HighRes Biosolutions to provide cutting-edge automated robotic platforms for UK National Phenotypic Screening Centre

HighRes Biosolutions, the leading global provider of automated robotic systems to the Life Sciences industry, announced today that they have been selected by the Scottish Universities Life Sciences Alliance (SULSA) to provide multiple automated robotic platforms to support the UK National Phenotypic Screening Centre’s (UK-NPSC) research activities. The robotic systems will be deployed at two sites, the University of Dundee and the new Target Discovery Institute at the University of Oxford. Together the partnership will focus on operating a world-class phenotypic drug discovery facility that will collaborate with a wider network of centres from across the UK, Europe and beyond, to bridge between academia and pharmaceutical companies and drive innovation in the sector.

UK-NPSC will focus on screening chemical libraries in a smart cost-effective way, mostly using human cells and tissues, in order to identify new drug candidates that address unmet therapeutic needs – particularly in complex multifaceted diseases. The deployment of HighRes’ flexible modular robotic systems and software will enable the UK-NPSC to implement a wide range of cell-based phenotypic screens using monolayer and 3D cultures – in live cells and fixed samples, and importantly, to reconfigure the systems to suit each screen.

The more holistic approach to drug discovery used in phenotypic screening is a particularly powerful method for drug discovery because it offers the opportunity to go beyond the focus on single targets – traditionally the most widely adopted approach for drug discovery. It relies heavily on advanced high-throughput microscopy combined with sophisticated image analysis techniques employing mathematical and statistical modelling to identify drug candidates based on complex changes in multiple cellular or tissue characteristics.

The current cost of drug development is extremely high and is plagued by low clinical efficacy and late stage failures. Evidence indicates more “first-in-class” FDA-approved drugs come from phenotypic screening rather than target-based screening. Phenotypic screening represents a relatively non-biased, disease and patient-centric approach to drug discovery that embraces the complexity of living cells and tissues in order to identify effective treatments. The Centre’s mission is to reduce the time and cost to translate basic research into a clinical setting: it aims to improve drug efficacy by using more realistic models of disease and ensure safety and reduce side-effects by employing a greater proportion of complex human models along the drug discovery pipeline.

“SULSA selected HighRes Bio as the preferred automation platform for UK-NPSC because of its flexible, high throughput and end-to-end robotics solution that can support a broad range of assays. This allows us to adapt the functionality of the system depending on our varying needs in phenotypic screening. Our goal ultimately is to help improve the success rate of new drugs coming into the market by providing academics who have innovative ideas, access to the state of the art screening systems. This investment will put Scottish universities at the forefront of academic drug discovery worldwide.” said Professor Andrew Hopkins, Director of SULSA.

“We, at HighRes, are truly excited about the opportunity to work with the UK’s National Phenotypic Screening Centre Sites at the University of Dundee and University of Oxford”, said Lou Guarracina, President of HighRes Biosolutions. “This partnership will allow each University the opportunity to expand their screening capabilities beyond traditional automation solutions and allow HighRes the opportunity to develop stronger relationships within the academic and government communities of the UK”.

Installation of the systems is expected to begin in the latter part of calendar year 2014.


The UK-NPSC was kickstarted with the recently announced £8M infrastructure award from the Scottish Government that allowed SULSA to finance the state-of-the-art robotics, instrumentation and computation required within the Universities of Dundee and Oxford. Significant additional support from industry, charities and UK Research Councils is being sought in order to catalyse this ambitious project. The consortium also seeks to harness existing expertise and infrastructure in order to maximise interactions between centres of excellence, and with national and international initiatives in translational medicine. The project is being set-up and delivered by the same core team at SULSA that secured the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) European Lead Factory (based in Scotland and the Netherlands) working closely with consultants at Stem Cell Solutions Ltd and WK Life Science Ltd and other phenotypic screening experts based at the SULSA Universities and at the University of Oxford.

About HighRes Biosolutions

HighRes Biosolutions, Inc. (www.highresbio.com) is the leader in the design and construction of innovative robotic systems and laboratory devices used by pharmaceutical, biotech, and academic research laboratories. HighRes helps scientists accelerate such research areas as drug discovery, high-throughput genotyping, siRNA screening, next-generation sequencing sample prep, biorepository science, molecular diagnostics, and more. HighRes offers highly flexible, expandable and modular integrated systems and bench-top devices that are easily configured (and reconfigured) for fast-paced, dynamic laboratories.


Scottish Universities Life Sciences Alliance (SULSA) is a research pooling partnership between the Universities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, St. Andrews and Strathclyde that is supported by the Scottish Funding Council. SULSA makes Scottish biosciences research more globally competitive by pooling resources from the leading universities in the life sciences:

  • Strategic collaboration in research, teaching and facilities is providing enhanced quality, success and value for money
  • SULSA breaks down silos and builds critical mass increasing university capacity, outputs and impacts
  • Pooling enhances research, training and global credibility, further raising the level of Scotland’s world-class universities

About the Target Discovery Institute

The Target Discovery Institute (TDI) at the University of Oxford is a major new collaborative research initiative led by the Nuffield Professor of Medicine, Professor Sir Peter Ratcliffe FRS. Strategic investment through the Nuffield Department of Medicine, as well as collaborative use of existing research resources from the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine, the Radiation and Oncology Unit of the Department of Oncology, the Oxford Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, and the Structural Genomics Consortium enabled the creation of the TDI High Throughput Screening Facility (TDI HTS) in 2011. The institute was fully established in the new NDM Research Building, completed in 2013 with funding from the HEFCE Research Partnership Investment Fund and several industrial and charitable partners. The TDI has grown to encompass several groups alongside the HTS Facility, including Chemical Biology, Epigenetics, Proteomics and Mass Spectrometry and Medicinal Chemistry. The Institute pursues drug target discovery across various diseases, drawing on the expertise of the research staff at the Oxford Old Road Campus, Medical Sciences Division, and wider University, which have been strong supporters of the initiative. The work in the TDI capitalizes on existing strengths in genetics and genomics, molecular and cell biology, structural biology, chemistry, pharmacology and clinical medicine, and is an exemplar of Oxford’s work in translational medicine.


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