On the cutting edge

A roundup of instrumentation, software and other tools and technology news

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Our tour of tools and technology this month brings us an automated 3D cell culture platform, a patent for a microplate stacker, the entry of a new global screening array on the market, expansion for an omics software offering, an agreement to leverage data platforms to support real-world outcomes and value-based contracting initiatives, “free flowing” lab data, software for small-molecule discovery and advances for precision medicine.

Tecan and CellSpring to automate 3D cell culture platform
MÄNNEDORF & ZÜRICH, Switzerland—Tecan and CellSpring, a biotech spin-out from ETH Zurich, recently announced a co-marketing agreement to automate the 3D Bloom platform on a Freedom EVO workstation. This latest collaboration will further extend Tecan’s automated 3D cell culture portfolio, allowing scientists to take advantage of a high-throughput technology with an extended cell viability period of at least seven days in the assay matrix.
The adaptive 3D Bloom Biopolymer Platform is reportedly compatible with all cell types and is ideal for both mono- and co-culture assays. 3D microtissues can be prepared in microplate format within minutes, and analysis carried out while still in the culture matrix.
“As a leader in the field of automated 3D cell culture, Tecan is delighted to be working with CellSpring to implement its microplate-based 3D Bloom platform on the Freedom EVO,” said Kevin Moore, Tecan’s manager of liquid handling products and application management. “This will allow scientists to benefit from straightforward, high-throughput automation of a 3D cell culture process offering long-term cell viability.”
“The benefits of our 3D Bloom Platform—versatility and reliability—are now available at scale using the Freedom EVO,” added Dr Chris Millan, chief technology officer at CellSpring.

U.S. patent granted for BioStack 4 Microplate Stacker
WINOOSKI, Vt.—The BioStack 4 Microplate Stacker from BioTek Instruments in mid-June was granted U.S. patent 9,366,686 for its unique technology associated with automatic microplate de-lidding and re-lidding, which is especially useful in cell-based assay workflows.
BioStack 4 facilitates increased throughput and greater productivity in processes involving lidded and unlidded 96-, 384- and 1536-well microplates as well as select six- to 48-well microplates. The design incorporates a two-position carrier for ultra-fast transfer times, and the small overall footprint allows operation in biosafety cabinets. A rotational gripper enhances versatility in portrait or landscape orientation, while the unique lid gripping method minimizes exposure of the microplate’s contents during transfer. Finally, interchangeable plate storage stacks are available for throughput needs up to 30 lidded or 50 unlidded microplates with automated restacking.

Illumina announces initial customer orders for Infinium
SAN DIEGO—Mid-June saw Illumina Inc. announce that it has signed deals with 12 customers for its new Infinium Global Screening Array (GSA). In total, the company has received orders for more than three million samples of the new consortia-developed array. Initial customers include human disease researchers at The Broad Institute and deCODE Genetics; health systems Avera Health, Codigo46, Diagnomics, Eone Diagnomics Genome Center, Sanford Health and UCLA Health System; genomic service providers Centre National de Genotypage, human genomics facilities HuGeF, Erasmus MC and Life & Brain; and consumer genomics company 23andMe Inc.
“The array content includes highly predictive hand-curated content, as well as high-value markers for translational research applications and sample quality control designed to be useful across a broad range of applications, populations and diseases,” said Dr. Benjamin Neale, an assistant professor in the Analytic and Translational Genetics Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital and The Broad Institute, who led the predictive content selection for the consortia.
“The early adoption of the GSA, represented by these deals, illustrates the widespread market demand for genotyping products and the continued relevance of arrays in human disease and translational research,” said Rob Brainin, vice president and general manager of applied genomics at Illumina. “We expect that the value of the content on this array will lead to widespread use in clinical research, including precision medicine programs, predictive risk screening, large-scale genome-wide association studies and in biobank sample characterization and quality control.”

Further expansion in U.S. for Qlucore
LUND, Sweden—As part of Qlucore’s commitment to business expansion in the United States, Yana Stackpole has been appointed as sales manager for North America. The appointment of Stackpole, based in Boston, will help drive new business on the U.S. East Coast and support Qlucore’s expanding client base.
The United States is an important and fast-growing market for Qlucore, which has seen a rapid increase in new contracts for its Qlucore Omics Explorer software. In 2014, Qlucore opened an office in New York, strengthening its U.S. position and allowing it to capitalize on the strength of the biotech and pharma industries as well as all universities and government driven research institutes.
Qlucore Omics Explorer is unique, the company says, in that it allows the actual researchers—the people with the most biological insight—to study their own data and to look for patterns and structures. As a result, researchers do not need to be statistics or computer experts in order to use Qlucore Omics Explorer effectively.

