Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Science Labs in the Cloud: Champagne Discoveries, Beer Budget

Emerald Cloud Lab – ECL-1 – Remotely Conduct Experiment

Science is difficult and replicating other labs’ results is even more difficult which tends to be particular right with regards to life sciences. This has lead biologist as well as researchers to manually track sophisticated experiments fraught together with variable like water purity, humidity or elusive differences in equipment.

According to Ethan Perlstein, the founder and CEO of Perlstein Lab, a San Francisco based bio-tech start-up, operating in discovering drugs to combat rare genetic diseases states that `biologist do almost everything by hand and there is lot of variation in experiments lab to lab’. He further adds that he `wants to be able to do science in a way that is auditable and scalable and the data is repeatable, pristine and good’.

Emerald Therapeutics is of the opinion that its Emerald Cloud Lab which has been dubbed ECL-1, could deliver just what Perlstein ordered which is because ECL-1 enables scientist to remotely conduct over 40 various standard experiments worth $3 million of lab equipment inclusive of DNA synthesizers, advanced microscopes as well as mass spectrometers for the separation and measurement of weight of charged particles.

All identical equipment present in the 15,000 square foot facility tends to be same, down to the type and length of pipes and tubing where automated robots tend to perform the test, eliminating the human part in the process.

Aim – Amazon Prime of Experiments 

Other start-ups also tend to provide identical science labs in the cloud. DNAnexus offers tools to store manage as well as analyse the huge data content generated by genome sequencing. Transcriptic tends to advertise its automated robotics and controlled lab environment though it manages less than 20 experiments as compared with ECL’s 40.

Emerald and other companies prefer to become the biosciences version of Amazon Web Services. As it has been trimmed on the cost of developing commercial software, labs in the cloud could make a difference in the economics of life sciences exploration. For instance, the average cost per experiment run by ECL-1 is $25.

As per Brian Frezza, co-founder and co-CEO of Emerald Therapeutics stated from the company’s offices in South San Francisco, California that `they want to be the Amazon Prime of experiments starting within 48 hours of the order’.

Rent out Robots with Precisely Calibrated Instrumentation/Auditable Data Trail

Rather than leasing computer servers by the hour like Amazon Web Services, Emerald together with their rival start-ups tend to rent out robots with precisely calibrated instrumentation together with added benefits of offering auditable data trail.

Perlstein comments that `having robots handle experiments on exactly the same equipment, in exactly the same environment will always be superior to two pairs of hands. It is just objectively better to have fully auditable and automated experiments’. Provision of reproducible results is not the only probable benefit from labs in the cloud but also financial advantage.

This is due to the modern labs buying equipment which could be costing from $100,000 to $240,000 each, which is probably used only for 10% of their research. Frank Gillett, an analyst with Forrester Research states `that this sort of experiment as a service is interesting because it helps avoid the huge setup costs of buying the equipment and finding someone skilled enough to understand and configure everything – all before you can even run your first experiment. Now you can reduce the time it takes to complete the experiment and reduce the cost of the experiment’.

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