Adopting novel solutions to keep ahead of the curve

Laboratories the world over are in the midst of a robotic revolution, where highly complex automation platforms are making quick work of even the most intricate workflows. Until recently, analytical chemistry labs have largely missed out on this transformation, with many processes still performed manually, involving numerous sample preparation steps, often with minuscule volumes. This has prompted some facilities to search for novel solutions to remove bottlenecks and improve efficiencies, as well as put their highly skilled personnel to better use. Ego Pharmaceuticals – a multinational skincare company based in Australia – turned to ePrep to not only help boost productivity and cost effectiveness, but also keep its team happy with the latest cutting-edge tools. 


Ego Pharmaceuticals was founded in 1953 by a young chemist and his wife, and is celebrated for developing one of the first cosmetically acceptable sunscreens. The company is still family owned, and has expanded across the globe, supplying millions of people with its expansive collection of products. This growth clearly places immense pressure on any company, especially one with such a diverse portfolio.  


Seek and you shall find  

Helen Evans-Lemmo, Instrumentation Specialist at Ego, has over 15 years of experience at the company, benefiting from her background in chemistry to serve positions ranging from method development to process validation. Her current role involves finding novel solutions for the company’s analytical and microbiology laboratories – as well as setting up projects and continually optimising efficiencies – and she recommended that Ego partnered with ePrep because of the unparalleled flexibility of its platform. Helen explained: “We are in a unique position in that we produce over 120 products at one manufacturing site, where we test all raw materials and every product, requiring a vast array of analytical methods. Many automation solutions do one thing extremely well, and you can program the instrument to a specific workflow, but that’s all you can do. We couldn’t afford the long set-up and transition times between different workflows; we needed flexibility, which is what made the ePrep® ONE platform an attractive solution.” 



Putting the platform through its paces  

ePrep ONE is a fully automated, end-to-end sample preparation platform for chromatography. This system makes it possible to create accurate, robust and regulatory-compliant processes while vastly reducing manual work for laboratory staff. Since acquiring the instrument, the various labs at Ego have put it to good use. Helen commented: “The first manual method we automated was for quality control and stability testing on one of our oldest products. The traditional way of performing the assay entailed multiple dilution and pipetting steps involving samples, standards and several fairly nasty solvents. We redesigned the method by applying some ‘green’ chemistry principles, and optimised it using the ePrep ONE, going from 200 ml per sample down to 20 ml, and replacing a chlorinated solvent with methanol. This resulted in a 70 % reduction in solvent volumes and a 90 % reduction in solvent costs, as well as a whopping five-hour saving of operator time per test cycle, as personnel can walk away once the run has begun, leaving the system to operate autonomously. The complex traditional method also had a very high failure rate – subsequently requiring a lot of re-work – but, for the first time in the product’s lifecycle, we are now able to test samples faster than manufacturing can make it.”   


Helen continued: “In true Ego style, we tackled the hard things first, and we are now working backwards to try some less complicated procedures, including cleaning validations – which is a doddle on the ePrep ONE – standard preparations and serial dilutions. We have plans to transfer some of our HPLC methods to UHPLC, as well as use two-phase extraction for some of our raw materials analyses, replacing a traditional 250 ml separating funnel with a 25 ml extraction vessel. This will be a game changer, as we’ll go from having an analyst in a fume hood to a deck set-up, where the operator will just have to weigh the raw materials, and the ePrep ONE will do the rest. There’s still work to be done, but early indications are promising. The openness of the team at ePrep to embrace new ideas like this has made it possible to explore novel ways to use the platform, which has been one of the nicest things of working with them so far.”    


Keeping pace with innovation  

Many scientific sectors are adopting increasingly more robotic solutions, so it is essential that companies offer their employees the latest tools for their work, as well as deliver products of the highest quality to their customers. Realising this, Helen is always looking to equip her team with instruments that can improve the company’s processes and maintain staff satisfaction. “Robotics, artificial intelligence and other technologies are infiltrating labs around the world, and are now an integral part of chemistry degrees, creating a generation of scientists that have learnt a fair chunk of their skills virtually. Having these solutions in our labs is therefore important to make employment opportunities appealing to this cohort, as well as to ensure that they have tools they are familiar with to avoid the risk of expensive mistakes. The other thing is that we can’t afford to have our greatest resource – our personnel – tied up under a fume hood all day; they need to apply their skills where they are most valuable. By using the ePrep ONE, our scientists can now focus on identifying targets, working on improvement projects, and spending more time reviewing chromatography results – including analysing data and trends. This system has removed many of the bottlenecks that have plagued us for years, while vastly improving productivity.” Helen concluded.   


Find out more about ePrep ONE here.