In this interview from the Science Explorer about the Echo® MS system, Neil Walsh from SCIEX discusses the significant application areas of the system and what makes it so attractive to biopharmaceutical laboratories.
Here is a snippet of the conversation. Watch the video for the complete interview.
Could you start by introducing the Echo® MS system and its evolution up to this point?
Neil Walsh: Absolutely. The need for this product has been driven by pharma and specifically drug discovery. These scientists are always trying to push the boundaries. They want to get more mass spec data to help inform better decisions. But there is a bottleneck there holding them back, and that is the fact that a lot of these assays for mass spectrometry use liquid chromatography. LC is great. It is what we use through all the other parts of the drug discovery pipeline. But with the volume of samples going through in the drug discovery phase, it is a real bottleneck. The challenges around all the valving, the cycle times and the sample preparation have been a limitation to the application of mass spectrometry in that drug discovery phase.
What is different about the Echo® MS system is that it is not using LC, which is a game-changer. Why? Because it is getting rid of that bottleneck. It is getting rid of that sample preparation.
So, how is it different? The Echo® MS system brings together Acoustic Droplet Ejection and Open Port Interface technology to enable contactless sampling. Using sound waves in a contactless manner, it ejects the sample from the plate up into the Open Port Interface. Then it is diluted a thousandfold by a typical carrier solvent used in electrospray and carried through to the electrospray interface, where it is ionized and then detected by the mass spectrometer.
Can you add any other insights into what sets the Echo® MS system apart from other high-throughput technologies?
Neil Walsh: For sure. The high-throughput known technology that we compete with is not mass spectrometry. It is the plate readers. Plate readers are quick, but they lack the data quality that comes out of a mass spectrometer and the data specificity. And that is the difference. Speed is important, but the quality of data is even more critical. Why? Because it supports better-informed decisions about which compound goes further into the development process.
The Echo® MS system is known for speed, scale and reproducibility. Could you elaborate a bit more about its key advantages?
Neil Walsh: So, anytime we talk about the Echo® MS system, the obvious place to start is speed. In normal mode, at processing, we are talking 1 sample per second, well to well. But the system can also operate in multiplex (i.e., MRM) mode, and multiplex MRMs (i.e., non-overlapping MRMs) can run 3 samples per second. That is where the speed game-change comes, because currently, this is up to 50 times faster than conventional LC-MS/MS methods. We see customers’ jaws drop when they see how fast it is. They can run 384 well plates, so 384 samples, in a few minutes. And we can go up to 1,536 well plates, and that’s a big game changer—that’s in the plate reading scale.
Another exciting thing for customers is that little or no sample prep is required, especially in these drug discovery workflows where the concentrations are higher, and they are not sensitivity demanding. So, you can eject from urine and plasma. We’ve also seen a push around things like synthetic biology, so we see things like fermentation broth come in, and we accurately measure those types of samples.
And in terms of scale, one of our collaborators said that they are generating up to a million compounds a week through new biosynthetic pathways. And he said, “With the current technology that we use, if we wanted to run a million compounds, it would take 115 days. With the Echo® MS System, we’re talking 3 to 4 days.”
That’s incredible. What are the major application areas for using the Echo® MS system in industry and academia?
Neil Walsh: We have seen loads of uptake from, obviously, high-throughput markets—as we mentioned earlier, the high-throughput screening and high-throughput ADMEs—and also some interest from bioanalytical laboratories. The biggest thing these labs are interested in is this increase in capacity and what that means, what that can do for their discovery pipelines and how they can pull better-qualified candidates through, so that is a big bonus for them. Interestingly, we have also seen a lot of interest from academia around high-throughput screening or high-throughput metabolomics. Another exciting area is food screening, which we did not anticipate, and there is certainly a lot of interest in things like egg sexing, an area that has a real cost-saving and ethical piece, which is interesting.
Amazing. So, what makes the Echo® MS system attractive to high-turnaround bioanalytical laboratories?
Neil Walsh: One of our early access customers said something I think is interesting. It is about potentially being able to deliver results to a customer the day they receive the samples—not in 2 weeks, but potentially the same day. And that is the impact for these laboratories. It is the sheer speed and scalability of the product and the ability to answer the same day.
That is phenomenal. And finally, what is the message you would like people to take away from this video?
Neil Walsh: We talk about speed, scale and the data quality that this brings. The thing that resonates most with me when talking to customers is when it sinks in what a sample per second could mean. I had one customer say, “We fundamentally must rethink everything we do.” That is what I would say to anybody who is listening to me prattle on about it. Think about what that means and what it can mean for your organization and your customers.
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Echo® and Echo® MS are trademarks or registered trademarks of Labcyte Inc. in the United States and other countries, being used under license by SCIEX.