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

Internet of Things (IoT) products — like a Bluetooth speaker showerhead or a refrigerator that orders things directly from the Internet — may seem like gimmicky holiday gift ideas. But this company found a practical use case for the new technology: Elemental Machines, a lab operations intelligence platform, raised $41 million in a Series B funding round. The company helps biotech labs streamline their operations and save companies millions of dollars by controlling environmental variables.

Its founder, Sridhar Iyengar, was a graduate student at the University of Cambridge when his PhD project hit an unexpected snag: a routine experiment he had run a hundred times for his research suddenly stopped working. After months of hair-pulling and wondering if he could finish his thesis work, he finally discovered that the department had changed the brand of glassware detergent used in the dishwashers. The seemingly insignificant detail that storage failed to inform anyone had a profound effect on the experiment.

Anyone who has ever worked in a lab can share a similar story: the excruciating pain of trying to figure out the sources of variation in their experiments. It’s such a common problem that there’s even an unspoken rule among academics: if the experiment works three times, publish it, because trying to repeat it again is just trying your luck. The problem is that this conventional academic wisdom doesn’t work so well in industry, where the process must work correctly every time to produce reliable products. The “lab” spaces that denote experiments in academia are like factories for the biotech industry, and therefore must meet high standards of quality and reproducibility.

Fortunately, the unfortunate graduate school incident didn’t stop Sridhar from becoming a successful tech startup founder who holds over 50 patents. Sridhar ended up in the medical device industry, where precision and reproducibility are just as important as in the laboratory. In 2001, he founded AgaMatrix, a blood-glucose monitor company that makes glucose meters for store brands such as CVS and Target.
And Kroger
. Their monitor was the first FDA-approved medical device that could connect directly to your smartphone, ushering in a new era of digital health technologies. His second company, Misfit, a maker of wearable fitness tracker devices and smart home products, was acquired by Fossil in 2015 for $260 million.

Since his Misfit days, Sridhar has circled back to the lab, applying everything he learned about building sensors and cloud-connected products to lab automation. Those lessons weren’t always easy: While making glucose monitors, his company suffered 20% losses on the production side, costing them millions of dollars. In order to have better control over manufacturing quality, they need to know what is happening in the factory around the world. They were able to install simple sensors in manufacturing facilities, collect environmental data (such as temperature and humidity) and relate those variables to product quality, which helped reduce production losses from 20% to less than 1%.

That experience taught Sridhar that any lab or manufacturing environment can greatly benefit from improved environmental monitoring and control. Technology has advanced a lot in the last 15 years: smart home devices are part of our daily lives, so why not bring them to streamline lab operations? That’s what Sridhar’s latest company, Elemental Machines, does: they build hardware, cloud applications, and AI-based analytics products that help science-driven enterprises increase their efficiency by collecting and extracting meaning from lab operation data. This technology may be missing to enable biomanufacturing success:

“The line between labs and factories is blurring. That means many of the approaches traditionally used in manufacturing will start being used in lab work,” Sridhar feels. “I think we’re in a very good position to bring some new technologies to space.”

Elemental Machines works to proactively assess the entire laboratory environment to ensure that teams, processes and equipment are utilized in the most efficient manner possible. For example, some devices may be used more often than others and require more frequent calibration. The refrigerator closest to the lab bench may be opened more frequently, leading to temperature fluctuations. All of these variables can be measured using sensors placed throughout the lab, creating a smart lab infrastructure for data collection that can be leveraged to optimize the use of resources. To date, Elemental Machines has supported more than 500 life science customers, and it’s no surprise that cutting-edge synthetic biology companies such as Ginkgo Bioworks are among the first customers of SmartLab technology.

“In 2020 Ginko Bioworks started using remote monitoring of elemental machines. This enables us to monitor the health of our cold storage units by looking at compressor cycle times and the number of door openings,” said Anna Greenswag. , Senior Manager of Laboratory Operations at Ginkgo Bioworks. “We were able to easily connect Elemental Machines’ alerts to our notification process so that issues can be resolved quickly. As we grew, elemental machines were able to keep pace and scale as needed. Elemental Machines is open to Jinko’s on-demand communication touch points and is interested in other ways to support lab management.”

But the potential impact of implementing smart lab technologies is not limited to the synthetic biology industry. Elemental Machines plans to use the $41 million raised in the last funding round to fuel commercial growth in research, clinical and quality control lab services, manufacturing, materials science, food tech, ag tech, and related areas. industries. “We are excited to build on the tremendous success we have achieved in the R&D space. We believe our technology platform is poised to transform operational environments by connecting almost all physical assets to the cloud, thereby freeing operators to focus on more strategic initiatives,” Sridhar said in a press release.

A cloud-connected lab is easy to monitor in remote work situations and helps reduce human error. GMP labs can reduce compliance costs, optimize operational efficiency, and increase the ROI of biomanufacturing. Elemental Machines can help labs implement green initiatives to reduce the environmental footprint of their research. Perhaps in the future, it will be able to detect and solve problems without human intervention. Autonomous systems are an integral part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is transforming research and development environments. By streamlining mundane lab tasks like checking temperatures, it frees up scientists to focus on the “big picture.”

Lab automation is perhaps less sexy than wearables. But Sridhar sees the potential for tremendous impact by bringing Industry 4.0 technologies to science-based enterprises. In addition to increasing biomanufacturing capacity in the US, investments in automation, machine-to-machine communication and AI-driven analytics are critical to achieving a competitive advantage. In a way, Elemental Machines are like a health monitor — but they can help your lab reach new heights, just like other trackers do.

Thanks Katiya Tarasava For further research and reporting on this article. I am the founder of SynBioBeta, and some of the companies I write for, such as Ginkgo Bioworks, are sponsors. SynBioBeta Conference And Weekly Digest.


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