Automation to speed up testing

Automata has announced its partnership with The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust to unlock the power of open, integrated automation for cancer sample testing. With Automata’s support, the hospital’s Clinical Genomics Service, which is the cancer testing laboratory for the North Thames Genomics Laboratory Hub (NTGLH), will double its genomic testing capacity through a new robotic sample processing platform.

Together, Automata and The Royal Marsden will establish the UK’s first fully automated system for clinical cancer genomic testing. The new installation will increase the hospital’s next-generation sequencing (NGS) capacity by around 2,000 tests each month and expand the range of tests the specialist cancer centre can perform. NGS technology allows scientists to analyse DNA and RNA gene sequences to deliver more personalised treatments on a large scale. 

The newly automated service will also enable The Royal Marsden to launch a new genetic screening service to identify people at risk of cancer based on their inherited genetic mutations. The service will primarily test for mutations in the BRCA genes, which can impact risk of breast, ovarian, pancreatic and prostate cancer, along with other inherited mutations such as CHEK2, which is also associated with a range of cancers. People identified as at risk of developing cancer through this testing will be carefully monitored to help pick up signs of the disease at an early stage, when treatment is more likely to be successful. Preventative treatments may also be offered to help reduce the risk of developing cancer. 

Automata’s LINQ platform features a laboratory smart bench, with integrated automation capabilities and accompanying powerful, proprietary lab orchestration software. As a result, labs can easily reduce human touchpoints and increase efficiency and accuracy without needing to dedicate additional lab space to bulky equipment.

The new installation, which is due to be completed in 2024, will be housed at the NIHR Centre for Molecular Pathology, which brings together researchers from The Royal Marsden and The Institute of Cancer Research. It was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research Biomedical Research Centre at The Royal Marsden and The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. 

Professor Michael Hubank, Scientific Director of Clinical Genomics at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and Professor of Translational Genomics at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “Thanks to Automata’s innovative robotic technology, this UK-first clinical diagnostics installation will transform genomic testing at The Royal Marsden by streamlining our processes, substantially increasing our capacity without compromising accuracy. 

“Once opened, the facility will enable us to analyse the genetic make-up of more cancers than ever before, helping us to target cancer treatments and identity those at higher risk of the disease. Genomic testing is currently labour intensive and involves repetitive tasks, so fully automating the process will give our scientists and technicians more time to focus on quality and on the scientific aspects of their important work.” 

Working in close collaboration, Automata and The Royal Marsden’s Clinical Genomics Laboratory will automate five workflows, made up of 20 LINQ benches, six robots and 37 laboratory instruments to double sample throughput for DNA extraction, quality control and sequencing library preparation. 

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