Tell Us About The Business, How Did It Come About?
Having qualified as a medical doctor in Germany, I moved to Oxford to pursue my DPhil (PhD) in cancer drug discovery on a Rhodes Scholarship in 2014. Transitioning from a clinical setting into laboratory research, I was stunned to see so many highly skilled and qualified PhD students, postdocs, and researchers spending countless hours manually performing experiments. My co-founder Tom Fleming and I felt that this time could and should instead be used for higher value tasks, such as developing and discussing ideas with colleagues, planning and thinking through projects, or coming up with new hypotheses.
In other words, we saw an imbalance between what scientists should be doing and what they are actually doing. Simultaneously, there were more and more reports surrounding high failure rates and a lack of reproducibility in biomedical research and drug discovery. It became apparent to us that we have an outdated work mode in an industry that is struggling with an alarmingly low success rate in bringing new drugs to patients.
Taken together, this led to the idea of Arctoris – a fully automated laboratory that generates robust, reliable, reproducible data at scale, powering better decisions in drug discovery. Fast forward to 2021, Arctoris is a globally operating platform company with an internal pipeline of drug discovery assets and active partnerships with biotech and pharma companies as well as academic centres worldwide, enabling drug discovery projects to be conducted using advanced robotics, leading to super-human precision and accuracy, full data capture, and absolute reproducibility and transparency. Thereby, the platform we developed enables rapid, informed decision-making to take drugs from idea to the clinic faster.
What Have You Learnt So Far?
Perseverance, most of all. In the beginning of our journey, the concept and the immense value of end-to-end automation of discovery processes had not yet been fully understood by many in the industry. Five years ago, for most people in our space automation simply was a synonym for high-throughput screening: usually a single type of assay that is automated in a static and inflexible way, and surrounded by manual labor.
The mindset has changed completely during the course of the last few years, and by now there is wide-spread recognition of the fact that end-to-end automation is key to unlocking the true power of data in drug discovery – with decisions based on large amounts of structured, fully annotated, and above all reproducible data.
Leaders in the industry widely recognize the benefits of end-to-end automation. This is even more relevant given the rise of AI and machine learning in drug discovery, where the quality of the input data is the decisive factor in developing better models, and ultimately making the right decisions at the right time.
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What Challenges Have You Overcome? How Have You Responded During The Pandemic?
End-to-end automation of entire drug discovery functions is far from trivial. We spent years doing R&D in areas such as robotics, software engineering, biology/ biochemistry and data science to make it work. Now we operate one of the most sophisticated automation platforms worldwide, run by an experienced team with a unique set of skills and expertise in automating drug discovery processes, coupled with a strong portfolio of patents and trade secrets.
And while quality and speed of data generation have always been the guiding principles for us, we have found that one other, extremely important aspect of our approach is resilience. Having automation at the heart of Arctoris means that the pandemic has not really affected our work.
We moved all non-scientific staff to remote working and encouraged our supervising scientists to embrace more flexibility when they didn’t have to be in the lab – but the rest of the work is all done by robotics. That meant that our internal as well as our partners’ projects continued uninterrupted, while so many other laboratories had to shut down. In many ways, the pandemic has really highlighted the importance of securing business and research continuity, especially in the biomedical space…
What Are Your Plans For Growth?
Arctoris grows rapidly, in many different dimensions. We are continuously expanding our platform by integrating and developing new techniques and methods, as well as expanding our team of experienced scientists, thereby covering more and more disease areas. In line with our ambitious plans to scale our platform further, we are also expanding geographically – in addition to our Oxford headquarters and our Asia-Pacific operations in Singapore, we are currently opening our US office in Boston. Exciting times ahead for Arctoris and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for us!