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Robots on the lookout for active pharmaceutical ingredients

The Genomics Research Center in Taipei employs a now well-established ultra-high-throughput screening (uHTS) system to identify active substances that are effective against COVID-19. A highly dynamic Stäubli six-axis RX160 is at the heart of the system.


  • High flexibility: one robot for all handling process steps
  • Dynamics for high throughput of screening agents
  • Pharma-compatible design
  • Long service life, high reliability, consistent precision


High-speed screening with robotic support

The Genomics Research Center in Taipei, capital city of Taiwan, tests 1,536 substances in a single cycle of ultra-high-throughput screening. At the heart of the machine, which operates 24/7 in the development of COVID-19 medications, is a Stäubli robot.

The Genomics Research Center (GRC) in Taipei has set itself the task of searching for new drugs and vaccines. Some time ago, the public research institute (part of the renowned Academia Sinica) invested in a facility for the ultra-high-throughput screening (uHTS) of active medical ingredients.

The early adoption of this system has already led to success at the GRC. Thanks in no small part to uHTS, the researchers in Taipei were able to develop an effective anti-flu drug in 2007. They are currently working at full speed on identifying active substances to be used against COVID-19, and here too, uHTS is the first stage in the development of medications.


Rapid screening of millions of active ingredients

The GRC screening system was developed and manufactured by the American company GNF. Their uHTS equipment uses a microtiter plate – no larger than the palm of a human hand – containing 1,536 pharmacologically active substances, each present in a strength of just a few microliters (µl). One screening cycle takes around seventy minutes, although individual cycles may overlap. The system tests more than 50 microtiter plates – equivalent to 76,800 substances – within each 24-hour period. Statistical calculations show that at least one million chemical compounds have to be screened to produce one effective substance.

A quick look at the uHTS set-up illustrates the work process. Several stations for storage, picking, handling and screening form a circuit, at the center of which is a Stäubli RX160 robot. This type of robot is not only fast and precise, but also highly versatile – the ideal combination of properties required here.

This is how the process works: The robot takes a microtiter plate from the incubator and places it on the dispenser station, where it receives a dose of protein. The robot then conveys the plate with the 1,536 substances sequentially to a transfer station, an incubator and two dispensers, where each time further compounds and substances are added. The plate is now ready for testing. The robot conveys it to an identification station and from there to the screening area.


A robot that keeps on delivering top performance

The Stäubli robot scores high marks in this application for speed, precision, availability and long service life. The uHTS system has been used successfully for many years, but it never seems to age. The RX160 is still state-of-the-art in terms of precision and dynamics. The system consistently and reliably delivers top performance, efficiency and stability. This is why the robot makes such a valuable contribution to the vital battle against COVID-19 and why plant manufacturer GNF is still integrating Stäubli robots into the latest generations of its HTS and uHTS screening machines.

What does the customer say?

"Our uHTS system has been used successfully for many years, but it simply doesn’t grow old. The Stäubli RX160 robot is still on the cutting edge in terms of precision and dynamics and impresses with remarkable reliability. The system delivers top performance, efficiency, and stability."
Dr. PoHsun Lin, GRC