The Silicon Review
Thrive Bioscience, located in the Boston area, offers its customers a family of instruments and software that provide imaging, analytics and automation for reproducible adherent non-microbial cell culture. Thrive’s first product, the CellAssist, empowers biologists by combining microscopy, robotics, and software to acquire, organize, and analyze images of all the cells in their lab.
Thrive is enabling researchers to develop significant databases of images, metrics, and processes to ensure centralized capture and retention of data. These capabilities have been unavailable before Thrive, yet needed to meet the needs of the large research, drug discovery, drug development, and regenerative medicine markets. Due to the uniqueness of Thrive’s products, it has 53 patent applications, of which eight have issued, covering many aspects of cell culture, tissue culture, and pathogen culture for research and bioprocessing.
The company has senior executives from many life sciences companies including Cytyc, Exact Sciences, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and Rosetta InPharmatics. Thrive’s Board of Directors consists of some of the most experienced individuals in cell culture and laboratory products. Thrive’s Board Chair, Guy Broadbent, was previously President of one of the largest laboratory groups in the world at Thermo Fisher Scientific. In addition, Brock Reeve, Executive Director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, is a Board Member and a customer. And Board Member Michael Finney, Ph.D. is a well-respected founder of several life sciences companies, such as MJ Research, and is now a full-time investor.
In Conversation with Farb-Horch, CEO and Co-founder of Thrive Bioscience
Q. Why was the company set up?
Alan Blanchard, Ph.D., Thrive’s Chief Scientific Officer, and I co-founded Thrive in the Boston area to provide a previously unavailable product to capture images and data and to automate this neglected but critically important area of life sciences – cell culture and stem cell culture. Even though cell culture is an $18 billion per year market and is fundamental to bio-medical research, it is generally performed manually, in poorly controlled environments, with little data, and little documentation. It is unusual to find major markets that are truly underserved like cell culture. Good science needs good cells and that is rarely available now. Not starting with good cells is at the root cause of many of the failures in drug development.
Q. How is cell culture performed now?
Cells for research and even for cell therapies are grown similarly to the way they were grown 65 years ago, with little innovation, with a lack of documentation, and with variability of environments. The current standard practice in cell culture is that researchers take the cells out of the incubator, spend hours per day looking at tens of millions of cells under a microscope, conduct experiments and then place the cells back into the incubator, but with almost no data or images retained.
Q. What are the consequences of cell culture as currently performed?
Results from different researchers or even the same researcher at different points in time are currently often not comparable and not consistent because the input, the cells, varies so much. So even though the industry spends billions of dollars per year on advanced instrumentation and assays, we have the same problem in biology research that the software industry described as “garbage in, garbage out”.
Problems in cell culture lead to incorrect conclusions from experiments. The impact of poorly controlled cell culture processes is high rates of mislabeling and contamination and significant variability in the condition of the cells being studied from lab to lab and even over time in the same lab. The lack of data and lack of automation in cell culture labs is one of the principal causes of the widely recognized reproducibility crisis. Reproducibility is the cornerstone of science. Without reproducibility you do not have facts or science. Amgen over a 10-year period and with up to 100 scientists, tried to reproduce 53 landmark oncology studies and was only able to reproduce six of them or 11%. Reproducibility is increasingly important over time because science is based on accumulated knowledge. Sadly, much of the irreproducible data is only caught later in clinical trials.
Q. How do your instruments solve these problems in research?
Thrive’s solution to these problems is a family of products that provides researchers with reproducible data, analytics, documentation, and automation of all their activities. To accomplish these solutions requires integrating the best practices in biology, software development and many types of engineering, such as robotics, fluidics, and optics. Providing cross-functional solutions are difficult but very powerful and sometimes the only way.
Thrive addresses the needs for adherent cell culture in small, medium, and large labs through its family of products with increasing degrees of automation and increasing price points. Thrive’s products include a benchtop single plate imager, an automated version of CellAssistTM that images plates around the clock, and a fully automated cell culture system that integrates image analysis, AI, databases, microscopy, robotics, and fluidics.
Thrive’s CellAssist – Better Data. Better Cell Culture. Better Biology.
The Need for Thrive’s First Product, The CellAssist
As a result of the current practices, researchers know very little about the history and condition of these very important cells that they are studying in order to cure major diseases. Mislabeling rates alone have been found to regularly be above 14%. What does this mean? This means that researchers may think they are studying liver cells when they are actually studying kidney cells. This is a real embarrassment to the field and one that researchers do not like to discuss, but funders of research, such as government agencies and drug companies, are shining a light on these serious problems.
The CellAssist Solution
Thrive’s first product, the CellAssist, is a benchtop imaging instrument that provides previously unavailable capabilities for researchers and helps make research reproducible. It captures, organizes and analyzes 1,000’s of images and data each time it images cells growing in standard cell culture plates.
The CellAssist sits right next to the incubator, and it images and analyzes the cells and provides the researcher with instructions to increase the quality of their cells and a database that they can review. It builds a database of time series images, metrics about the cells, and analyses of the cells’ morphology and then suggests needed and optimal workflows. It documents the status of cells, cell culture processes, experiments, and workflow through acquiring and retaining images, metrics, and workflow information. Providing documentation easily, as a researcher works, is a big win in cell culture labs for improving research.
Thrive has now built a very experienced commercial team headed by our Chief Commercial Officer, Herb Kenny, who before joining us, already had a distinguished career at Thermo Fisher Scientific selling complex instruments to solve research problems. Customers of the CellAssist are located in Japan, Korea and the U.S. and include pharmaceutical, biotech, and device companies. Prior to that, CellAssist has been in beta test in the U.S. at highly-respected institutions including the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, Stanford University Stem Cell Core, among others.
Growing Stem Cells, Infectious Disease Research, AI, and Data Mining
Besides growing stem cells, many of the features of the CellAssist are also very needed in infectious disease research, where researchers have wanted to study morphology of cells the way that the CellAssist does. They need lots of data like the CellAssist provides and it is advantageous that it images the plates of cells in the lab and sends them wirelessly to a location outside the bio-contained area.
The CellAssist collects in a matter of minutes 1,000’s of live cell images, 5 megapixels each and at z-axis heights 50 microns apart. Each time a researcher images a plate of cells, likely once or twice per day, the CellAssist collects over three gigabytes of images and transmits them wirelessly to the nearby its nearby analytics workstation in a researchers office. The amount of data that the CellAssist collects is extraordinary and enables artificial intelligence and data mining in cell biology.
We call the CellAssist, “Cell Metrics in a Box”. As a result of customers having the CellAssist, when an experiment does not work as planned, a researcher can now review all of their cells and processes and understand why. This is key to good science. Because good science needs good cells.
Farb-Horch CEO and Co-founder of Thrive Bioscience
Mr. Farb-Horch is CEO and Co-founder of Thrive Bioscience, commercializing instruments for the automation of cell culture. He is Co-founder and Board Member of Autoimmunity BioSolutions, spun-out of University of Texas Medical School and serves on the Board of North Shore InnoVentures, a business incubator in Beverly, MA. Previously he served on the Boards of FICO (NYSE), Redwood Trust (NYSE), HNC Software (acquired by FICO), Retek Systems (acquired by Oracle), and Saf-T-Med (acquired by Becton Dickinson). He has served in senior management positions, including as President, Indevus Pharmaceuticals (acquired by Endo), VP of Corporate Development, Cytyc (acquired by Hologic), and Executive Director, Trust for Science & Technology, San Juan.