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Collaboration Explores Humanoid Robot for Sequencing Sample Prep

by | May 31, 2022

Companies will explore LabDroid’s capacity to automate sample preparation workflows for long-read sequencing systems.

He/she/it is not nearly as cute and loveable as R2-D2 or C-3PO. But LabDroid, the humanoid robot lab assistant that works 24x7 doing the tedious yet critical manual benchwork upon which every lab relies, is real. And it could become a fixture in testing labs in the years to come. Should that come to pass, the collaboration between Pacific Biosciences and the Japan-based Robotic Biology Institute (RBI) announced on May 9 may prove to be a crucial turning point.

The RBI LabDroid Robot

LabDroid is a data analytics platform with a rectangular body flanked by dual arms, making it capable of performing testing, sample preparation, and other lab activities typically performed by hand. It’s literally the creature of RBI, a biotech company created in 2015 to design and manufacture robots that can be used to automate end-to-end lab functions to free up labor, eliminate human error, and relieve scientists from laborious manual tasks so they can concentrate on scientific analysis and creativity.

The PacBio/RBI/iLAC Collaboration

Along with Japanese genome analysis company iLAC, RBI and PacBio will work together to explore LabDroid’s capacity to automate sample preparation workflows for the latter’s Sequel II and Sequel IIe HiFi long-read sequencing systems. Specifically, they hope to use LabDroid to develop and validate automated, high-throughput workflows for iLAC’s genomic services facility in Tsukuba, Japan. These automated workflows will support whole-genome sequencing, targeted sequencing, and Iso-Seq, PacBio’s isoform-resolution transcriptome application, on the Sequel II and Sequel IIe platforms.

“We believe this collaboration, and the automated sequencing workflows that may result from it, could support broader adoption of long-read sequencing in the market,” noted PacBio chief commercial officer Peter Fromen in a statement.

“By working with PacBio to automate its applications and workflows on RBI’s LabDroid, we believe we can optimize data consistency especially for larger projects, while reducing cost,” added iLAC president and CEO Taka-Aki Sato in a press release. “We believe this collaboration will enable us to bring the advantages of highly accurate long-read sequencing to more scientists.”

The sides didn’t disclose the financial and other terms of the collaboration.

Laboratory Robotics

Of course, the concept of automating laboratory functions via robotics is nothing new. Worldwide, there are over 100 companies that develop and manufacture such technology. However, LabDroid is the first humanoid robot designed especially for biological research and development use. The PacBio/RBI/iLAC partnership is also the latest version of a growing interest in automating sample and library preparation for sequencing.

PacBio has been an active player in this trend. In January, the Menlo Park, California-based life science company entered into a similar partnership with lab automation firm Hamilton aimed at automating high-molecular weight DNA extraction. Three months later, it teamed up with startups Volta Labs and Miroculus for automated platforms for next-generation sequencing.


Here’s a summary of some of other key strategic diagnostic deals announced in May 2022:

