The value of automation in a global pandemic

Accelerating the response amid crisis

Infectious diseases are becoming increasingly difficult to manage

Particularly challenging among these are infections caused by novel pathogens. In 2003, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) sparked international concern when a single case, originating from the Guangdong Province in China, rapidly spread to 26 other countries in a matter of weeks.1 Less than two decades later, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared an international public health emergency due to the outbreak of the infamous COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2).

The degree to which healthcare organizations can effectively combat an outbreak largely depends on two factors: the timely development of high-quality diagnostics and the ability of assay manufacturers to make tests widely accessible.


The ability to quickly confirm or clear suspected cases is crucial during global outbreak scenarios.2

In today’s connected societies, successfully managing a global pandemic
requires a modern approach to testing. Healthcare companies have
demonstrated the ability to drastically reduce the development time for
new assays. However, many laboratories struggle to implement them
at scale. This is typically due to time-intensive manual processes—
a challenge that can be solved with automation.

cobas® 6800 and cobas® 8800 Systems
Opening new possibilities with open channel automation

Sudden spikes in demand can cause capacity problems for laboratories of all sizes.

Roche’s cobas® 6800 and 8800 Systems are flexibly designed to accommodate the increased need for testing, with unparalleled turn-around-time and throughput. The cobas omni Utility Channel, a dedicated open channel for use on the cobas® 6800 and cobas® 8800 Systems, enables a broader testing menu by consolidating open channel assays with Roche IVD assays. This is a key component of the Molecular Work Area, giving labs the ability to consolidate and automate a wider array of testing on a single platform.

This flexibility allows for the rapid development of LDTs while the availability of high-throughput automated testing enables a large number of patients to be screened quickly.

Accurate & efficient high-volume testing

In February of 2020, while Roche was working diligently to launch the cobas® SARS-CoV-2 Test, researchers in Germany leveraged the cobas omni Utility Channel to rapidly develop a high-volume SARS-CoV-2 LDT.

Researchers at the Institute of Medical Microbiology in Hamburg, Germany evaluated the performance of the SARS-CoV-2 LDT. The study showed a 60% reduction in hands-on time compared with conventional workflows which require extraction and PCR to be performed as separate procedures.2This significant reduction in hands-on time allowed the staff to manage the increased testing volume in the midst of the pandemic.

Roche ultimately received FDA Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for the cobas® SARS-CoV-2 Test in March 2020, the first company to do so. The cobas omni Utility Channel proved to be extremely valuable as an interim testing solution in a crisis, providing laboratories a head start to high throughput testing.

The ability to process a large number of samples before an official test can
be made widely available allows healthcare organizations to strategize ways to handle potential pandemic scenarios. Reduced manual steps and less hands-on time enables labs to effectively service large populations while optimizing limited resources.

A definitive way forward

The need for flexible, high-volume molecular testing is not limited to a pandemic scenario

A number of factors can cause a sudden influx of test orders, particularly

in densely populated areas. With the global population expected to reach 8.5 billion by the end of the decade, many labs are focused on increasing their testing capacity to avoid being overwhelmed.3

Embracing the automation of molecular testing has the potential to transform the laboratory’s role in patient care and empower healthcare organizations and governments to react swiftly in the future.

Learn how Roche is redefining laboratory automation and connectivity with the  Molecular Work Area.


  1. World Health Organization. SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). Accessed 7 March 2020.
  2. Pfefferle S, et al. Evaluation of a quantitative RT-PCR assay for the detection of the emerging coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 using a high throughput system. Eurosurveillance. 2020;25(9):2000152.
  3. United Nations. UN projects world population to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, driven by growth in developing countries.
    to-reach-8-5-billion-by-2030-driven-by-growth-in-developing-countries/. Accessed 7 March 2020.