AstraZeneca inks deal to install robots at new R&D facility

AstraZeneca ($AZN) has struck a deal to develop robots for use in the high-throughput screening of compounds. The agreement with HighRes Biosolutions positions the Big Pharma to put its new R&D facility at the forefront of application of robotics to drug discovery and development.

Having inked the three-year deal, AstraZeneca will work with HighRes Biosolutions to tailor robotic technology first developed for the European Space Agency to the needs of its facility. AstraZeneca plans to install the robots at the AstraZeneca MRC UK Centre for Lead Discovery, a facility being set up with the Medical Research Council within the Big Pharma's R&D campus in Cambridge, United Kingdom. The lead discovery center is being designed to screen 2 million chemical structures per target.

AstraZeneca believes the robots can help with this task. HighRes Biosolutions and AstraZeneca want to design the robots to be light, strong and able to be interacted with directly by scientists, rather than hidden behind protective shields. AstraZeneca thinks this mix of characteristics will enable the robots to efficiently carry out a diverse range of research tasks. Other companies, notably Emerald Therapeutics and Transcriptic, are already applying robotics to drug research but AstraZeneca expects to be the first to adopter of the technology being developed with HighRes Biosolutions.

The Big Pharma unveiled the deal with HighRes Biosolutions at the same time as two other R&D tech agreements, both of which will add to the capabilities at its lab in Cambridge. Genedata has signed up for a 5-year data sharing and analysis collaboration with AstraZeneca, which is expected to cut the cost of sifting through results in search of insights and make it easier to share information with early-stage research partners. The third deal is with Brooks Automation and LabCyte, companies that have developed a contactless way to dispensing compounds from tubes onto well plates. 

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