Empowering the Century of Biology
Evolution, heritability, genetic diseases, and cancer. Before our ability to understand DNA, these domains of biology were shrouded in mystery. The way we look at biology changed forever with the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953 by Watson, Crick, Franklin, and Wilkins. Since then, the late 20th century has brought greater understanding of the principles of biologi- cal heritability, the genetic causes of diseases, the intricacies of biological signaling, and much more. Our power to interrogate and take action has increased at an unprecedented pace, aided by computation, lab automation, and the global competitiveness to discover the mysteries and unearth the treasures of the genome.
The effects are being clearly seen in the development of health care in the 21st century. For example, the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) approved 59 novel drugs in the USA in 2018 alone, topping its previous record of 53 in 1996. Drugs approved in the last two years include many anticancer drugs, some with entirely novel mechanisms of action for treatment, such as the first products based on gene and cell therapy. Biological drugs will become cheaper as patent protections expire. Today, there are over 1,000 biosimilar drugs under development. Added to that, affordable technology has given rise to a booming number of consumers who want to reveal the secrets hidden in their genes.
The 17th century was a period of wonder, when mankind discovered many principles of the natural sciences. The 18th century focused on exploiting these discoveries in early industrialization. The 19th century was the age of physics: steam, locomotion and mechanization. The 20th century was the age of chemistry, the internal combustion engine, flight, electromagnetism, nuclear energy and the onset of computers, and our very first expeditions into the genome.
The 21st century will be the Century of Biology, when we apply our newfound knowledge to help mankind and the natural world.
Here are some examples of where Tecan plays a role.
What massive scale genomics can tell us about ourselves as humans
In 1911, Alfred Sturtevant mapped the locations of the fruit fly genes being tracked by his lab. The National Human Genome Research Institute, USA, has compared his gene map to the Wright brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk, with the Human Genome Project (HGP) being the program that landed man on the moon. The space race provided a technological boost that changed the course of human history while the HGP has revolutionized genome sequencing and transformed the way we view ourselves as a species.
It took the HGP 13 years to reveal three billion bits of genetic information in the human genome that contains 20,500 genes. Since then, expansive research interest and commercial competition have driven enormous advances in genome sequencing, with plummeting costs and increasing accessibility. There are now massive efforts around the globe to sequence genomes on a large scale to generate more data on the causes of disease. More than 1,800 disease genes have been discovered so far and at least 350 biotechnology-based products resulting from the HGP are currently in clinical trials.
Automating workflows in genome sequencing
Aiming to help shape the future of automated workflows in genome sequencing, Tecan already supplies solutions covering key steps in the next generation sequencing methods that evolved from the HGP. Tecan solutions include automated workstations, the consumables and application expertise that are important for the performance of the system. Through the acquisition of NuGEN Technologies, Tecan also has a dedicated solutions offering that includes NGS reagents and kits, making the company the one-stop-shop for the most critical sample preparation step prior to sequencing. Tecan is also supplying major sequencing vendors with critical components as building blocks for the sequencers themselves.
For example, Tecan’s Cavro® Air Displacement Pipettor plays a central role in a system developed by Pacific Biosciences, USA, that delivers longer high-accuracy sequencing reads for better coverage of the genome. As Paz Yogev, a Staff Mechanical Design Engineer at Pacific Biosciences, explains, “This OEM solution offers a combination of performance, accuracy, cost and advanced features – including automatic tip detection and ejection, plus liquid level detection – that is very favorable for our application.”
As the exploration of the human genome, and other species, accelerates, Tecan solutions are contributing with automation and efficient liquid handling that delivers high reproducibility while minimizing errors.
Empowering Personal Genomics
How DNA sequencing helps us as individuals
Thanks to the technological leaps made during the Human Genome Project, an entire genome can now be sequenced in a few days for less than $1,000. The sequencer that will deliver the $100 genome may already be on the market.
The genomics revolution has already resulted in the development of more than 1,800 genetic tests for human conditions, making sequencing an invaluable diagnostic and prognostic tool. For example, the identification of mutations in the BRCA1 gene that can cause heritable breast cancer has become a gold standard in cancer research and diagnostics. Not only that, this sort of testing is now starting to be available directly to consumers.
The huge trend of consumer-driven genetic testing
Bringing enabling technology to the consumer has been a key driver in many areas. The falling cost of sequencing and genotyping, which looks at specific points in the genome, is now opening up access to genomics. Just as online services have enabled us to shop in the comfort of our homes, millions of people are now signing up annually to receive genetic data that gives them new insights into their ancestry and health risks within weeks. And the numbers are booming.
Consumer genetic testing is also expected to boost drug development, with the pharma industry starting to leverage the genetic and phenotypic information provided by consenting individuals as a new source for novel medicines. This development is very promising since targets for drugs validated using such genetic information are more likely to benefit patients and make it onto the market. Many of the DNA sequencers in the service labs generating the data use Tecan high precision pumps for the liquid handling steps. And preparing the samples relies heavily on automation, with Tecan solutions helping to deliver the high capacity, speed, and flexibility needed by the service labs running the samples to ensure a rapid turnaround.
The genomics revolution has reached the person on the street. We are truly in the Century of Biology.
How we can find disease sooner and better then ever before
An estimated 18 million people died from cardiovascular disease in 2016, representing 31% of all global deaths, and this is expected to rise to almost 23.6 million by 2030 (World Health Organization). A third of patients with cardiac conditions may be misdiagnosed initially and the risk of misdiagnosis is particularly serious for women. Heart attacks are a primary symptom and the longer it takes to diagnose and treat a heart attack, the greater the damage.
This is just one example of the importance of early and correct diagnosis. Such tests depend on reliable automation to generate reproducible data, which is why Tecan Partnering has become the partner of choice for the industry.
Revealing what was invisible – the presence of disease
Rapid diagnosis is vital but it would be even better to be able to differentiate between healthy individuals, people at risk, and true patients to provide peace of mind, implement early and effective treatment, and improve prognosis. Depending on the disease, diagnosis can be based on genetic information or other biomarkers requiring highly sensitive analysis.
Several customers of Tecan Partnering have developed technologies with unprecedented sensitivity that enable much earlier detection of time-critical biomarkers – such as the cardiac biomarker troponin, or severe bacterial infections such as Clostridium difficile – than would be possible with traditional methods. This enables appropriate care to be initiated much sooner. Such high-sensitivity analysis can effectively identify much lower concentrations of diagnostic markers much sooner, leading to earlier intervention and eventually better patient outcomes. The ability to better define biomarker levels is expected to refine diagnosis, and may even help predict disease.
Tailoring automated systems that scale up the throughput of such innovative tests for the rapid delivery of reproducible and reliable results is another example of how Tecan technology is empowering diagnostics.
Empowering Precision Medicine
How disease can be targeted precisely by tailor-made treatment
Breakthroughs such as whole genome sequencing together with medical insights have driven the development of precision medicine, which identifies the most effective therapy for patients based on their genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. As a result, the majority of cancer therapeutics approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2018 were targeted therapies. Even truly personalized medicine is becoming a reality with therapy targeting individual tumors in individual patients.
Precision medicine also includes gene-manipulation methods, such as the promising gene-editing technique CRISPR/Cas9, and targeted cell therapies. Cancer therapy, for example, can involve immunotherapy by injecting T cells capable of fighting cancer cells.
Targeted cell therapy kills malignant cells with minimal side effects
Singapore-based Tessa Therapeutics is one of many Tecan customers in the field of precision medicine. This clinical stage biopharmaceutical company aims to revolutionize cancer treatment by redirecting the body’s anti-viral immune response to recognize and kill malignant cells. Unlike many other cell therapies, Tessa’s proprietary virus-specific T cells have the ability to infiltrate and survive within solid tumors. This allows them to migrate to the tumor site and kill malignant cells with minimal side effects.
This approach has already shown exciting results in the treatment of advanced nasopharyngeal carcinoma, leading to the world’s largest Phase III trial of a T cell immunotherapy for any cancer indication. Tecan technology is playing a key role. As Ruijuan Du, head of quality control at Tessa Therapeutics, explains, “Before any of our products enter a clinical trial they must undergo stringent QC testing.” To do this they use a Tecan high-performance multimode microplate reader. “We are really pleased with our Spark® reader, and use it several times a week for QC batch testing. It allows us to rapidly and accurately acquire specific fluorescence readouts, and is easy to use, accurate, and reliable.”
As innovative medicine powers on, Tecan empowers with precision.
Empowering Environmental Care
How we can take better care of our world
It has been said many times. We have only one planet and we need to look after it. Taking a natural step in building corporate sustainability, Tecan Group supports the Ten Principles of the United Nations Global Compact that involve meeting fundamental responsibilities in the areas of human rights, labor, anti-corruption, and environment.
As Dr. David Martyr, CEO, wrote in the signatory letter to the UN Secretary-General in December, “We are committed to making the UN Global Compact and its principles part of the strategy, culture, and day-to-day operations of our company, and to engage in collaborative projects which advance the broader development goals of the United Nations, particularly the Sustainable Development Goals.”
This commitment by Tecan to sustainable development is vital. Not only that, nearly all the sales of Tecan Group are generated in areas defined by the Sustainable Development Goals.
Detection of micro-pollutants at the molecular level
The principles relating to the environment require that businesses “support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges, undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility, and encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.” In line with this, Tecan’s advanced technologies are helping organizations and institutions in their efforts to promote environmental care. For example, in collaboration with the consultancy firm ÖKOnsult, researchers at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany are using Tecan technology to investigate the effects of food additives and pharmaceuticals on aquatic ecosystems, as well as raising social awareness of the problems these micro-pollutants can cause.
Many common food additives and pharmaceuticals make their way directly into aquatic ecosystems. While their effects on humans are well documented, the impact on the environment and marine life forms is largely unknown. The researchers have adopted fluorescence polarization to explore the problem at the molecular level, screening compounds for their affinity to nuclear receptors with the help of Tecan’s Spark® multimode microplate reader with enhanced Fusion Optics.
This collaboration specifically supports Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life Below Water, aimed to “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development” – just one way that Tecan technology is empowering customers in their search for better ways to take care of our world.