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In the exclusive DDW & SLAS2022 supplement published ahead of SLAS2022 in Boston, US on 5-9 February, Daniel Rines, Senior Director at Strateos, shares with DDW how his role, artificial intelligence (AI), the work of Strateos and the Covid-19 pandemic have impacted the future of the lab.
Daniel Rines’ focus at Strateos is R&D Strategy. He explains: “At Strateos, we are always looking for ways to enhance our drug screening, chemical synthesis, synthetic biology, and tissue technology capabilities so we can help our clients efficiently identify novel molecules, therapeutic targets, and disease mechanisms with less pain and hands-on time.”
When Strateos was founded in 2012 as Transcriptic, Rines says it was the world’s first remote access, remote-controlled life science cloud lab. It merged with 3Scan, an imaging company, in 2019 to form Strateos.
“Life sciences and drug discovery is mostly driven by manual (aristian) benchtop techniques and workflows,” Rines explains. “And a ‘reproducibility crisis’ is undermining faith in our scientific experiments.
“I find excitement working for an organisation that pushes scientific innovation forward and accelerates scientific discovery. Our industry must re-imagine laboratories as intelligent and automated data centres to generate clean and reproducible data rapidly and at low cost to support the next wave of life-changing therapeutics.”
According to Rines, “the lab of the future is now”. Elaborating, he shares that automated drug discovery can be done from the comfort of a coffee shop. He continues: “The capital investments typically required for pharmaceutical research and development are gone. The pandemic has accelerated this notion, reshaped our landscape, and erased the preconception that science must be done by humans in the lab. We are seeing these trends materialise in real time and drive an exponential increase in demand for high throughput experimentation; further exploration of new reagent space like mRNAs, exotic and rare antibodies, CAR-T and other macromolecules to find better therapeutics; and also forming tighter partnerships between academia and industry, ultimately leading to more novel discovery projects all while embracing the shift to the cloud.”
Rines is clear about what the pandemic has taught us about lab automation. He says: “The pandemic has reinforced and taught the industry it’s advantageous to delocalise research and leverage automated R&D facilities, much like the change that occurred when organisations replaced their physical server rooms with cloud-based infrastructure.
“It has also taught us that researchers don’t always have to be in the lab to obtain empirical observations. Over the next five to 10 years, we believe more organisations will be performing their research through remote labs built on a backbone of automation; even when we can all get back to work, people are starting to appreciate access to more sophisticated experimental equipment, better experimental control, higher data collection rates, conducting more robust assays, optimisation, troubleshooting and automated experimental optimisation. The ability to identify lurking variables and investigate complex patterns through remote collaboration leads us to work even closer in some ways.
“I think we’ve learned that remote lab automation can help us continue to work on complex disease-related questions, even if we can’t be co-located in the same lab space.”
Automation and AI
The drug discovery industry is always looking to be more efficient, faster, less costly as well as more successful. When asked how achievable this is, what the best ways to achieve it are, and what role lab automation and AI play in this, Rines says: “Automating chemistry and biology into closed-loop systems accelerates idea-to-data and drug discovery programmes. The key, of course, is to identify the bottlenecks and find ways to reduce cycle time. Scientific organisations can work more rapidly and efficiently to discover new drug candidates through easier cloud-based access to a combination of robotics and control systems, software for imaging and analytics.
“For instance,” says Rines, “there is a big push now to perform microscale chemistry for HTE workflows with thousands of novel molecules, so we get just enough material that is just pure enough to test structures with enough confidence to move rapidly onto the next step. There is also a need to unite experiments and data science/AI to facilitate this process.”
Rines continues: “We are seeing the emergence of opportunities to leverage machine-actionable results to further power the next generation of AI models. The combination of learning models with robotics also helps to specify and execute experimental protocols for scientific research in a way that is transparent, precise, unambiguous, and coherent to both humans and computers. Of course, another significant benefit is to facilitate reproducible workflows, increase data quality and reduce method implementation effort and cost.”
Now that we are making some progress in tackling Covid-19, Rines says there are plenty of challenges and opportunities ahead as we turn our focus back to tackling other diseases. He says: “The success we’ve seen with mRNA vaccines is really exciting and suggests many more opportunities are awaiting this therapeutic approach. It’s also quite impressive how much interest we’ve seen at Strateos regarding remote lab services.”
Rines acknowledges that the pandemic has slowed global research efforts and limited our ability to work together. “However,” he says, “We’ve seen a great deal of research interest from scientific teams looking to overcome these limitations using remote lab facilities. The ability to collaborate and conduct experiments from anywhere in the world is quite enabling and has allowed motivated scientists to continue their efforts.”
Rines reveals how over the last couple of years, “we’ve established relationships and projects with quite a few companies and academic institutions. Our challenge now is to keep up with the demand and continue improving the speed at which teams across the globe can utilise remote research. “
The lab of the future
Rines believes that, like other industries, the lab of the future will have more automated and intelligent technology integrated within. He says: “The net benefit will be to complement bench scientists with tools for executing mundane or repetitive tasks in a more consistent and traceable way, leading to better data and more confident conclusions.
“More importantly, the tools of the future will provide us with the opportunity to spend more time on intellectual exploration and understanding of complex data sets. We’ll be able to gain insight faster into intractable disease mechanisms.
“Even now, we’re seeing how these tools will move us towards high throughput experimentation (HTE) sooner or drive better closed-loop scientific investigation. Remote access to physical labs through web technologies will also provide researchers that wouldn’t usually have access to sophisticated drug discovery technologies, the ability to translate their biological insights into new therapeutics too,” he adds.
Volume 23, Issue 1 – Winter 2021/22 | SLAS2022 supplement
Daniel Rines is a cell and molecular biologist and Senior Director of R&D Strategy at Strateos. He has more than 17 years of experience in the biopharma industry. Before Strateos, he was a Research Investigator at Novartis (GNF). Rines received a B.S. in biochemistry from UC Davis and a Ph.D. in cell biology from MIT.