Joe Betts-Lacroix is the CTO and Co-Founder of Vium. He is a proven entrepreneur and as an inventor holds over 80 granted and pending patents in fields ranging from biophysics and safety systems to antennas, thermal systems, user interfaces and analog electronics. He was the primary technical founder of OQO that in 2005 built the smallest full-powered, full-featured personal computer, according to Guinness World Records. Joe holds a Harvard A.B., MIT S.M. and Caltech research fellowship.
What is Vium’s mission and why did you choose to be located in Silicon Valley?
Dr. Tim Robertson and I co-founded Vium in 2013 to build a better animal testing facility called a ‘vivarium,’ but quickly realized our approach had wide-spreading implications. Our mission became transforming how preclinical in vivo drug testing is done through the application of technology to accelerate drug development, create a more humane environment for research animal subjects, and ultimately improve human health.
Why? Early drug experiments, once conducted exclusively in the labs of academia and drug companies, are increasingly being outsourced, distancing researchers from their work. In addition, the process of in vivo studies is outdated, with technicians manually observing animals and recording data such as an animal’s weight, food intake and clinical signs of pain and distress. This process takes a long time and leaves room for much ambiguity, slowing down the discovery of novel medicines and driving up costs of drug development. It also stresses the animals.
The reason we’re based in Silicon Valley is simple. Tim and I, both serial entrepreneurs and inventors, live in the valley. In fact, we initially met as neighbors.
What does Healthtech mean to you and what kind of growth do you foresee for this industry?
Healthtech companies target applications at points along the spectrum of health and wellness, e.g. hospital workflow, home monitoring, and consumer wellness applications. Vium operates within preclinical drug research in the area of living informatics, a type of biomedical informatics. We have created the first living informatics platform, which applies life sciences, digital technology and large-scale interpretive methods to living systems. Robust, connected and multi-dimensional data sets are continuously generated, providing researchers with richer understanding and deeper insights of experiments. The application of informatics will continue to grow with access to more data and technology, enhancing human health innovation along the way.
You say that “Vium empowers biomedical investigators with technology that accelerates the preclinical drug discovery and development pipeline.” – could you expand on the technology that is being used?
Vium has developed hardware and software that for the first time enable researchers to design, purchase, run, analyze and reproduce in vivo studies online. In the Digital Vivarium™ via the online Research Suite researchers can continuously monitor and record animal motion, respiration, physiology, behavior as well as environment and husbandry from any computer, tablet or smartphone. The vivarium transmits petabytes of data to the Vium Cloud where data is stored, computed and analyzed using modern algorithms that produce meaning and insights. Vium’s technology also provides a more humane, natural environment for research subjects, which will set a new standard for animal care. What Vium has done is to empower scientists to focus on research and discovery of novel drug candidates, not routine process.
Are there any Data Science applications that Vium specifically uses? If so, why do you see these being so beneficial?
Vium integrates techniques and theories from many fields: mathematics, statistics, information science, and computer science, including signal processing, probability models, machine learning, neural networks, statistical learning, data mining, data engineering, pattern recognition and learning, visualization, predictive analytics, uncertainty modeling, data warehousing, data compression, and high performance computing.
Vium’s technology delivers multiple improvements over traditional in vivo research, such as massive data sets, real-time and retrospective analysis, high throughput of multiple compounds in parallel, sensitivity to subtle animal signs and behavior, and less error-prone and stressful human-animal interactions.
As a result, researchers can make faster and better informed decisions about which compounds will have a greater probability of success, then accelerate their development and reduce overall R&D costs.
Do you think that there is not currently enough quality data or technologies to extract quality data for researchers?
Both are true.
Traditional in vivo research collects very little data, usually amounting to less than a kilobyte, consisting of a few weights, dates, manual observations and blood numbers. Occasionally there are some images from histopathology.
Vium collects gigabytes per animal per day. In a way we are creating our own challenges, which we uniquely have to solve using tools from the tech world, e.g. advanced IT infrastructures and data science. We are fortunate to be launching Vium at just the right time, i.e. when technologies have recently become available from other industries.
Subjective measurements in traditional in vivo research are generally small data since that is what humans are capable of recording. One of the key values we bring to larger data streams is objectivity, which translates into accuracy, repeatability, and scalability – all of which will help to speed the development of new therapies.
Do you think the onus is on the government, private institutions, universities, or consumers to push for the expansion of data being used to develop better technologies for the health industry?
As private institutions drive the development of new technologies or the translation of science from universities, the public’s role is to help recognize value. Government watches and applies careful regulation, where and if necessary, against a cost of slowing down innovation. Different aspects of the overall therapeutic pipeline require varying amounts of regulation, with stricter regulations the closer applications are to humans. Because mice and rats are substantially unregulated by governments, this sector can innovate rapidly. Vium is fully accredited by AAALAC International and consistently improves on both industry and government standards of animal welfare.
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