In the life sciences field, getting results to repeat consistently is an area where robots, with their efficiency and precision, can help immensely. While other industries have benefitted from robotics for many years, automation of manual tasks for scientists is still relatively new.
A company aiming to change this is Geneva, Switzerland-based Andrew Alliance S.A. Over the past four years, the company said its liquid handling robot, named Andrew, has been adopted by 18 of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies, the top four diagnostic companies, and 16 of the top 20 global academic research institutions.
In June 2018, the company raised $14 million in its Series C funding round, with investment from Tecan Group, the Waters Corporation, Inpeco, Reancilio Cube, Sam Eletr Trust, and Omega Funds. Piero Zucchelli, CEO and co-founder of Andrew Alliance, said the investments by Tecan and Waters was particularly meaningful given their positions in the automated liquid handling (Tecan) and chromatography, mass spectrometry, and thermal analysis (Waters) markets.
Achieving repeatability by eliminating manual processes
Zucchelli spoke with Robotics Business Review recently about the funding and its goals for the Andrew robot, mainly in assisting scientists achieve greater repeatability for their experiments. In 2014, the company was one of Robotics Business Review‘s Game Changer Award Winners.
“We created Andrew Alliance together with business leaders to look for a solution to the problem of manual experiments,” Zucchelli said. “Biologists were spending two hours per day in manual operations at the bench, and it’s time where they don’t produce value, because the only thing you can do is make mistakes.”
The Andrew robot is a compact, 20-lb. liquid handler that delivers “absolute consistency in how liquids are measured and tested,” using standard pipettes. Zucchelli said they designed the robot with the scientist in mind: “The use of our robot doesn’t require any knowledge of robotics, you really just talk the language of the users.”
The Andrew robot is being used in the fields of molecular biology, immunotherapy, and diagnostics, especially in the biotech, pharmaceutical, and academic research spaces, Zucchelli said.
At $24,000, the robot is also much less expensive than comparable systems that are larger and also require automation engineering expertise, he added. “We tell customers, ‘Look, our robot is 20 lbs., we fly to your place, put the robot on your bench, you tell us your application, and we implement together on the robot and show that it works,” Zucchelli said. “Most of the time it works, we have a high closure rate of our demos, because we are able to demonstrate in a few hours or less that their application can be executed on the robot, by simply transporting what they were doing manually into our software.”
Moving forward, the company said it will use the new funding for more product innovation, as well as developing strategic industry partnerships. Zucchelli said they were working on integrating the Andrew robots with other life science equipment, allowing them to complete more of the manual tasks that human scientists are still performing.