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Illumina, NSA Labs, Certara, And More: News From February 2020



February 27, 2020 | February featured exciting new, products, and partnerships from around the bio-IT community from innovating companies, organizations, and universities, including Illumina, NSA Labs, Certara, and more.

Illumina announced that Scott Gottlieb has joined the company’s Board of Directors, effective February 4, 2020. Gottlieb is currently a special partner at the venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates (NEA) and a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). From 2017 to 2019, he served as the 23rd commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). During his time at the FDA, Gottlieb helped make the regulatory process for the development and review of novel drug and medical devices more efficient, including the approval of the first gene-therapy-based cancer treatments. He advanced the FDA’s Oncology Center for Excellence and helped implement the 21st Century Cures Act to accelerate medical product development. He also presided over a record number of approvals for generic and new drugs and novel medical devices, and advanced other efforts to promote food safety, vaccinations, reduce smoking rates, and address opioid addiction. “I am excited to welcome Scott to Illumina’s Board of Directors,” Francis deSouza, Illumina’s Chief Executive Officer, said in a press release. “Illumina will benefit from Scott’s expertise in healthcare and public policy as we work to accelerate the adoption and impact of genomics into the standard of care in oncology, reproductive health and other clinical areas.” Press release

Aiforia and NSA Labs announced a collaboration to uncover the pathophysiology behind amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a fatal neurodegenerative disease. This project is inspired by the donation of the entire brain and spinal column of a friend of an NSA employee who died from ALS. The donation could become an unprecedented resource for researching ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases. NSA will use this donation to create a whole-brain reference dataset for ALS: a unique resource for studying the disease. As a leading authority of central nervous system histology, NSA has comprehensive resources, and the technical capabilities and skills to prepare an entire, intact human brain hemisphere for research. But they needed much more powerful tools to support the analysis of the brain. “The artificial intelligence-powered platform from Aiforia enables us to view and analyze the brain in ways that we were not able to before,” Britt Massei, CEO and CFO at NSA Labs, said in a press release. “The Aiforia platform also allows us to store and manage the incredibly complex and large images produced from the brain samples.” Just one individual image file in this project contains more information than 5,000 pictures taken with the latest iPhone. This requires a platform robust enough to support such high capacities. Aiforia’s cloud technology also provides the possibility for global distribution of this valuable information on ALS, enabling wide-scale collaboration. Press release

Certara reported that it has acquired a range of modeling and simulation technology assets from In Silico Biosciences. The assets include a platform of multiple integrated quantitative systems pharmacology (QSP) modules of brain physiology and pathology specifically developed for the study of neurodegenerative conditions, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease, which generally lack disease-modifying therapies. “While scientific understanding of the brain has greatly increased, that knowledge has yet to deliver meaningful advances in pharmacological solutions for most neurodegenerative diseases,” said Piet van der Graaf, senior vice president of QSP at Certara, in a press release. “We are excited and confident that these newly-acquired assets, along with the appointment of former In Silico Biosciences Chief Scientist Dr. Hugo Geerts as leader of Certara’s neuroscience team, will enable us to overcome the scientific challenges in this important therapeutic area and help bring efficacious therapies to patients.” The new neurodegenerative disease models are based on mechanisms of action and connect pharmacological target modulation with changes in membrane and synaptic currents, which are ultimately linked to biophysical neuronal networks. Simulation of the neuronal circuits produces firing patterns, and the transformed outputs are calibrated with drug effects on clinically meaningful biomarkers. Examples of modules in the platform that have been developed over many years and validated with clinical data are QSP models of amyloid/tau aggregation, cortical working memory, cortical-subcortical cross-talk and pharmaco-EEG. Dr. Geerts will lead a new Certara QSP consortium that is being formed in 2020, focused on neurodegenerative diseases. The consortium’s work will build upon the seminal paper entitled, “Quantitative Systems Pharmacology for Neuroscience Drug Discovery and Development: Current Status, Opportunities, and Challenges,” which Dr. Geerts co-authored last year with Certara and a broad group of stakeholders from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institute on Aging, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, and leading academics and pharmaceutical partners. The new consortium will also build upon Certara’s current QSP platforms in immunology to address neuro-immune disorders, which are illnesses that are the result of deregulation of both the immune and nervous systems. Press release

