Life sciences technology predictions for 2021

For over 40 years, Molecular Devices has been at the forefront of technological advances which have contributed to significant scientific breakthroughs. To kick off the new year, we asked a few of our associates to share their perspectives on where technology will take the life sciences industry in 2021 and beyond.

Emergence of synthetic biology

“Over the coming years, synthetic biology (redesign of nature’s greatest hits) will take even greater prominence in our world. This exciting technology has already led to some incredible products, from gene treatment for inherited vision loss (Luxturna), to cultivated fish and meat, and to enzymes which can break down plastic waste. Most of these products are in early stages and still need to mature, however they promise huge advantages both in pharmaceuticals and in other areas of our lives.”

Sylvia de Bruin,
Applications Scientist, Global Distribution

Merrit Savener,
BioPharma Sales Representative

COVID has highlighted the importance of increasing throughput and accelerating research cycles by increasing automation that decrease labor demands. By relying on cells to do the work of manufacturing, we reduce the energy and labor needed to produce biologic molecules. The synthetic biology paradigm is finding its way into all aspects of life sciences -- biopharma and therapeutics, plant agriculture, food, and industrial materials. By continuing to provide instrumentation that seamlessly automates both manual work and data movement, Molecular Devices can stay at the forefront of this rapidly growing industry.”

Increased collaborations between academia and industry

“If 2020 has shown us anything, it is the importance of investing in the life sciences industry and having a more collaborative approach to innovation! In line with already emerging trends, I think the next few years will see more bioincubators springing up across Europe to give nascent biotech companies a boost to get started. In addition, I think we’ll see an increased collaboration between academia and industry, with more spin-off biotech companies arising from promising academic research projects, and academic facilities serving as screening hubs in partnership with biotech or pharma companies for profiling their more extensive compound libraries.”

Sarah Piper, PhD,
Senior Marketing Manager, Europe

Development of personalized medicine through gene editing and biomaterial-based drug delivery systems

Young Mee Yoon, PhD,
BioResearch Field Applications Scientist Supervisor

“Developing personalized medicine via gene editing (e.g., CRISPR) or biomaterial-based drug delivery systems are going to be trends in 2021. Microplate readers have contributed greatly to this area of life science research and will continue to make a significant impact.”

Adoption of artificial intelligence and automation platforms

“Big data has taken center stage in many aspects of society, including the life sciences. More recently we are seeing applications of big data together with artificial intelligence and deep learning particularly in the drug discovery field. Image-based phenotypic profiling based on cell painting assays is such an example. Already, this approach has played a key role in fast-tracking early drug screens, from promising compound hits for the treatment of rare genetic diseases to repurposing of drugs to treat COVID infections.”

Angeline Lim, PhD,
Applications Scientist

Charles Ho, PhD,
China Market Development Manager

"With the advancement of computing power and deep learning algorithms, we have seen a drastic increase in artificial intelligence solving difficult problems, such as the OpenAI GPT-3 and the DeepMind AlphaFold, that are challenging to even the most intelligent researchers. By combining artificial intelligence and automation technologies, the life sciences industry will soon be able to employ robotic biologists/chemists that can work 24/7 to get more comprehensive insights and shorten research and development time. I foresee more implementation and rapid adoption of smart features in analytical instruments in the upcoming decade."
“With the emergence of the COVID-19 global pandemic in 2020, we saw a significant increase in labs and companies willing to invest in high-throughput automated platforms. This was driven by the need to increase sample volumes and throughput while also increasing efficiency and effectiveness with less staff. The next step in the evolution of automated systems is the incorporation of machine learning and artificial intelligence. AI-driven solutions for early stage drug discovery has been growing steadily among biopharma leaders. The pandemic has accelerated this significantly, and I think we will see major artificial intelligence breakthroughs in the areas of drug target identification and validation as well as target-based phenotypic drug discovery in 2021. With the wealth of scientific information — from hit finding and expansion through lead design/optimization to ADME (Absorption, Distribution, Metabolism, and Excretion)/toxicity predictions — I foresee AI platforms having the ability to work with data points obtained from different processes. This includes high-content, low-throughput phenotypic assays as well as high-throughput screening, structure-based design, and traditional methods. From this, I would envision AI-controlled systems being able to probe very large chemical spaces and identify the most promising drug candidates, leading to faster breakthroughs and discoveries.”

Justin Dranschak,
North America Sales Manager, BioPharma

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