Cambridge, Mass.-based startup Reify is seeking to carve out a niche in the fast-growing high-throughput cell assay arena — and time is on its side.
The company's cellular assay technology, the Visible Discovery Platform, is designed to capture, in high-throughput fashion, a dynamic view of cells, rather than the static view other imaging platforms have offered.
"Very few cellular events can be well-characterized from a single measurement in time," said Andrew Hack, Reify's director of life sciences. "Biology is inherently dynamic, and taking only one picture doesn't give you the story of a biological event. The only way to really capture what's going on in a biological event is to watch it over time."
The Visible Discovery Platform is based on a combined epifluorescence and phase-contrast microscope platform equipped with high-resolution video cameras. The cameras scan 96- or 384-well cell-culture plates, capturing images of the cells many times per second. The images are transferred to a computer that subsequently processes the data and creates as close to a "movie" of the cells' activity as a high-throughput assay can get.
"All the existing technologies are either still-picture based, or interested in reading aggregate amounts of fluorescence or other things," Hack said. "Also, by capturing images over time… you can do a much better job of measuring what's going on by applying measurements to a sequence of images, and not just a single image."
He added that most of the competition is concerned with capturing as many static images of different cells in as short an amount of time as possible. While such an approach may lead to higher throughput in terms of total number of cells examined, Reify is banking on the idea that some researchers will want an automated platform to perform a more thorough examination of each cell over time.
"Most of the companies out there are trying to compete in the same single time-point fluorescence universe and beat each other in speeds and feeds, whereas we are more about capturing the dynamics of the biology," Hack said.
The use of phase-contrast microscopy in addition to epifluorescence also sets Reify apart. "Everybody else uses fluorescence exclusively," Hack said. "Analyzing phase contrast images is much harder, but we think it's important to view the morphology of the cell, too. Not all things can be reduced into a couple channels of fluorescence."
In December 2003, the company told Inside Bioassays' sister publication, GenomeWeb.com that it had started working to raise $5 to $7 million in a Series A round of financing, and that it had published a patent application for the system entitled "Method and apparatus for acquisition, compression, and characterization of spatiotemporal signals."
Hack said that the technology has been substantially developed since that time, and although no action has been taken on the initial patent application, the company has further developed its intellectual property.
As for its business model, Hack said that Reify itself intends to use the platform to engage in drug discovery, and is working on discovery programs in cancer and cardiovascular disease. In addition, the company is exploring partnerships with select pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions.