Sharing a Vision and Deep Customer Commitment

An interview with Ira Hoffman, CEO, HighRes(TM) Biosolutions
|
April 14, 2022

TetraScience and HighResTM Biosolutions have had a strong partner relationship since 2019 and now share common customers who are benefitting from the combination of our innovative technologies. We recently sat down with HighRes CEO, Ira Hoffman, to discuss the use of scientific data, automation, and where the future lies.

Ira, would you please start by sharing your background and your current role at HighRes Biosolutions?

Sure. I provide strategic, financial, and operational leadership for HighResTM Biosolutions, acting as an advisor and consultant to achieve company objectives. We have a talented group at HighRes, and I particularly enjoy mentoring and interacting with staff members at all levels, fostering our innovative and inclusive culture. I am also personally invested in the success of each customer.

I have a B.S. in Physics and Mathematics from the University of Vermont, and a M.S. in Computer Science from Villanova University. I came to HighRes Biosolutions in 2007 with a wide-range of robotic and automation team leadership experience that I gained in the biotechnology and biopharma spaces – having successfully developed robotic hardware for people with limited mobility, ultra-high-throughput sample screening, enterprise data warehousing, chemical analytics, and automated quality control monitoring in real time. 

What are the most significant changes you’ve seen in laboratory automation in the past 5 years?

Science evolves quickly, and laboratory automation must keep pace.  Changes in science and technology change workflows and this, in turn, may result in new process pinch-points as new workflows are implemented. At HighRes, we pioneered the concept of adaptable and modular hardware components that automate complete workflows today while anticipating the changes that will be required to keep pace with tomorrow. The invention of Nucleus™ hardware, for example, was the result of nearly two decades of experience producing modular and flexible laboratory automation that could evolve at the pace of modern science. 

Successful laboratory automation requires us to think in the language of automation rather than thinking about it in related terms (i.e., increasing throughput using the current methodology) which could add project risk when automation principles were applied later. Adopting an “automation-first” mentality has allowed us to transcend manual protocols rather than simply translate them, expanding the possibilities of hands-free science.

Adopting an “automation-first” mentality has allowed us to transcend manual protocols rather than simply translate them, expanding the possibilities of hands-free science.

This led us to the concept of “digital transformation”, thinking beyond hardware to expand our Cellario™ software and create data factories that can propel scientific discovery forward at an extraordinary scale. We are now coordinating whole lab workflows rather than single automated work cells and connecting previously isolated islands of automation and manual workflows. We are also integrating Information Systems for hands-free data flow from system to scientist, scientist to assay hardware, assay hardware to information system, and information system back to the scientist again. It is extremely exciting to see.

How has HighRes Biosolutions benefitted from being a partner with TetraScience?

HighRes Biosolutions and TetraScience share common customers, and I think that we are both seeing a shift in customer expectations moving toward partnerships like ours to enable them to operate within an open data ecosystem.

HighRes Biosolutions and TetraScience share common customers, and I think that we are both seeing a shift in customer expectations moving toward partnerships like ours to enable them to operate within an open data ecosystem.

Customers find us more attractive when we offer out-of-the-box integration solutions for common Lab Information Systems, such as TetraScience. Our partnership eliminates the need for bespoke integration, eliminating risk and accelerating positive outcomes that benefit everyone.

Please describe the value to your customers in being able to utilize Tetra Data to connect instruments and create workflows easily.

It is all about allowing our customers to be able to focus on their science or business, and freeing them from traditional, manual, and error-prone approaches such as manual data file movement and editing. With Tetra Data automation, data does not have to be formatted and re-formatted and verified between the producer and user of those data. Rather, workflows are data-centric, and data are FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable). Today’s customers want their entire DMTA (Design, Make, Test, Analyze) method of drug discovery to be automatable. HighRes is in the business of producing Make, Test and Data Capture/Publication procedural steps all automated and person-free. With the addition of Tetra Data, users can plug in any Design and Analyze solutions to our standard interfaces to produce data that is GLP/GMP compliant, universally accessible, fluid across functional working groups, and primed for advanced analytics. 

With the addition of Tetra Data, users can plug in any Design and Analyze solutions to our standard interfaces to produce data that is GLP/GMP compliant, universally accessible, fluid across functional working groups, and primed for advanced analytics.

What kind of impact did COVID-19 have on the life sciences industry and what has that meant for HighRes Biosolutions?

By 2019, the idea of digital transformation was already widespread, but no one really knew how to implement it.

By 2019, the idea of digital transformation was already widespread, but no one really knew how to implement it. People were looking to total workflow automation as a critical next step, but automation was often a secondary approach. The COVID-19 pandemic came suddenly and challenged the very nature of how we live and work. We were constrained by environments that limited people and contact at unprecedented scale. This drove transformation – and particularly digital transformation – as we refined and implemented productivity tools like robotics, workflow software, and multi-system integrations. COVID-19 changed our mindsets from “automation-first” to “automation and transformation-forward”. Successful scientists can no longer develop their processes and then evolve toward automation organically. They must think about automation from the start.

What kinds of solutions and in what areas of research does HighRes Biosolutions provide?

HighRes Biosolutions provides life science automation equipment, instrumentation, and software to scientists, and most of our current customers are on the path to enterprise-level workflow automation. When HighRes started in 2004, our customers were 100% Small Molecule Drug Discovery running high-throughput screening or compound management workflows. As the type and capability of automation-friendly instrumentation evolved, the technical capability of scientists themselves changed to keep pace. 

We have now reached an age where the variety of scientific tools and automation solutions available can enable and support every area of the life sciences. While we enable drug discovery, our business today has expanded to facilitate gene therapy, large molecule biologic development, RNAi-based therapeutics, mRNA-based vaccine discovery, and much more. Technological explosions such as this are happening throughout the life sciences, and our customers continue to expand to areas such as consumer genomics, BioAgiculture, COVID diagnostics, CRISPR cell line engineering, automated quality control of production processes, and regulated workflows such as those seen in forensic science – to name a few. The applications are endless.

Modern lab automation is increasingly a balance between hardware and software. What is the secret sauce for success?

Our automation hardware and software products, together with our broad base of consultative experts and flexible tooling, allow HighRes and its customers to create whole lab automated solutions to any degree and on any scale. We cover everything from facilities to scientific workflows, integrating with any other software, hardware, etc., to truly adapt to any scientific mode of work. We craft whole solutions that include the way data are captured and reintegrated. We make complex tools accessible to both scientists and end users, allowing workflow configuration and execution to be intuitive and error free. 

How would you describe the benefit to customers from what you provide?

I would say that the customers who benefit most from what we provide don’t think about us at all. They don’t think about how easy we make it to connect to all the existing or custom software that they use, or our industry-leading and user-friendly APIs that allow them instant access to data and a host of services. They don’t think about the need to create records of all the activities they will engage in that day, the errors that they will make while performing complex procedures, or how these deviations will need to be documented for evaluation or audit. They don’t think about workflow validation, or the variations inherent in workflow execution. 

I would say that the customers who benefit most from what we provide don’t think about us at all.

They think about science. They think about the next data point that they will gather and how that will fit into some larger story that is unfolding within their scientific community. 

This is our customer benefit.

What else would you like to share with us today?

TetraScience has been a great partner. Spin (Siping, ‘Spin’, Wang, Co-Founder and CTO, TetraScience) and I met early on and hit it off right away. We were motivated to develop an integration before there was even a market need, because we both knew that our combined technologies would be incredibly potent in the life science space. So far, this has proven true. It is really fun to work with folks who share the same vision and commitment that we do here at HighRes – aligned on capabilities to bring significant value to our joint customers and improving human health through life science automation. 

Learn more about HighRes Nucleus System in this video.

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