Elemental Machines Is Bringing The Internet Of Things To Lab Operations To Save Millions Of Dollars For Biotech Companies

The Web of Issues (IoT) merchandise – like a Bluetooth speaker showerhead or fridge that orders issues immediately from the web – could appear to be gimmicky vacation present concepts. However this firm has discovered a sensible use case for the brand new expertise: Elemental Machines, a lab operations intelligence platform, has simply raised $41 million in a Sequence B funding spherical. The corporate helps biotech labs streamline their operations and doubtlessly save thousands and thousands of {dollars} for corporations by controlling environmental variables.

Its founder, Sridhar Iyengar, was a graduate pupil at Cambridge College when his PhD undertaking hit an sudden roadblock: a routine experiment he had carried out 100 instances for his analysis instantly stopped working. After months of hair-pulling and questioning whether or not he would be capable of full his dissertation work, he lastly got here to search out out the division had switched the glassware detergent model that had been utilized in its dishwashers. That seemingly insignificant element that procurement had failed to tell anybody of had a profound impact on the experiment.

Anybody who has ever labored within the lab can share an analogous story: the excruciating ache of making an attempt to determine the sources of variability of their experiments. It’s such a standard downside, that there’s even an unstated rule amongst lecturers: if the experiment works 3 times, publish it, as a result of making an attempt to duplicate it once more could be testing your luck. The issue is that this standard educational knowledge doesn’t work so effectively in business the place the method has to work proper each time as a way to make dependable merchandise. The “lab” areas that indicate experimentation in academia are extra like factories for the biotech business and due to this fact should adhere to a lot larger high quality and reproducibility requirements.

Fortunately for Sridhar, the unlucky graduate faculty incident didn’t maintain him again from changing into a profitable tech startup founder who holds over 50 patents. Sridhar ended up within the medical units business the place precision and reproducibility are simply as vitally necessary as within the lab, if no more. In 2001, he based AgaMatrix, a blood-glucose monitor firm that makes glucose meters for retailer manufacturers like CVS, Goal
, and Kroger
. Their monitor was the primary FDA-approved medical gadget that might join on to your smartphone, ushering in a brand new period of digital well being applied sciences. His second firm, Misfit, the maker of wearable health tracker units and good dwelling merchandise, was acquired by Fossil in 2015 for $260 million.

Since his Misfit days, Sridhar has circled again to the lab and is now making use of every little thing he discovered about constructing sensors and cloud-connected merchandise to lab automation. These classes weren’t at all times simple: whereas making the glucose screens, his firm needed to face shut to twenty% losses on the manufacturing facet, costing them thousands and thousands of {dollars}. To have a greater management over manufacturing high quality, they wanted to know what was occurring within the manufacturing facility midway around the globe. They have been capable of set up easy sensors within the manufacturing facility, collect environmental knowledge (similar to temperature and humidity), and correlate these variables to product high quality, which helped cut back the manufacturing losses from 20% right down to lower than 1%.

What that have taught Sridhar is that any lab or manufacturing setting might significantly profit from improved environmental monitoring and management. The expertise has made lots of progress within the final 15 years: good dwelling units are a part of our day by day lives, so why not convey them to streamline lab operations? That is what Elemental Machines, Sridhar’s newest firm, is doing: they’re constructing the {hardware}, cloud functions, and AI-driven analytics merchandise to assist science-driven enterprises improve their effectivity by gathering and extracting that means from lab operations knowledge. This expertise could possibly be lacking piece to allow biomanufacturing success:

“The road between labs and factories is blurring. And what which means is lots of the approaches that have been historically utilized in manufacturing can begin being utilized in lab work,” thinks Sridhar. “I believe we’re very effectively positioned to convey some new applied sciences to the house.”

Elemental Machines works to proactively consider the whole laboratory setting to make sure that groups, processes, and gear are utilized in probably the most environment friendly manner attainable. For instance, some devices could also be used extra usually than different, requiring extra frequent calibration. The fridge closest to the lab bench could also be opened extra regularly, resulting in temperature fluctuations. All of those variables may be measured utilizing sensors positioned all through the lab, creating a sensible lab infrastructure for knowledge assortment that may be leveraged to optimize using assets. So far, Elemental Machines has supported over 500 life sciences prospects, and it’s no shock that the primary adopters of the good lab expertise are the cutting-edge artificial biology corporations similar to Ginkgo Bioworks.

“In 2020, Ginkgo Bioworks started to make the most of Elemental Machines’ distant monitoring. This allows us to observe the well being of our chilly storage items by wanting on the cycle time of the compressor in addition to seeing the variety of door openings,” mentioned Anna Greenswag, Senior Supervisor of Laboratory Operations at Ginkgo Bioworks. “We have been capable of simply join Elemental Machines alerts into our notification course of in order that points may be addressed shortly. As we now have grown, Elemental Machines has been capable of maintain tempo and scale as wanted. Elemental Machines is open to communication contact factors as wanted by Ginkgo and is desirous about different avenues to discover supporting lab administration.”

However the potential impression of implementing good lab applied sciences shouldn’t be restricted to only artificial biology business. Elemental Machines plans to make use of the $41 million raised within the final funding spherical to gasoline business development in analysis, medical, and high quality management lab companies, in addition to help associated fields similar to manufacturing, supplies science, meals tech, ag tech, and different industries. “We’re excited to construct on the large success we have had within the R&D house. We consider that our expertise platform is poised to rework operational environments by connecting practically any bodily asset to the cloud, and thereby releasing operators to give attention to extra strategic initiatives,” mentioned Sridhar in a press launch.

A cloud-connected lab is less complicated to watch in remote-work situations and may help cut back human error. For GMP labs, it will probably cut back their price of compliance, optimize operational efficiencies, and improve the ROI of biomanufacturing. Elemental Machines may also assist labs implement inexperienced initiatives to scale back the environmental footprint of their analysis. And maybe sooner or later, it is going to be capable of diagnose and repair points with out human intervention. Autonomous techniques are an integral side of the Fourth Industrial Revolution that’s reworking analysis and growth environments. By streamlining mundane lab duties, like checking temperatures, it might unencumber scientists to give attention to the “large image”.

Lab automation is maybe much less horny than wearables. However Sridhar sees the potential for large impression by bringing Trade 4.0 applied sciences to science-driven enterprises. With the push to extend the U.S. biomanufacturing capability, investments in automation, machine-to-machine communication, and AI-driven analytics are essential to realize a aggressive edge. In a manner, Elemental Machines is sort of a well being monitor – however on your lab, and as different trackers do, may help propel your lab to new heights.

Thanks to Katia Tarasava for extra analysis and reporting on this text. I’m the founding father of SynBioBeta, and a number of the corporations that I write about, similar to Ginkgo Bioworks, are sponsors of the SynBioBeta convention and weekly digest.

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Jean Nicholas

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