I started the interview by asking Glenn if he could explain the benefits of rapid media analysis and also common pain points. He said that because spent media analysis usually can’t be done at-line, samples need to be sent out, and this creates a slow turn-around time. It also creates a logistics and tracking burden.
In addition, multiple technology platforms are required to run a sample, each having separated prep protocols and different sample volume requirements. This is particularly challenging with microbioreactor systems like ambrs or shake flasks, where labs contend with processing a large number of samples promptly coupled with sample volume constraints. The microbioreactor systems have small working volumes that limit the sample volume that can be removed each day to run samples. Since they permit several different media configurations to be run simultaneously, this results in a large number of samples at low sample volumes.
With at-line spent media analysis, you can run samples daily, or more often depending on your process. This provides rapid data day-to-day, hour-to-hour on the metabolic profile and media profile of the culture. Culture changes can be made on the fly, and processes can be optimized faster.
We discussed how in September, 908 Devices launched the Rebel® analyzer to address challenges in spent media analysis. Glenn shared what led the company to develop the Rebel and what key features were essential to include. He said that two years before building the Rebel, they began speaking with current customers in biopharma process characterization about their needs concerning spent media analysis. This meant getting in the lab with customers to see and experience the good and the bad of their day-to-day responsibilities. They identified two huge bottlenecks in process development, the number of samples that were being sent out, and the data coming back in (often in different propriety data formats). Both were extremely time-consuming to deal with.
908 Devices realized that the analyzer needed to be run alongside bioreactors in the process development lab. Current analyzers were often adapted from the clinical space, and users desired analyzers that were fit for purpose. From there, 908 Devices applied their super simple philosophy of design to the Rebel. This meant no computer on the side and no waste or solvents on the table. Putting everything inside the analyzer freed bench space and reduced footprint. Also, there were no special power requirements, no extensive sample prep, and the Rebel was 21 CFR part 11 compliant out of the box. With its small footprint, the Rebel fit under shelves and was easily mobile on carts.
Next, I asked how the Rebel could help speed process development efforts. Glenn said that they focused on making sure that the Rebel could be positioned where samples were originating to ensure at-line analysis. This eliminated the need to send samples out of the lab. Also, sample prep had to be super simple, with no special prep or labeling required. Once samples are put into the system with either vials or well plates, the system provided unambiguous data on what was detected and the concentration level. The data was not in a proprietary format, instead provided as a CSV or pdf file. This data could be delivered on the device or a mapped network drive.
I asked how users would implement the Rebel in their labs and if there was any specific training needed. Glenn explained that the Rebel sits alongside bioreactors, so when a sample is pulled, you just send a little bit to the Rebel. The training is short, typically a half-day or less. He shared that they have trained 2 – 20 researchers in a day on everything needed to use the Rebel with approximately 90% in hands-on time training. They also provide a dedicated support team with engineers, scientists, and data science gurus to answer any follow-up questions once they leave.
We then discussed the user experience. Glenn said that everyone who could reach into his or her pocket and unlock his or her phone could run the Rebel. It has a large touch screen interface, simple notifications, limited external interfaces, no external keyboard, and minimal maintenance. He said that they worked hard to make interactions with the Rebel a breeze since science in the process development lab is hard enough.
I asked if the Rebel could be used in cell and gene therapy applications. He said that cell and gene therapy groups are utilizing the Rebel to optimize media for their applications to ensure reproducible processes, increase yield, and improve media and product quality. Many of the cell and gene therapy companies said that they are learning from the biologics community about how important media is and as a result, are working closely with media providers to ensure consistency
Next, I asked about the feedback from customers. Glenn said that fortunately, they have seen overwhelmingly positive responses thus far. He said it was great to see systems being used as intended soon after they left installations and trainings. It was good to see that users were confident using the system. They are also seeing many orders coming in for more consumables as teams realize the benefits of media screening and optimization in near-real-time. Users have been responsive to emails and check-in calls and love to share internal success stories with their colleagues.
I asked if there have been any challenges associated with the implementation of the Rebel. Glenn shared two that came to mind. The first was networking. He explained that there has been a big push for Pharma 4.0, yet some IT departments are resisting network enabling of devices in labs. Luckily, researchers and engineers have been a great ally and have been in full support of implementation.
Another challenge has been the output of data. Researchers that were used to waiting days or weeks for data are now getting it in minutes. He said that “it surprised some groups when they loaded up a tray of samples and came into the lab the next day with nearly 100 files of time course spent media data from their processes”. “We are working with these groups on streamlined, no-fuss data analysis strategies to keep up with their ever-growing sample sets and curiosities.”
I closed by asking if Glenn had anything else to add for listeners. He said that collaborations are critical, both public and private. One in particular with Sarah Harcum’s group at Clemson University has been spectacular since they are key opinion leaders in the process development space. They just published their first collaborative work looking at spent media analysis in ammonia stressed CHO cultures grown in an ambr 250 microbioreactor platform.
908 Devices is also looking toward future development, new apps, and platform expansion with collaborators on a NIIMBL project. He added that listeners should feel free to reach out to him directly on email through www.908devices.com or LinkedIn for any additional information.