Bayer taps Berkeley Lights to automate drug discovery

Bayer and Berkeley Lights are embarking on a strategic project to discover antibodies and ramp up the development of cell lines. The Big Pharma will use Berkeley Lights’ Beacon platform to automate biological processes in the drug development process.

“Berkeley Lights' Beacon platform enables scientists working in biopharma and academic medical centers to pre-program and automate workflows to import, culture, assay, view and export single cells within a nanofluidic chip,” the company said in an email.

Each chip contains thousands of nano-size chambers that hold cells to be cultured and assayed, Berkeley Lights said. Scientists use the platform to test and identify the best cells based on user-specified characteristics, such as growth rate, and then remove them for further development.

"We are excited to support Bayer in their drug discovery and development activities to further execute on their mission to bring novel therapies to market," said Eric Hobbs, PhD, CEO at Berkeley Lights, Inc. "The Beacon platform brings increased scalability and precision to the discovery and development process. Now Bayer can screen thousands of clones to identify the highest producers with even more precision and speed."

By automating biological workflows, the Beacon platform can “dramatically decrease development timelines,” Berkeley Lights said in a statement. It may be used for cell-line development, antibody discovery and engineering, gene editing and research. And, at roughly the size of a refrigerator, it can replace “huge rooms full of equipment” that is manually operated in drug discovery and development labs, the company said.

The news comes after fellow Big Pharma GlaxoSmithKline made a pair of artificial intelligence-based drug discovery deals. In July, it inked a pact with Dundee, U.K.-based Exscientia to use its AI-enabled platform to discover small molecules to treat up to 10 targets. And a month later, the company partnered with Baltimore’s Insilico Medicine to explore how its AI technology can help in the drug discovery process.