Strategic Alliances, Partnerships, & Collaborations

Partner 1Partner(s) 2+Deal Summary
Thermo Fisher ScientificQatar Genome Program• Objective: Develop a microarray for pan-Arab populations
• Dynamic: Partnership to create custom Axiom genotyping array based on whole-genome sequencing data from 19 Arab countries that will interrogate about 800,000 variants
Roche (via its Global Access Program)Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria• Objective: Promote diagnostic infrastructure development in low- and middle-income countries
• Dynamic: Initiate projects to build local capacity to deal with infrastructure challenges for both generating and delivering diagnostic results and managing healthcare waste
IlluminaAllegheny Health Network• Objective: Evaluate impact of in-house comprehensive genomic profiling on cancer care
• Dynamic: Perform 1,000-sample study comparing solid tissue and blood samples to determine if blood can provide additional information for use in therapy selection
• Assess "value" of in-house testing for tissue and blood samples, compared to sending those samples to an external lab
IlluminaDeerfield Management• Objective: Discovery and development of novel drug therapies for diseases with unmet medical needs
• Dynamic: 5-year partnership to use Illumina's genetically driven target discovery platform to identify therapeutic targets
• Deerfield to contribute its expertise in translational science to deliver genetically validated drug candidates through the discovery research phase
Delfi DiagnosticsMemorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center's biomarker development program• Objective: Further cancer research
• Dynamic: Researchers from MSK’s biomarker development program to carry out studies using Delfi's liquid biopsy platform, including expansion of a prospective Delfi study using firm’s blood-based cancer detection technology in individuals eligible for lung cancer screening under current US guidelines
Avalon GloboCareLu Daopei Hematology Institute• Objective: Develop precision companion diagnostics for chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell therapies
• Dynamic: Avalon to work with Chinese firm to codevelop CDx for both its ongoing and future cellular immunotherapy-related clinical programs
PrecisionLifeSano Genetics• Objective: Identify biomarkers and new treatments for COVID-19
• Dynamic: Use PrecisionLife's combinatorial analytics platform to analyze anonymized patient data collected by Sano from roughly 3,000 UK adults with long COVID-19
Interpace BiosciencesTwist Bioscience
• Objective: Automate NGS library preparation using digital microfluidics technology for cancer testing
• Dynamic: Interpace to integrate Twist’s library prep and hybridization capture chemistries with Miroculus’ Miro Canvas digital microfluidics instrument to automate Interpace’s custom NGS panels
Hitachi High-TechInvivoscribe• Objective: Develop molecular diagnostics to diagnose cancer and monitor disease during treatment
• Dynamic: Combine Invivoscribe's technology, assay and bioinformatics development, global clinical testing, and regulatory expertise with Hitachi's expertise in measurement and analysis systems
• As part of partnership, Hitachi to become a minority investor in Invivoscribe
Becton DickinsonBabson Diagnostics• Objective: Develop capillary blood collection and testing system enabling small-volume blood collection at retail settings by people with no experience collecting blood samples for testing
• Dynamic: Expand current partnership begun in 2019 beyond primary care-oriented tests to other types of blood tests, including for pediatric use
Aadi BioscienceFoundation Medicine
• Objective: Identify patients for enrollment in Aadi's ongoing PRECISION 1 basket trial
• Dynamic: Phase II trial designed to evaluate Aadi's mTOR inhibitor Fyarro (nab-sirolimus) as treatment for about 120 patients with solid tumors harboring TSC1 or TSC2 inactivating mutations
Pacific BiosciencesiLAC
Robotic Biology Institute
• Objective: Explore use of a humanoid, robotic lab technician to automate sample preparation workflows for Pac Bio’s Sequel II and IIe long-read sequencing systems
• Dynamic: Develop and validate automated, high-throughput workflows using RBI's LabDroid for iLAC's genomic services facility in Japan with workflows to support whole-genome, targeted, and RNA isoform sequencing
Alamar BiosciencesMologic• Objective: Develop rapid antigen test for SARS-CoV-2
• Dynamic: Use proteomic firm Alamar's novel SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein-targeting antibodies to develop test
AllelicaInvitae• Objective: Develop and validate breast cancer polygenic risk score (PRS) for clinical implementation across multiple ancestries
• Dynamic: Combine Invitae's genomics data, clinical reach, physician network, and development capabilities with Allelica's ability to analyze multiple datasets using its proprietary software tools
• Integrate breast cancer PRS with absolute risk models to estimate 10-year and lifetime risk in women of multiple ancestries
ExcellGene SACYTENA• Objective: Streamline cell line development workflows for highly-efficient monoclonal antibody (mAb) and complex therapeutic protein manufacturing for biopharma
• Dynamic: Use ExcellGene’s CHOExpress system for large-scale manufacturing of therapeutic proteins
• CYTENA to establish workflows on new C.STATION

Distribution, Sales, & Marketing Agreements

Product OwnerDistributorDeal Summary
StageZero Life SciencesDiagnoseAtHome• Products: StageZero’s Aristotle multicancer mRNA blood test
• Territory: US and Canada
Mainz BiomedDante Labs• Products: Mainz's ColoAlert assay
• Territory: Italy, United Arab Emirates
Genetic AnalysisOmnigene Medical Technologies• Products: Genetic Analysis GA-map Dysbiosis Test
• Territory: United Arab Emirates
ScipioThistle Scientific• Products: Scipio’s single-cell RNA-sequencing kit
• Territory: UK, Ireland
ScipioOzyme• Products: Scipio’s single-cell RNA-sequencing kit
• Territory: France
ScipioBioCat• Products: Scipio’s single-cell RNA-sequencing kit
• Territory: Austria, Germany
ScipioWitec• Products: Scipio’s single-cell RNA-sequencing kit
• Territory: Switzerland


LicensorLicenseeDeal Summary
InscriptaAldevronAldevron gets license to manufacture and commercialize MAD7 CRISPR nuclease, part of so-called Madagascar family of novel RNA-guided nucleases

Government Contracts

ContractorGovt. AgencyContract Summary
OraSure TechnologiesHHSOraSure to supply its InteliSwab COVID-19 Rapid Test to schools under HHS program nationwide school testing program as part of firm’s $205.2 million procurement contract from the US Defense Logistics Agency signed last September
TempusVeterans Affairs (VA) National Precision Oncology ProgramMultiyear deal for Tempus to provide its NGS-based cancer and liquid biopsy tests to providers at the VA's 171 medical centers

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