshauser shared that 50% of Formulatrix’s workforce are engineers, who are equipped with the tools to innovate in-house.  

Opentrons took to the stage to offer insight into the company’s generative AI-powered programming for Opentrons robots. This was presented by the company’s CEO Jon Brennan-Badal and Lead ML Researcher Elyor Kodirov. Together, they shone a spotlight on Opentrons AI, powered by OpenAI, which is a web-based tool that supports reproducible AI-powered protocol generation for Opentrons robots. To date, the model has been successfully optimised for a range of protocols, including automated PCR setup and on-deck thermocycling – which was demonstrated during the talk.  

Innovation AveNEW Ignite Award 

There were five Innovation AveNEW companies competing for this year’s SLAS Ignite Award: Loop Diagnostics, Lucero, Oria Bioscience, Semarion and Sensific. UK-based Semarion took the 2024 title, which CEO and co-founder Jeroen Verheyen accepted during the Closing Remarks before the Closing Keynote Presentation on Wednesday 29 May. The start-up offers a microcarrier platform to accelerate cell assaying workflows. 

Accepting the award, Verheyen said: “Our technology addresses fundamental bottlenecks in rapid data generation, offering a 10 times increase in throughput and a six times cost reduction to drug discovery workflows.” He continued that the SLAS Ignite Award is considered an “invaluable endorsement” as the company continue on its mission to accelerate drug discovery and deliver biopharma solutions.  

Earlier in the day, Oria Bioscience’s finalist presentation was on unlocking high throughput screening on organelles. The speaker, Marine Moutia, explored how the company’s technology can empower drug discovery platforms to conduct high-frequency screening (HTS) on organelles (lysosomes, mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, for example).  

New Product Award 

The SLAS Europe 2024 New Product Award finalists included Arralyze’s CellShepherd, Bionomous’ EggSorter, CellDynamics ISRL’s PL8, CryoLogyx’s CryoLogyx PlateReady, CYTENA’s UP.SIGHT, Readily3D’s Tomolite, SEED Biosciences’ Dispen3D and Yokogawa Deutschland’s CellVoyager CQ3000.  

The winners were Bionomous and Readily3D. Bionomous’ EggSorter is a device that automatically screens, sorts and dispenses small biological entities (from 0.5 to 2 mm). The EggSorter, initially developed for zebrafish (Danio rerio) embryos, works for multiple models: from zebrafish eggs to Xenopus laevis oocytes and embryos, flower seeds, and more. Readily3D’s Tomolite uses tomographic illumination technology to shape sensitive cells and biomaterials into biological systems, without impairing their viability.  

Exhibitor spotlights 

Outside of the New Product Award announcements, there were new launches on display and demos on the exhibition floor. Visitors to the Thermo Fisher Scientific booth, for instance, had the opportunity to learn more about the company’s Amira software for cell biology, which allows users to understand cell structure and mechanisms through images.  

Over at the Sapio Sciences booth, Yuri de Lugt, Business Development Director of EMEA at Sapio, spoke of the footfall at the show and the curiosity from attendees of Sapio as the “new kid on the block”. The company was promoting ELaiN, an artificial intelligence system accelerating scientific productivity in the lab by creating experiments in seconds, finding data points instantly and accelerating coding workflows.  

Corning was exhibiting in its capacity as 3D cell culture experts, showcasing solutions for drug discovery and lab automation. Attendees could visit the booth to learn about its drug discovery portfolio, cell culture plates, the impact on cancer and toxicity, as well as the significance of synthetic hydrogels on 3D cell culture.  

Synthace was focused on spotlighting the company’s software and lab robots for discovery biology. The Synthace digital experiment platform allows researchers to design experiments, run them in the lab, then automatically build structured data. Critically, this requires no code.  

Aside from the booths, exhibitors also had the opportunity to give Exhibitor Tutorials, one of which was an event sponsored by Molecular Devices. It was called: Transforming cardiovascular research with Unleashing the potential of 3D biology in automated high-throughput cardioids for drug discovery and toxicity screening. The tutorial was presented by Forian Fuchs, Chief Technology Officer at HeartBeat.Bio and Oksana Sirenko, Senior Manager of Assay Development at Molecular Devices. They covered the lack of reliable and representative human heart in vitro models, the challenge this poses for drug discovery by hindering the development of effective treatments, and how Molecular Devices’ fully automated high-throughput platform for culturing induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) and differentiating them into 3D self-organising cardiac organoids (Cardioids) will impact the future of cardiovascular research. 

