28 September 2021
History of successful STRIP consortium published in Nature Biotechnology
In March 2020, Oncode Investigators Marvin Tanenbaum and Wouter de Laat (group leaders at the Hubrecht Institute) brought together a large group of researchers at the Hubrecht Institute to support the Netherlands in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, testing for COVID was extremely difficult. The researchers got in touch with scientists at Genmab, specialists in molecular biology automation, and together started the STRIP consortium. STRIP developed and implemented a test robot (lovingly called ‘the Beast’) with the capacity to make PCR testing possible on a much larger scale and more cost effective. The test protocol, as well as a history of this extraordinary consortium, is now published in Nature Biotechnology.
Marvin Tanenbaum says: “In March 2020 we were all in lockdown, doing nothing, and we felt an urge to do something useful at the Hubrecht Institute. We knew that the testing capacity was quite limited in the Netherlands and together decided that, as molecular biologists, we wanted to contribute to society. In no time we had over 80 people working together to discuss how we could best make use of our knowledge and technical capabilities.”
Wouter de Laat adds: “We quickly found out that PCR testing was the best way of testing, the biggest challenge was the logistics. There had te be a quicker and smarter way. In other words: robots! That quickly became our focus.”
To implement the robot in a clinical diagnostic setting, the Hubrecht-Genmab researchers started a collaboration with IT company Bodegro and diagnostic expertise centers PAMM Veldhoven and Sanquin. Uniquely, all parties invested in this project without contracts or a commercial motive. The STRIP consortium was purely built on trust and the shared vision that testing had to be improved. A critical step was the purchase of the first STRIP robot, for which initially no funding was found. Tanenbaum and De Laat, both Oncode Investigators, discussed their ideas with the Oncode Institute. The management of Oncode shared their vision that more testing would benefit the burden of cancer care. In addition, there was an affordable healthcare element in their proposal. One robot can process up to 14,000 samples per day for less than €10 per test on SARS-CoV2. This means one robot can save society tens of millions of euros per year on tests. Oncode quickly made the funding for the robot available (which was later re-imbursed by the Dutch ministry of health), supporting the consortium in their quest to move quickly.
Currently, the Dutch government has ordered five additional STRIP robots to use in the current pandemic, which can also be deployed during future pandemics. The protocols for the development of the robot have been made accessible to interested parties worldwide.
Read more about other initiatives that were conducted by Oncode Investigators to fight the pandemic.