Anitoa has demonstrated a solution for rapid on-site nucleic acid test of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Anitoa combines a high performance ultra-portable Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (qPCR) instrument called Maverick, with an innovative “one-step” reverse transcription qPCR (RT-qPCR) reagent for testing 2019-nCoV. This solution eliminates the cumbersome process of package and transporting patient samples to a central lab and the additional steps of tedious sample-prep prior to running RT-PCR. This saves time and reduces risks of cross-contamination. Moreover, Anitoa’s solution is more accurate, as it avoids false-negative readings due to the degradation of viral RNAs in the sample when transported. With Anitoa's solution, patient samples, such as throat or nasal swaps, can be applied directly to the portable instrument on-site without the need to freeze, transport and thaw the samples. The Maverick RT-qPCR device has a sophisticated 4-plex optical multiplexing subsystem to detect multiple gene targets in one sample, and it take about 30 minutes from sample to results.  Maverick is powered by a unique CMOS biosensor chip developed by Anitoa. The CMOS biosensor integrates many sensing and processing functions necessary for qPCR in a single silicon chip, thus significantly reducing the footprint and cost of the device. Having a R&D center in Hangzhou China, Anitoa tested its solution in hospitals and CDC-labs of China with actual patient samples. Early test results with Maverick solution showed a 97% accuracy, with 99% specificity. “We are encouraged by the very promising performance results of the Maverick solution in detecting the 2019 new coronavirus. We want to contribute everything we have to help fight and prevent the spread of this terrible and deadly disease,” Zhimin Ding, CEO of Anitoa Systems, said in a press release. Press release

ReadCoor unveiled its first product line, including multi-omic spatial sequencing assays and the RC2 instrument. The platform is powered by ReadCoor’s proprietary FISSEQ (Fluorescent in situ Sequencing) technology, which combines the massive multiplexity of next-generation sequencing (NGS) and high-resolution tissue imaging. The fully integrated platform is now available for use by researchers through ReadCoor’s Select Release Program (SRP), focusing on initial applications in immuno-oncology, neuroscience, and infectious disease, as well as a custom offering. ReadCoor has increased its Series B investment round to $30 million to accelerate commercial efforts. The new platform simultaneously detects tens to thousands of RNA and DNA sequences, proteins, and therapeutic molecules at nanoscale 3D resolution in every cell within an intact tissue sample. The key products launched today are application kits containing all components necessary to prepare tissue samples for spatial sequencing on the RC2 in a single sample processing workflow; instrument kits contain all necessary bulk and sequencing reagents to collect spatial sequencing information from up to four tissue samples per run; and analysis and visualization Cloudware that fully integrates data management and analysis. Users can manage and analyze sub-cellular molecular information with visualization tools that display molecular and morphological volumes, display locations for all multi-omic targets in 3D, select regions of interest, and employ spatial statistical methods for unbiased discovery. Press release

GenapSys announced a new OEM partnership with Twist Bioscience. The collaboration will bring a broad and comprehensive range of target enrichment and library preparation tools for next-generation sequencing (NGS) to the GenapSys high accuracy Sequencer offering. Twist’s products will further empower owners of GenapSys’s next-generation sequencer to conduct research in oncology, whole-exome sequencing, rare diseases, viral outbreaks, drug discovery, and more in a simple solution. The partnership provides significant benefit to customers who will now have the ability to work with a single vendor, cutting down on paperwork and eliminating costly time delays through the convenience of “one stop” shopping. Additionally, research laboratories will have the peace of mind of knowing that the enrichment tools and the gene sequencer will work harmoniously together. “This OEM collaboration with GenapSys provides an ideal option for research laboratories, government organizations and sequencing providers, including healthcare facilities, to get access to our assays on GenapSys distributed sequencers,” explained Emily M. Leproust, CEO and Co-Founder of Twist Bioscience, in a press release. “We believe in bringing best-in-class solutions together to offer customers optimal workflows for their needs, and with the distributed nature of the GenapSys high accuracy and affordable sequencer, there is the potential for wider adoption, benefitting a greater number of researchers and clinicians.” Press release