The team at Automata demonstrated how the LINQ platform works using augmented reality. This automation solution houses and connects instruments on a robot-enabled lab bench, which saves space and in turn, allows researchers to design, schedule and manage workflows remotely via cloud-based software. This ensures full accessibility and what the team described during a demo as the seamless integration of third party instruments.  

SPT Labtech launched the firefly+ at SLAS 2024 in Boston earlier this year, and the SLAS Europe 2024 event was the first time showcasing the product in Europe, which is now available for European markets. Experts described how this product expands on the current liquid handling capabilities of firefly with an integrated thermocycler and additional labware capability. Attendees working in genomics research had the opportunity to learn how the firefly+ grants them the ability to run completely automated NGS library preparation. 

BioNex Solutions were visiting a SLAS Europe show for the first time this year, now that they are working directly with the EMEA region. They were at hand to explain how the company’s lab automation system, with easy access front or back, provides unlimited integration of devices and other systems.  

This year, HighRes Bio was showcasing its newest product, the Nucleus FlexPod, designed to get the best out of an automated workflow. Nucleus is advanced modular laboratory automation hardware that, when paired with Cellario software, creates a robust automation framework. The team on the stand described two types of customers who they were meeting at the event: those looking for entry level integration, as well as those looking to bring automation into the lab.  

eLabNext offered tours of the company’s digital lab platform, as well as the opportunity to learn about free add-ons. eLabNext has partnered with a number of international labs, from Boston University and Harvard Medical School to Sanofi and AstraZeneca. It promises to improve the quality of life science research, optimise workflows and increase productivity. 

Topical interest group 

The Topical Interest Groups were an interactive element of the conference, where researchers were encouraged to engage on current trends within their field. These started with overviews from industry leaders, but would then open to the floor for discussion.  

The topics included:  

  • Academic drug discovery  
  • Screen design and assay technologies 
  • Phenotypic drug discovery  
  • Data science and AI  

The phenotypic drug discovery group was chaired by Novartis’ Lab Head, Christian Parker. The aim of the group was to highlight many of the approaches to phenotypic screening and to highlight successful approaches. Parker opened by stating: “All drug discovery is based on phenotypic screening”. He followed this up by discussing how biologic validation is a foundation of all drug discovery projects, and how a first-in-class product is achieved with phenotypic screening.  

An audience member from GSK shared the major challenge of miniaturisation. She said that it seems like the industry is trying, but not applying this yet. She asked whether we have the data yet for the more complex models, which led to a discussion of the difference between complication and complexity.  

Talks and presentations  

Off the exhibition floor, there were also a number of talks and presentations being given. The tracks included: Frontiers in Technology, Screening Applications & Diagnostics, and Shaping the Future of Therapeutics.  

A noteworthy presentation in the Frontiers in Technology track included Convergence of Digital Lab and GenAI to accelerate drug discovery, presented by Soumen Ghosh, Senior Customer Solutions Manager at Amazon Web Services, and James Pena, Senior Product Manager, Cloud Platforms, Thermo Fisher Scientific. The two shared how integrating AI and digital technologies into life sciences has the potential to revolutionise drug development, accelerate precision medicine, and enhance patient outcomes by leveraging data, cloud computing, and advanced analytics.  

In the Screening Applications & Diagnostics track, Christoph Merten, Associate Professor, EPFL, The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology of Lausanne, gave a presentation on assaying drug response on patient biopsies and screening hundred thousands of antibodies in one go, through what he called “the magic of microfluidics”. He made a case for advances screening platforms for rapid identification to find optimal ‘drug cocktails’ and therapeutic antibodies, highlighting their applications in personalised cancer therapy and potential for new drug discovery approaches.  

There were a number of talks particularly relevant to the drug discovery community in the Shaping the Future of Therapeutics track. Thomas attended Data/AI driven drug discovery. This included three presentations:  

  • AI in drug discovery – approaches, current status, and challenges, presented by Andreas Bender, Professor at Cambridge University, James Dunbar, VP Discovery Technology at BenevolentAI, and Thomas Jones, Senior Scientist at AstraZeneca. 
  • Putting large language models into action for target Identification, presented by James Dunbar  
  • Automating the DMTA cycle in AstraZeneca, presented by Thomas Jones.  

Between the three presentations within the session, the speakers focused on the transformative impact of data science and AI in drug discovery. They covered the application of machine learning, data analytics, and computational models for tasks such as identifying novel drug targets and optimising lead compounds. Moreover, the discussion focused on the journey from data acquisition to actionable insights, with an emphasis on the development of robust algorithms and the validation of AI models. 

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