SLAS Returns From an “Automation Hibernation”
On a cold, snowy morning in Boston, members of Team Tetra descended upon the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center to immerse ourselves in all things scientific data and lab automation. We refer, of course, to the SLAS 2022 International Conference and Exhibition, held for the first time in Beantown, a city crowned as the nation’s emerging biopharma hub. Between February 5th - 9th, about 5,000 hardy souls braved the February cold (or Zoom warmth) to attend scientific sessions, walk the exhibition floor, and network with old (and new) friends and industry thought leaders.
So, what did we learn from this year’s conference?
The Industry Has Awakened
This year’s SLAS theme, “Get Hyped for Science” could not have been more apt. After a period of hibernation, the industry returned, both digitally and physically, masked but with a renewed energy and vigor. Across a sprawling exhibition floor, there was a marked hardware and instrumentation presence – including our partners Mettler Toledo, Waters Corp., Thermo Fisher, CellPort Software, HighRes Biosolutions, and Biosero. While everyone showcased new technologies and scientific advancements, the community still faces the same challenges as in 2019: cells have to be cultured (and CRISPR-edited!), reactions need to be run; risks calculated, and assays analyzed.
Despite a growing use of scientific data to drive innovation across all areas of life sciences, advances in data management and adoption of modern cloud platforms were not discussed in depth during the Content Tracks. A constant stream of people from both venture biotech and established pharma groups lined up at the TetraScience booth indicated that the industry still faces significant challenges accessing, harmonizing, and using scientific data. We were asked:
- How can I access all the data being generated in my lab?
- How do we ensure all of the data generated adheres to compliance and regulatory standards, when so much of it requires manual intervention and transformation?
- How can we reduce the time wasted searching for, curating, and verifying all the data generated?
These questions confirmed much of the insights gathered from our recent industry survey report with Pharma IQ and shined a light on how much of the industry still struggles to maximize the value of scientific data today.
Themes Throughout SLAS 2022
Team Tetra gleaned amazing learnings from a wide range of themes encountered in the scientific talks and on the exhibition floor. We learned about E3 ligases and Lab of the Future initiatives, witnessed “wine mixing” fleet robots working in real-time, and saw cell painting and phenotypic screening being advanced in global partnerships. We couldn’t possibly go through all of the scientific advances and discussions at SLAS 2022, but here’s a short rundown of some of the highlights.
Lab of the Future
Spanning the entire conference were topics on Lab of the Future, covering approaches companies are taking to accelerate scientific innovation through automation, high-content imaging, high-throughput screening, and data analytics. Discussions covered how AI/ML predictions can screen drug candidates based on chance of success, how to produce AI/ML models to achieve more accurate predictions, and even how biomarkers from smartwatch readings can be used to accurately identify early cases of COVID-19.
The use of automation to improve reliability, increase speed, and enable greater productivity was also a common theme throughout the conference. Huge leaps in imaging technologies, high-throughput screening with robotics, and AI/ML modeling has allowed very high content information to be generated in a fraction of the time. One practical application of high-throughput screening discussed was an innovative approach to process 100,000 COVID-19 tests per day done by Corteva Agriscience. The importance of highly integrated and connected systems that bring together software and hardware and their potential to accelerate scientific research was clearly evident.
New Scientific Advances
Advances in existing research directions presented showed the promise of new treatments. Kicking off the event, keynote speaker, and 2022 Wolf Prize in Chemistry recipient, Carolyn Bertozzi gave an amazing and clear introduction for those new to the explosive field of glycomics and cancer targeting through Siglecs. During her talk, she showed how surface proteins can target cancerous cells much like a targeted warhead. Her work has springboarded a growing field and has launched two companies, Palleon Pharmaceuticals and Lycia Therapeutics.
Multiple talks highlighted breakthrough technologies that will improve our understanding and treatment of diseases. Emulating disease environments through organ-on-a-chip technology enables more in-depth studies of disease biology and potential treatments, making it possible to achieve a higher success rate for drugs in clinical trials and beginning to deliver on the promise of personalized medicine. Another breakthrough area utilizes new plates that can capture 3D imaging of spheroid microtissues. Scientists can now grow spheroids and image them without transferring between plates, supporting 3D spheroid imaging and high-content screening earlier in the drug discovery pipeline.
As scientists generate deeper data sets at an accelerated pace, scientific and technological advancement requires efficient data management. In order to gain insights into diseases to develop treatments, aggregating and correlating complex scientific data across disparate sources becomes increasingly critical. We didn’t see many of these types of discussions at SLAS 2022, which raises the question — how can the scientific community harness the full value of its scientific data?
In Search of a New Way
Everywhere we looked at SLAS 2022, we found end users stuck using an antediluvian data model and hungry for a new approach. We repeatedly heard about companies using on-premises databases, FTPs, SharePoints, or even email for scientific data management and collaboration. These same companies would ask “How do I fix my data?”, realizing they cannot achieve business and scientific advances by using their Grandpa’s technology (OK, boomer!) for data management, access, and analytics.
It’s worth noting how fast technology sped ahead while we’ve all been “hibernating” in our basement offices due to COVID-19. Suddenly, everyone has Calendly. Zoom. Apple Watches. Lightweight recording equipment. Hybrid cars. LED-based detectors. The industry’s need for complex data isn’t stopping, but rather is accelerating at a dazzling rate. The industry needs to replatform and reeingineer scientific data to accelerate innovation that is only provided by the Tetra R&D Data Cloud.
TetraScience Makes a Splash with Partners
In the midst of a wide array of scientific sessions, TetraScience’s very own Chief Scientific Officer Mike Tarselli, Ph.D., MBA (co-author of this blog) joined Bryan Holmes, VP Information Technology at Andelyn BioSciences, and Jack Smith, Director of Service Business Development at Waters Corp., to discuss “Making Your Scientific Data Unstoppable”. This session highlighted some of the real data challenges faced by industry leaders and how the Tetra R&D Data Cloud is replatforming and reengineering the world’s scientific data in the cloud in order to adhere to FAIR, (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable), data principles to make it actionable.
We’re Here to Help!
Throughout SLAS 2022, our booth was bursting at the seams with people across biotechs, large pharma, and partners. All approached us with the same groundswell, word-of-mouth excitement, asking us “Can you help solve our data problems?”
We would love to engage and find out what YOU, our devoted customers and partners, found most interesting at this year’s SLAS Conference and Exhibition. If you’re interested in learning how TetraScience can help you harness the full value of your scientific data, please drop us a line!