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Thermo Fisher Scientific Amplitude Solution

Genomics / COVID-19

The Thermo Fisher Scientific Amplitude Solution is a high-throughput automated molecular diagnostic testing solution.

Most importantly, Tecan was the only company to approach us with a true spirit of partnership that would help us meet the challenges we were facing.

Elliot Shelton, General Manager

Rising to the challenge of high throughput COVID-19 screening

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a lot of pressure on diagnostics labs all over the globe, with many facilities going beyond what was previously considered possible to handle unprecedented sample volumes despite shortages of reagents and labware. Thermo Fisher Scientific – already providing indispensable qPCR equipment to labs around the world – assisted this endeavor by developing an automated solution that would allow high throughput diagnostic screening.


Need for higher throughput

The Genetic Sciences Division (GSD) of Thermo Fisher Scientific is a leading provider of research products for genetic testing, with qPCR as a mainstay in/of its portfolio. As qPCR emerged as the gold standard for SARS-CoV-2 identification, many labs turned to Thermo Fisher Scientific, seeking help with their clinical testing efforts. In response, the company produced the TaqPath™ COVID-19 Combo Kit, which quickly received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA. Although this was of a great help, it was not enough to handle the huge increase in testing many labs faced, so the GSD General Manager, Elliot Shelton, and Director of R&D, Robert Balog, were tasked with implementing an automated solution that could handle up to 10,000 COVID-19 tests a day. Robert explained: “Our starting point was the manual TaqPath assay, and we first turned to our internal resources, trying to find a path towards automation. We quickly realised that we would need to involve an outside partner, and began investigating different liquid handling options. Needless to say, it soon became clear that Tecan was the best choice.”


Rising to the challenge

One of the issues was that many of the labs did not have large enough biosafety level-2 (BSL-2) areas to house the complete workflow. To overcome this, the Thermo Fisher Scientific team designed the Amplitude™ Solution around two separate Fluent® Automation Workstations to fit labs of different sizes and layouts. Robert continued: “The first system, a Fluent 1080 platform, handles live virus in a BSL-2 lab and, after processing the samples, dispenses them into four 96-deep well plates, in a state where there is no longer any live virus. These plates are then transferred to a Fluent 780, which can be housed in a standard lab, and combines samples into a single 384-well plate for RNA extraction, qPCR and analysis.”

“The second part of the challenge was the software; we had to develop software that would help the users manage the workflow and keep track of data. We already had APIs that were compatible with the Fluent scripts, but received help from the Tecan team to customize the software for each client. As a result, the system has a single LIMS system that connects both stages of the workflow, and stores all the sample tracking information from the barcoded plates. The system gives labs a full workflow capacity of up to 8,000 samples a day.”


Rapid deployment in a crisis

The Amplitude Solution went live in September 2020, and received immensely positive customer response. Elliot explained: “When we accepted this challenge, we didn’t know where it would lead, but there was an apparent need for high throughput of COVID-19 testing that was not possible with the current technology. It was great to see how quickly the newly developed system became a part of the labs, and how fast our team could fulfill orders and schedule installations. We could not have done this without Tecan; with such unprecedented demand, it was important to be able to coordinate enough field support to successfully install and train users on these machines. In addition, Tecan’s global presence enabled us to quickly complete installations in all corners of the world.”