"Drug discovery is the ultimate team sport."
April 11th, 2022
Listen to the podcast
The Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening is holding its SLAS Europe 2022 Conference and Exhibition in Dublin’s RDS from May 24 - 27. Featuring more than one hundred exhibitors, keynote speakers from academia and industry and exciting start-ups participating in the Innovation AveNEW programme, the three-day science and technology event allows visitors to make new connections and explore automated solutions for drug discovery. The Discovery Podcast spoke to SLAS CEO Vicki Loise, and SLAS Europe Co-Chairs Brinton Seashore-Ludlow and Amaury Fernández-Montalván all about it.
The pandemic has been a challenge for everyone, not least the life science research labs tasked with discovering vaccines and diagnosing Covid-19 screening tests.
“Maybe you used to have 40 people working in a lab at one time and suddenly you could only have four - and they had to be six feet apart,” illustrates Vicki Loise.
“And yet there was still an incredible amount of pressure to continue to produce research at a speed that we haven't seen before. The way you do that is with increased automation technology.”
Lab automation is a multi-disciplinary strategy to research, develop, optimise and capitalise on technologies in the laboratory that enable new and improved processes.
“So many efficiencies have been brought about as a result of the pandemic that everybody is very excited and enthusiastic to share what they have learned at the exhibition,” Vicki adds.
Her colleague Brinton Seashore-Ludlow says visitors to SLAS Europe 2022 will find out how to make their labs smarter and more efficient.
“I think there is a lot of interest now in how to improve workflows so that you get more reproducible data out that you can use and interpret. There may be some new AI methods for that, as well as other types of analysis methods that I think we'll be hearing about.”
The pandemic saw “a really big surge in the management of data and data science in labs” and “a lot of companies that have emerged to help figure out which data to look at and how to distil it down a little bit faster”.
Amaury Fernandez points out that “there is a lot of capital now flowing into our business”. This is particularly benefitting start-ups that are “developing new medicines for this pandemic and future pandemics”. Brinton has also seen this “change of focus” to “preparedness for how to deal with a pandemic the next time”.
SLAS offers all-expenses-paid exhibition packages to start-ups that qualify for their Innovation AveNEW programme.
“As long as your company has a product that is either already on the market or expected to be on the market within the next 12 months and is in the life science space where our community works, then you would qualify,” says Vicki. “At our last international conference in February in Boston we saw more small and young companies attend and participate than we ever have before. I’m looking forward to seeing the same thing happen in Dublin.”
The deadline to apply for the Dublin event expired on April 4, however SLAS will host its Innovation AveNEW at the ELRIG Drug Discovery 2022 in London, October 4-5 and at the SLAS International Conference and Exhibition in February 2023 in San Diego.
“This is our way of investing in the start-up community and really helping those young companies have the opportunity to display their products and to have conversations with other exhibiting companies who very often find these Innovation AveNEW companies can fill a gap that they are trying to address. It's not uncommon for the large companies to look to the smaller ones to make investments or even acquisitions.”
The SLAS event in Dublin will include speakers from academia and industry, including UCD Discovery director Professor Patricia Maguire and Professor Jeremy Simpson, College Principal and Dean of Science at UCD. They will cover topics in Emerging Biology, Emerging Technologies and Perspectives on the European Life Sciences Ecosystem. There are exhibitor tutorials, networking events, new product awards, mentorship programmes, short courses and a Thursday night gala at the Guinness Storehouse. Until May 2nd the early bird discount code ‘Dublin’ will shave €100 off the registration fee for full-conference in-person attendees.
“And for students, the price is regularly €100 euros if you're a member - so you could enter that code right now and come for free,” says Vicki. “It is a great opportunity to interact with people from multiple disciplines.”
SLAS is very much an interdisciplinary organisation. With 18,000 members globally - a quarter of whom are in Europe - it caters to people working at the intersection of discovery and technology.
“In drug discovery in general, you need to merge the biological question that you have with a lot of technical information on how to look at compounds. So it immediately requires two different disciplines to meet,” explains Brinton. “That's not even counting the people that you need to do the analysis and the people who are experts in things like automation or more technical aspects.”
Or as Amaury puts it: “Drug discovery is the ultimate team sport.”