Under the microscope: CROs and microplate reader requirements

Posted: 4 December 2018 | | No comments yet

Contract Research Organisations rely on microplate readers for effective hit discovery. Ian Waddell, of Charles River Laboratories, explains what his needs are.

In what ways is the drug discovery environment changing from the perspective of a leading CRO and how does it affect your team and future planning?

Many companies are already using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to better interpret clinical data to lead to better treatments and develop new drug target hypotheses. This directly affects my team and the early discovery biology organisation at CRL who are also partnering with AI providers and developing its internal bioinformatics skills to aid with target identification, target validation and biomarker development. Increasingly, drug discovery innovation will be driven in small spin-out companies or from universities.

For my team and the early discovery biology organisation, this means that we need to be increasingly nimble and flexible in the way that we deliver to our clients. Lastly, the type of modalities used in drug discovery will continue to move away from small molecules towards large molecules. In terms of biology capabilities, the actual drug modality makes little difference. My group is currently working extremely hard to ensure that we have all the capabilities and skills we need in place.

Charles River offers a variety of services to customers from basic science, assay development, screening and SAR, and safety assessment, to mention a few. What role do microplate readers play in your work?

Screening assays remains at the very core of what we do in early discovery. However, the world of very simple straightforward biochemical high‑throughput assays is mainly in the past. We see an increasing need for more complicated assay endpoints and challenging readouts. More of the work we do is cell-based and phenotypic in nature and it is now no longer unusual for our clients to request stem cell-based screens. Whilst that means that we have an increased need for high-content imaging endpoints, flexible state of the art microplate readers still have a vital role, often offering simpler, quicker and more flexible solutions.

What microplate reader requirements are needed to keep up with your screening necessities and customer requirements?

I suspect, like most other users, the really important requirements are sensitivity, speed, reliability and ease of integration on our existing platforms. As a CRO with a broad spectrum of clients we often are asked to progress difficult targets that often result in challenging assays and assay formats, which means that we need to be flexible in our approach. Very often reader sensitivity can make the difference and allow a technically challenging assay to be enabled but still meet tough Z’ and consistency criteria. Our client base demands speed so it is critical for us to move quickly from 384 to a 1536-well format as the assay is developed. Once developed we want to read a plate as quickly as possible to increase our turnaround times without compromising quality.

You recently invested in BMG LABTECH’s PHERAstar FSX as a core screening instrument for three of your laboratory sites: what criteria did you use in your evaluation?

We run biochemical assays for our clients at four different sites across Europe and often we need to quickly share assay formats to meet demand. To meet this need, the equipment also needs to be reliable with simple user interfaces to minimise cross‑site training whilst improving the user experience. We need to get consistent, high‑quality data regardless of location and data that can be easily transferred and shared with both clients and CRL staff at distant locations and for that reason, we chose the PHERAstar FSX.