Inovalon announces agreement with Bristol-Myers Squibb
BOWIE, Md.—Mid-May saw Inovalon, a technology company providing advanced, cloud-based analytics and data-driven intervention platforms to the healthcare industry, announce that it has entered into an agreement with Bristol-Myers Squibb to bring Inovalon and Avalere’s combined capabilities to bear on supporting real-world outcomes and value-based contracting initiatives.
The engagement will leverage the capabilities of Inovalon’s data platforms and Avalere’s extensive industry experience to support Bristol-Myers Squibb’s real-world outcomes and value-based contracting initiatives. The application of advanced predictive analytics modeling and large-scale real-world outcomes analyses will support consideration of value-based contracts with innovative payers. Inovalon’s national-scale clinical and quality outcomes platforms will allow for real-world insight into the monitoring, reporting, administration and improvement of outcomes.
“Bristol-Myers Squibb is committed to bringing transformational medicines to patients that have the potential to address serious unmet medical needs,” said Michael Ryan, senior vice president for value, access and payment for Bristol-Myers Squibb. “We are pleased to be working with the combined capabilities of Inovalon and Avalere and believe that they will bring us the rigorous, data-driven, scientific methodology necessary to address the challenges of outcomes-based contracting.”

Ensure free-flowing lab data with new LabX instrument
GREIFENSEE, Switzerland—One of the primary motives driving organizations to purchase laboratory information management systems (LIMS), electronic laboratory notebook systems (ELNS) and related systems is the appeal of connecting many different pieces of equipment. However, in many labs manual data management consumes a significant amount of lab technician time and introduces significant error risk.
One inherent challenge in connecting laboratory equipment is that standard operating procedures for each piece of equipment must be followed. But what if it were possible to ensure these workflows were followed while creating data integrity, enhancing productivity, and reducing the total costs of lab equipment operation, asks Mettler Toledo, exploring the issue in a new white paper on data management indicating that can be done with LabX.
Fundamentally, the proper Mettler Toledo instruments outfitted with LabX can connect roughly one-third of available laboratory instrument types to one management system, the company says. This ability to connect and archive data helps to eliminate administrative bottlenecks and the risk of transcription and recalculation error inherent in manual processing. It can also help ensure that all data produced by lab equipment meets fundamental quality elements and criteria for scientific soundness to meet Good Manufacturing Practice 21 CFR 211.

Optibrium signs agreement for global license of StarDrop
CAMBRIDGE, U.K.—On May 24, Optibrium, a developer of software for small-molecule discovery, announced that Janssen Research and Development has signed an agreement to license Optibrium’s StarDrop software. The agreement will provide a global licence for StarDrop and eight of StarDrop’s optional plug-in modules.
StarDrop is a software suite that helps researchers to deliver optimally balanced, successful compounds. It brings confidence and intuitive simplicity to decision-making, guiding and validating the direction taken by project teams and which compounds are prioritized. StarDrop works by evaluating project teams’ complex data, which is often uncertain because of experimental variability or predictive error. Its interactive tools then enable researchers to efficiently explore ways to further improve their chosen compounds. StarDrop’s core features can also be extended with a range of optional plug-in modules that provide comprehensive capabilities for compound optimization, including predictive models for ADME properties, P450 metabolism and toxicity, automatic QSAR model building, 3D structure-activity relationships and de-novo design to stimulate the search for new optimization strategies.
Dr Matthew Segall, Optibrium’s CEO, commented, “Optibrium and Janssen have enjoyed a long history of collaboration and we are delighted that this has expanded into a worldwide partnership with StarDrop being selected to help guide their global drug discovery research efforts.”

Thermo Fisher advances future of precision medicine at Festival of Genomics
BOSTON—Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., a world leader in serving science, highlighted its scale and depth of capabilities during the Festival of Genomics in Boston, a three-day event that covers the genomics spectrum from the lab to the clinic.
Products featured at the event include the new Axiom Precision Medicine Research Array, Ion Torrent next-generation sequencing technology and the Thermo Scientific Nautilus laboratory information management system, which is used to manage the rigorous data and analysis requirements for genomics and precision medicine.
“Our customers are at the forefront of using genetic analysis technologies to advance progress in precision medicine,” said Jim Godsey, vice president of research and development for clinical next-generation sequencing at Thermo Fisher. “Through our new products and established collaborations, we are helping customers accelerate their innovation in areas such as clinical research in cancer. The festival is an opportunity to bring together our advanced genomics technologies and software solutions to provide complete workflows for our customers.”

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