Seqster announced that the company has secured investment from Takeda. The funds invested in Seqster will be used to accelerate the adoption of Seqster’s interoperability technology for enhancing clinical trials, patient engagement, and outcomes. “We are thrilled to have Takeda Pharmaceuticals as a strategic investor sharing our vision and mission of putting patients at the center of all of their health data and making health data into medicine,” stated Ardy Arianpour, Seqster’s CEO and co-founder, in a press release. “We have created a unique data-sharing environment that retrieves, parses and harmonizes multi-dimensional data sets thereby accelerating the entire drug development process with high fidelity data hosted within a HIPAA-compliant and HiTrust data schema. Seqster provides clinical trial participants a secure platform to consent and share their data with investigators and study personnel in real-time creating a longitudinal health record that facilitates patient clinical trial onboarding, monitoring and post-trial follow-ups.” The recently released Seqster Version 5.0 creates a seamless and personalized patient experience, delivering improved patient outcomes, generating actionable data, and enhancing value across the patient journey from clinical to commercial.  It is supported by a platform designed for patients and their needs, featuring one core patient engagement platform that brings disparate data sets together in a common form. Press release

As part of its expansion into human health, GreenLight welcomed the first members of its new Life Sciences Advisory Board. The board will guide the company through the clinical development of messenger RNA (mRNA) based vaccines and therapies. GreenLight's Life Sciences Advisory Board will include Dr. Theodore Ashburn, President and CEO of Oncorus, a viral immunotherapies company focused on driving innovation to transform outcomes for cancer patients; Luc Debruyne, a former Corporate Executive Team member of GlaxoSmithKline where, over the course of a 27-year career, he rose to President of Global Vaccines; Mark Dybul, a professor in Georgetown University’s Department of Medicine and the co-director of their Center for Global Health Practice and Impact; and Drew Weissman is a professor of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. Press release

The Vancouver Prostate Centre is launching a collaboration with Roche and PHEMI Systems aimed at finding new insights into precision medicine and oncology treatment with help from the most advanced technology in data privacy and security. Dr. Colin Collins, a professor in the Department of Urological Sciences at the University of British Columbia, a senior research scientist at the Vancouver Prostate Centre (VPC), and the Director of the Laboratory for Advanced Genomic Analysis, is the research lead of the project, which will integrate multiomics and clinical data to develop new insights into metastasis of prostate tumors and treatment outcomes. The VPC, a research center housed within the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute and UBC’s Faculty of Medicine, is one of the world’s most respected cancer research facilities and has earned this reputation through its innovative approaches in treatments for prostate cancer. Press release

Addressing the widespread concern over transparency and reproducibility in biomedical research, one of the largest institutions in German science has begun to provide a framework, interventions, and incentives for improving the quality and value of translational research. The program is described by its leader, Ulrich Dirnagl of Berlin Institute of Health (BIH), and colleagues in a new article published in PLOS Biology. The program offers training, tools, and incentives to researchers to improve the quality of research, based on the principles of trustworthiness, usefulness, and ethics. For instance, the Center offers courses in reducing bias in research design, provides a guide to publishing negative or inconclusive findings, and offers financial rewards for making data publicly available. Program evaluations are ongoing and will be published in the near future. “Conceptually, we are conducting and evaluating a large-scale behavior change intervention,” Dirnagl said in a press release. “While such changes at a single institution can have little effect by themselves, we hope this program can provide a model for widespread adoption by other research institutions globally.” Press release

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