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Who leads Synthace?
Founded in 2011 by Markus Gershater and Sean Ward, Synthace is building transformative products to automate the life sciences lab. Gershater (CSO) was a postdoc at University College London (UCL) working on metabolic engineering and had useful experience in industry at Novacta Biosystems before starting Synthace. Ward (founding CEO) is trained as a software engineer and was working at UCL on protein structure prediction and codon optimization. They both started Synthace originally as a synthetic biology company to engineer microbes to make enzymes and chemicals. In order to realize this, the founders had to build robotics and software in 2014 that can scale up microbial design. Through this work, Synthace developed Antha, a software and automation platform for lab research, which set the company up to pivot in 2017 toward a software business model.
What does Synthace do?
Synthace is a SaaS business centered around Antha, an operating system for computer-aided biology. Antha automates communication to machines in the lab and structures the experimental data from them. On the former, Antha builds software that can directly connect to machine drivers - this allows a scientist to plan and preview their experiments without knowing the specific language of the machines. On the latter, the software aggregates and visualizes the experimental data to enable a design, collect, and learn loop.
Antha connects lab devices to tools like electronic lab notebooks (ELN), experimental design suites, and analysis packages. The idea is to have a tight integration between experimental design and implementation allowing for traceability across the entire process. This type of accounting in biology is pretty rare. More automation and software in the field will improve reproducibility and free up time for scientists. This is an technical overview on some of Synthace’s methods
Ultimately, the company has built a product to reduce manual labor required in the lab, although they still have a lot of work to do, and automate the structuring of data. A simple workflow for Antha is:
A scientists imports a design file or creates a new one
The plate formats and pipette sequences are encoded along with other factors like reagents and stock constraints
From here, Antha automatically calculates the amount of reagents needed for the experiment and pipette volumes along with the devices required
The experimental workflow is previewed with each liquid handling step
If everything looks good, the experiment is executed
The raw data plus metadata from the plate reader are immediately structured for analysis
This workflow enables faster execution with less resources used. This power can be applied to applications across human health, food, energy, and industrials.
What makes Synthace unique?
What makes Synthace unique is Antha and the team. By creating a high level language for physical devices, Antha allows scientists to focus on design rather than the actions of a device or robot. The operating system can account for variables that might influence the experiment but haven’t been tracked before; things like temperature, timing variability, and exact reagent concentrations. Overtime, more accurate models of biology could be created because the experiments themselves become more precise.
On the team, Synthace has to be interdisciplinary to build Antha and grow its capabilities. The company bridges the divide between biology and software - software engineers and biologists have to work together productively. This type of organization is probably a major reason why Synthace has built a product that can abstract away a lot of the complexity of a lab experiment. Engineers know how to build software, but the biologists know the small things that matter in the lab.
Moreover, Synthace is building 4 moats with Antha:
A growing repository of protocols - ELISA, DNA assembly, qPCR, and more. Raw data as well as metadata like instrument logs and configuration files is structured after each protocol run.
Partners that help Synthace get lock-in at the device level - they have collaborations with companies like Hamilton, Tecan, and more
The number of device drivers Antha can connect to. This is non-trivial technically.
Why I like what Synthace is doing?
Synthace frees up time for biologists to do more design work versus manual labor. This approach can help scale up the production of all biological products from medicines to industrial enzymes and consumer products. As Antha integrates with more devices and implements new protocols, the company probably becomes a standard in all biology labs.
The company has published a series of interesting case studies on Antha. They highlight the power of spending more time on planning experiments. As implementation becomes a commodity, Synthace can expand into higher-value applications like gene and cell therapies. This trajectory is pretty similar to the history of computer-aided design’s impact on the automotive industry. Synthace actually put out a white paper touching upon this. The car industry saw massive gains in efficiency and scale with software mainly developed by Autodesk. Something similar is happening in biology with Synthace leading the way. On a sidepoint along the theme of comparing the automotive industry to biology, on-shoring might be a similar opportunity led by Resilience.
With this, Synthace has an exciting vision for the “lab of the future:”
Complete data for better biology models
High-factor design-of-experiments (DoE)
Integration with machine learning
You can find Synthace here.