Integrated acoustic tube workflow goes live, driving an efficiency step change in drug discovery

November 2019 saw a fully acoustic workflow for sample management go live at a major pharmaceutical company, with the aim of driving up sample quality.

Why is this important?

In order to achieve the ultimate goal of getting drugs to patients faster, pharmaceutical companies need to speed up the screening cycle hand-in-hand with improving data quality. This requires a step change in drug discovery research and development.

Four life science automation and software vendors – Labcyte (now part of Beckman Coulter Life Sciences), Brooks Life Sciences, Tecan and Titian Software – have been working with a major pharmaceutical company to drive the sample management innovations necessary to achieve this step change.


Acoustic technologies (based around the Brooks AcoustiX® tube) were chosen as the foundation to deliver these sample management workflows for three reasons:

  1. The quality of data provided
  2. Faster throughputs, as the miniaturised volumes allow more automated solutions to be used
  3. The efficiencies gained: smaller volumes require less solubilised stock, allowing chemistry to supply smaller amounts and use fewer reagents for screening

A partnership for innovation

To achieve this aim of miniaturised and fully acoustic sample management required a partnership to bring together best-in-class solutions and ideas. Labcyte/Beckman Coulter, Brooks, Tecan and Titian have all had to produce innovations to make these acoustic workflows a reality, and their solutions have been reached by a true partnership and willingness to work closely together.

This matches Titian’s ethos, says Toby Winchester, automation product manager at Titian: “Titian’s view is that we don’t just work with one store or liquid handling manufacturer, we work with several. Partnering with different vendors allows the scientist to choose the best fit for their work. We also feel that no single company can do everything. Our specialisms lie in different places and together we can meet the exacting needs of our customers.”

Software to manage sample management

Titian’s Mosaic software provides the sample management LIMS for two key reasons to do with usability:

  1. One is the simplicity of ordering, so that scientists can place orders for compounds very straightforwardly
  2. The second is the robotic integration, where Mosaic’s maturity and robustness manages the order so that its execution happens completely in the background as far as the scientist is concerned

To meet the demands of a fully acoustic workflow, Titian has had to extend its existing vendor integrations in order to simplify ordering and control throughout. Clever management of automation is needed to achieve the greater workflow efficiencies required of the system.

In effect, the Mosaic software has become the glue that fuses inputs from four companies into one smooth functioning system. For example:

  • Mosaic provides a simple sample ordering interface where there isn’t too much for the scientist to enter. There is also the customer’s own ordering interface working invisibly via the Mosaic ordering API. People can use either, with both systems working side by side
  • Enhancements to Mosaic's Brooks store integration ensure seamless batch processing with the Labcyte/Beckman Coulter Access platforms to create multiple smaller workcell runs. These can be fulfilled in parallel or rescheduled easily as priorities changes
  • Mosaic enables very large pick orders from storage for HTS runs. This allows scientists to request samples even when they are out of the store, and have them added to the order as soon as they are returned
  • Mosaic’s Tecan Fluent integration is extended to allow the processing of large numbers of acoustic tubes
  • Mosaic provides a set of pre-configured templates for dose response or cherry-pick. Operators are guided on batching, so they are warned if what they have selected won’t produce a full 1536- or 384-well plate.

However, the major development has been making the Labcyte/Beckman Coulter system easier to run for the operators. It only takes 5 clicks from opening the application to having the Access liquid handler start – it’s that simple. It has really streamlined the process.

This is achieved through Mosaic’s Tempo Fulfilment Module (TFM) application – Tempo being the software that runs the Access – which allows easy set-up of runs. There is no manual file handling, no spreadsheets are needed to calculate dose responses – this is all done automatically in the app. Mosaic includes calculations for the best fit of the curve. As the sample workflow progresses, Mosaic sweeps back in all the log files from bulk fillers, different liquid handlers, and even updates source plate and tube inventory with live survey data.

Toby says “For example, if there’s been some evaporation because the plate has been left unsealed too long, this is updated as the process goes along. Mosaic also provides a comprehensive audit trail so, if anything goes wrong, you can find the cause. Perhaps it might be some crystallisation of your substances in one of the tubes which caused a problem.”

Driving performance improvements

Why is this tighter integration and streamlined processing necessary?

The main reason is performance. “Batch runs allow one set of runs to be done on one Echo and another on a different one, so you are doubling the speed. It allows queuing of batches, so you can do runs overnight,” says Toby.

The performance aspect goes further:

  • The Mosaic inventory is updated in real-time, so scientists don’t have to wait for the end of the run but can see data as plates leave a liquid handler.
  • Human errors are removed by running processes automatically, meaning you don’t have to spend time recreating protocols.
  • The creation of runs is streamlined so that less labware and lower volumes of compound are used on the workcells. This is achieved by doing the calculations automatically for each run. If you do not always use the same size intermediate plates, for instance, then each set of intermediates are calculated to scale for that exact process, with the result that you use less compound. 

Toby says “Mosaic even reacts to the survey volumes, so if there is an air bubble because you haven’t centrifuged for long enough, the data is not only transferred to the destination plate but, because of the audit trail, you can trace that back to the tube that may have an issue, allowing you to inspect it and find the cause. It helps you keep your compound collection as good as possible.”

For scientists, this tight integration of lab automation with Mosaic software produce a profoundly simple but very effective result: they no longer need to interact with many different robots in order to create the final compound plate.

What are the results?

By partnering together to enable a fully acoustic workflow, the innovations driven by Labcyte/Beckman Coulter, Brooks, Tecan and Titian together have achieved:

  • A step change in cherry picking from storage
  • Easier creation of screening sub-sets
  • Higher quality screening data
  • Faster turnaround times
  • Sample ordering that lets scientists focus on science
  • An audit trail that lets you trace errors through the workflow
  • Conserving sample volume through miniaturisation

We look forward to seeing further results as this innovative acoustic workflow drives a new era in drug discovery.


Want to know more?

Download Titian's free white paper: The Essential Guide to Managing Laboratory Samples

Watch a video showing how easy it is to incorporate managing your liquid handlers into your LIMS tracking system.

In any case, consider talking to one of our Titian experts – there is a better way to manage your data flow!

Tags: News, compound management, integration, lab automation, acoustic