The Biotech & Biopharma boom enhanced by automation & digitalization


The Global biotech market was valued at $497 B in 2020 and is predicted to reach $952B by 2027 with an impressive growth rate of 9.4% (Biotechnology Market Size, Industry Growth Report 2027, Report ID: GMI784).

Biotechnologies are applied in the production of value-added materials by manipulating biological living systems. The extremely wide spectrum of fields where biotech systems are relevant (e.g. pharmaceutical, food, fuel and chemical industry) contributes to the high value of these technologies and their commercial potential. Pioneering work on bioprocessing application in the biotech industry began in the late 70s and has benefited from exponential investment since.

Despite how the Covid-19 pandemic swung the stock market across all sectors, investors were still looking with particular attention at the biotech sector where the side effects of the pandemic were relatively mild.

Today more than ever, the biotech industry is booming!

The biotech revolution with its disruptive series of continuous innovation is quickly pushing forward the biopharmaceutical industry. Today, the biopharma manufacturing market is valued at $239.8 B in 2019 with a projected growth rate of 13.28% (Biopharmaceutical Market – Forecast(2021 – 2026), Report ID: HCR 0054). The size and global significance of this industry is driven by the tremendous potential of the innovative and lifesaving medicines it produces, and the promise of treatment for currently intractable diseases.


Long-winded experiments, unpredictable and often irreproducible results are some of the current inherent obstacles associated with a business endeavour based on living organism research. These factors make biotech an industry that can easily burn through huge investment often with no positive outcome at all. Drug discovery, development and manufacturing is no exception, with an expensive and decade-long process representing the standard.

Eroom’s law specifically depicts a situation where drug discovery is becoming slower and more expensive over time, despite significant improvements in the technology.  Technology transfer of innovative biotech discoveries into viable commercial products, all the way from research departments to manufacturing facilities, remains a complex challenge for any company in any biotech sector.

A similar paradigm dominates academic research. PLoS Biology estimated that 50% of all preclinical research performed was non reproducible and the amount of money spent on that is worth $28B annually in the US alone. An even more alarming study reports that more than 70% of researchers have failed to reproduce a colleague’s experiment and more than 50% have failed to reproduce their own.

Errors in experimental planning, execution, and reporting due to manual work executed with pen, paper, and pipette is one of the major biotech research bottlenecks. Even though rapid advances in technologies are taking place, in comparison with other industries, little has changed in biopharma R&D in the way research is conducted.

The Covid-19 pandemic that we are slowly — but not yet — emerging from, has clearly reinforced the powerful role biotech and bioprocessing have in our everyday lives. The response of our partners in biopharma to the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrates what is possible and how processes and timelines can be reduced and optimized. “The world needs our industry to be ready for the rapid, efficient and sustainable delivery of new therapies.” (From Dr. Jerry Clifford ValitaCell CEO

Biotech & biopharma still take too long and cost too much, but it can get much better.


Throughput, accuracy, efficiency, and reproducibility are some of the necessary qualities pushing biopharma research to the next level: the fourth industrial revolution, industry 4.0 or the Internet of Things. Within this context, lab automation, digitalization and AI play a major role. Lab automation is a multi-disciplinary strategy that over the last 60 years has grown into an industry reaching a marked value of almost $5B in 2020 (GLOBAL LABORATORY AUTOMATION MARKET 2021-2028, Market Study Report, LLC).

Within the automation arena, Arctoris is the world’s first fully automated platform company that utilises robotics, AI and blockchain to generate robust, reliable, reproducible data at scale, powering better decisions in drug discovery. Arctoris operates globally with an internal pipeline of drug discovery assets and active partnerships with biotech and pharma companies, as well as academic centers worldwide. Using advanced robotics, Arctoris’ platform, Ulysses, enables end-to-end automation for drug discovery experiments, providing superhuman precision and accuracy, full data capture and absolute reproducibility and transparency. Arctoris thereby enable rapid and informed decision making to take drugs from idea to clinic faster.

Arctoris and ValitaCell partner to create an on-demand automated media formulation screening service which will be launched soon.

Robotic hardware to automate lab work like liquid handling devices are a widespread reality in the biopharma industry. Types of liquid handling equipment include micropipettes, microplate plate dispensers, stackers, handlers, and washers and a wide variety of automated robotic systems. One of ValitaCell’s partners for automation is TecanOptimized Automation Systems – which offers innovative technologies that increase throughput and brings improved efficiency and safety to almost any laboratory process.

Another exciting approach to automate lab work is based on digital microfluidics, a lab-on-a-chip system manipulating microdroplets using electrodes. Digi.BioMaking Biology Programmable – an early-stage start-up rapidly proving the use of digital microfluidics and electrowetting to streamline multistep liquid handling applications by facilitating automation and miniaturization of protocols.

Automation and digitalization in the biotech sector leads to obvious benefits including optimization of processes, human error and variation removal, and ultimately more cost-effective, efficient, and rapid processes. The challenging beauty of automation is found in the cross-disciplinary collaboration to integrate robotics and liquid handling equipment, computer software and data modelling powered by Artificial Intelligence.

The revolutionizing aspect of conducting automated experiments using robotics and/or digital microfluidics lies in the acquisition of electronic records in real time, generating massive data flow and supplying the necessary digitalization too. Software and algorithm development for data management, storage, mining, visualization, and analysis combined with the rise of Artificial Intelligence approaches will provide the rest.

The augmentation of human capabilities by automation and digitalization will boost research quality standards, unlocking the massive biotech and biopharma potential because computers and machines do not make errors; what they do, they do on purpose. And they can only get better with the experts at Arctoris guiding their output for partners.

The Head of Data at ValitaCell, Dr Paul Dobson, when asked to highlight either automation and digitalization in terms of impact in biotech, responded, “which hand do you use to clap, right or left?”. Arctoris couldn’t agree more.

Look out for an application note featuring recent collaboration between ValitaCell and Arctoris soon, which further illustrates this.

Eligio Iannetti
Eligio Iannetti, PhD
Business Development Manager

Eligio Iannetti holds a PhD in cell biology and drug discovery and has extensive experience in cell profiling and drug testing. Eligio worked in a number of biotech startups across Europe before joining ValitaCell focusing on innovation and product development. In his current role as Business Development Manager, Eligio's energy and drive is helping our global customers to accelerate the launch of new, innovative medicines.

Dr. Alessandra Prinelli
Alessandra Prinelli, PhD
Product Development Scientist

Alessandra Prinelli joined Valitacell after completing an industrial PhD in primary human immune cell biology and cell-based assays development. With her passion for applied sciences, in her current role as Product Development Scientist, Alessandra is leading the development of the Chemstress platform for stem cells characterization in the cell therapy manufacturing space, aiming to provide analytical tools to assess the complexity of function of cellular therapy products.

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