Our Remote Robot App is Cutting Time to Market for Life-Saving Drug Treatments
How we’re helping our life sciences client with compound management and automation of their laboratory workflow
Our client is a life sciences company in San Diego, CA with 28 years of experience discovering and developing drug treatments. We began our partnership with this client in 2019. As is becoming a more common practice in the biotech world, the client was utilizing a robot to help automate manual tasks such as liquid handling—an integral part of the early drug testing process. Other operational elements subject to automation included scheduling drug test experiments and managing the inventory and upkeep of laboratory supplies.
While laboratory and LIMS automation represented an important upgrade for our client, they wanted to add another important innovation feature. They needed the ability to control these robots remotely, from anywhere in the world. This would reduce day-to-day upkeep, in turn decreasing manual overhead and the need for laboratory staff to be physically presence to operate the devices, allowing for more focused time in innovation and discovery. This is where we came in. The client wanted us to develop a web app that could seamlessly integrate with their laboratory robots and control them remotely.
.NET Core, Angular
Life Sciences, Drug Discovery
Our Client’s Lab Environment
Reports estimate that it takes a pharmaceutical company up to a decade and $2.6B to bring one drug to market from initial discovery to regulatory approval. Companies are continually looking for breakthrough efficiencies in workflows and operations to save time and money in the process of introducing life-saving drugs to market. In recent years, robotics and artificial intelligence have emerged as strategic ways to further automate and optimize the drug trial workflows.
In keeping with these trends, our client over the last few years has incorporated automation and informatics into its compound management process. The ultimate purpose is to increase speed and quality while reducing the manual processes required to bring life-saving drugs to market faster and more cost effectively.
Our client’s decision to automate its laboratory infrastructure was a notable one but also provided several logistical challenges. Automation requires a considerable amount of manual intervention and preparation. How could the client implement a “hands-off system” that seamlessly integrates with their laboratory information management system (LIMS) and strikes a nice balance between increased throughput and reduction in manual overhead? To accomplish this vision, we had to work with the client to convert business requirements to technical requirements and address the following technical and operational challenges.
Stock Robotic Software
The robots acquired by our client required a laboratory staff member to be onsite at all times to initiate any new liquid handling jobs or modify any existing ones. In addition, the original controller application was “buggy” and had lots of latency. This resulted in significant performance issues that required our client to be in frequent contact with the machine vendor. Along with the challenges with the performance of the app, the stock app didn’t provide all the customization features that our client required to make the most of its newly automated environment.
The automation and informatics setup that our client envisioned entailed a number of technical challenges. We needed to migrate from a stock application that controlled one system onsite to developing a dynamic app that controlled multiple systems remotely. This required us to overcome a number of logistical issues such as how to drive parallel robotic systems, how to sync the scheduling of each system to provide optimal reporting, not to mention the various troubleshooting challenges. For example, the original vendor software had some bugs that we reported and required fixes.
Reporting & Analytics
The client also wanted to represent the robots’ usage data as a heat map. This feature wasn’t available in the original application, so this required our team to innovate and develop an entire new UI and UX from scratch.
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Taking an existing system and customizing it is often more challenging than building a solution from the ground up. This was no less the case for our client. Leveraging a sophisticated automation system for a drug trials laboratory and modifying it to very precise specifications presented a number of technical challenges. However, at the end of the day, our team overcame these hurdles and successfully translated our client’s complex business requirements into practical outcomes that exceeded their expectations. Here are the major solutions we delivered.
Remote Automation and LIMS Integration
The core outcome of this project is that we built a remote application with a sophisticated user interface that enables our client’s scientists to conduct drug trial tests and experiments from anywhere in the world. The system is scalable so that it can onboard as many robots as necessary. It also syncs automatically so that whenever a project is added to the machine in-person, it will appear on the app. The major operational enhancements we instituted fell under three categories:
More Robust Reporting
By adopting the original vendor’s API, our team was able to seamlessly integrate our remote app with our client’s LIMS environment to allow full tracking and updates of their plates and compounds. We also included a robust reporting feature that tracks all projects and monitors performance and catches issues before they spiral out of control. Because of our database integration, we were able to provide the client rich new insights and metrics on key elements of their workflow.
Complex Features for Compound Management
Our remote application solution was built with the latest modern technologies to provide our client with the best features of compound management, enabling scientists to run and monitor their experiments remotely. This included hosting reagents and compounds for testing and storage, retrieval of compounds and containers, and sending those components for downstream testing.
The front end was developed using the Angular framework while the API Gateway was built using the .NET core stack. Some of the major functionalities that we built include:
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With the successful completion of our remote app project, we provided our client with a number of direct and measurable business outcomes. Our work was especially important from an operations and efficiency perspective as it enabled the client to queue up more experiments and push higher throughput without more people. This, in turn, freed up more time for innovation and experimentation.
In January 2020, our client’s automation strategy and our supporting application was presented at a local biopharma conference. Our client had this to say in their conference presentation: “We worked with a company called Integrant to develop the software. Highly recommended to work with them if you have any custom software needs. They are incredibly fast an efficient, and were able to build our application with our guidance on the science and functionality.”
Our remote app project has also opened us up to additional collaboration opportunities. During the second phase of this project, the client would like to solve some bottlenecks in the drug discovery and testing workflow, including working with lists and developing automation features to identify exactly what compounds to pull in order to produce the drug tests. This phase will provide an important foundation for storing and visualizing strategic operations data.
Another future direction includes integrating the robots with security cameras for monitoring the machines visually from any remote location and providing additional software to be used in the drug discovery process.
While chemistry and drug discovery may not be our core expertise, problem solving via software development and testing is. We are passionate about solving your business needs with quality, long-term solutions to help you and your company thrive and achieve your best results. Contact us today to find out how we can build a custom solution to propel your business.