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Analyzing Samples Faster Than Ever Before

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A typical drug compound library can easily be comprised of millions of compounds –managing, processing and analyzing these libraries takes both time and effort, as well as being costly.

But what if it was possible to screen vast libraries in days, rather than weeks, or even months?

We recently spoke with Gavin Fischer, Senior Director, LC & Integrated Solutions at SCIEX to learn more about their Acoustic Ejection Mass Spectrometry (AEMS) system, which has the potential to screen a staggering one million compounds in four days. Fischer discusses the key features of the AEMS system and the impact this technology could have on the drug discovery field.

Laura Lansdowne (LL): What is acoustic ejection mass spectrometry?

Gavin Fischer (GF)
: The Acoustic Ejection Mass Spectrometry (AEMS) technology, to be known as ECHO MS upon commercialization. Echo MS combines two pioneering innovations of the Open Port Interface (OPI) and Acoustic Droplet Ejection (ADE) to form an AEMS system.

ADE technology has been pioneered by Labcyte (now part of Beckman Coulter) which is under the Danaher umbrella, who are market leaders in the world of liquid handling by dispensing of liquids via ADE. ADE uses a sonic transducer to focus 
a pulse of ultrasound on moving low volumes of fluids (typically nanoliters) without any physical contact. This technology focuses acoustic energy into a fluid sample to eject droplets from microtitre plates wells (96, 384 or 1536). In the instance with AEMS the droplets are dispensed into the OPI where the droplets are transferred to a SCIEX mass spectrometer ion source for detection using mass analysis.

LL: Could you highlight some of the key features of the AEMS technology?

 If there is one takeaway about AEMS is that it has that has groundbreaking speed. It can sample one sample per second into the mass spectrometer when analyzing a single analyte or three samples per second when multiplexing analytes between wells. This means fundamentally 60 samples per minute or 180 samples per minute multiplexed. When you think about that and put it into context it is staggering in terms of the sheer volume of samples that could potentially be analyzed in one day.

The benefit of speed is the headline, but, there are additional benefits to the technology. There is no HPLC separation, no extensive sample preparation (eliminating the potential errors associated) and there are running cost benefits as well –  these are being demonstrated with the R&D systems that we have placed in our customer collaboration sites (Pfizer, Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Boehringer-Ingelheim) where they are demonstrating the following:

  • Speeds up to 50 times faster than current LC-based mass spectrometry screening method
  • Unparalleled standards of quantitation with accuracy and precision of CV’s less than 10%
  • Getting much richer data that mass spectrometry affords vs other high-throughput techniques

 LL: What impact could this technology have on the drug discovery field?

 The impact could be huge if we think about typical compound libraries, which are comprised of anywhere from one to six million compounds. Currently, available approaches for high-throughput screening with mass spectrometry require 5–10 seconds per sample. There is huge appeal to using mass spectrometry-based approaches due to the richness of data as previously stated, to make better-informed decisions. The application of mass spectrometry is currently limited to small subsets given the time it takes to perform those assays vs other techniques. To put into context with the current state of LC-MS screening platforms, to screen one million compounds against one drug target it would take approximately 115 days of 24/7 operation. This is where the bottleneck of time arises.

AEMS has the potential to analyze that same sample volume in just four days. With this type of capacity, the technology can help overcome bottlenecks, and deliver the speed and rich data that the drug discovery field requires.

LL: When do you envisage this technology becoming commercially available?

 Echo MS will become commercially available in late Q1 2020. Since announcing the AEMS technology, the commercialization process is now in full swing and there is excitement and buzz throughout the industry. Potential customers are already signing up to be first in line with the information about the product as we move to launch.

Gavin Fischer  was speaking to Laura Elizabeth Lansdowne, Senior Science Writer for Technology Networks.