From ‘Airbnb for Science’ to a Catalyst for Cures: How Meenta Paved Their ‘Sequencing Superhighway’ for Accelerated Change Bench-To-Bedside
Innovation can’t wait. The logistics of sequencing needs a new model, and Meenta is proving itself as the key disruptor.
Since Meenta’s inception, its founders have envisioned a new era of unprecedented scientific discovery and bench-to-bedside milestones. To usher this in, Meenta knew that it needed to act as the builders of a sequencing superhighway.
As the company executed on its vision for the past four years, and as their long-term goal of transitioning to clinical testing has been catalysed by the COVID-19 pandemic (See: Meenta Launches World’s Largest COVID-19 Testing Platform), the realisation of Meenta’s broader vision appears sooner in the future than its founders had predicted.
One would imagine that Harvard University, in all its scientific glory, would have myriad sequencing resources with no bottlenecks and no wait time for results. Instead, Harvard researchers are burdened with long wait times for sequencing lanes, delaying important results. “And that’s where Meenta comes in, describing itself as the ‘Airbnb for Science.’ “We lower that barrier. It’s a compelling problem to solve—we have massive numbers of sequencers and science diagnostic equipment that essentially sits idle,” says Meenta Chief Technology Officer and Co-founder, Stephan Smith. “No one buys a million-dollar bridge and then only uses one of the two lanes,” he says.
But essentially, the same thing occurs in basic and translational research right now. In the United States, and globally, billions of dollars are spent on research, including instrumentation. This scientific infrastructure doesn’t get shared or—if the instruments come through shared equipment grants—they get shared in the most parochial sense of the word.
Four years ago, Meenta founders started executing a plan to get these instruments moving. In the short run, the intentions were to gain fluidity and lower the cost barrier to sequencing and, in the future, other scientific and clinical services. But, more importantly, the broader goal has been to drastically increase the output of scientific research. “For the researcher, the ability to make a recent discovery and take a three- to four-month procurement cycle on a single cell sequencing project down to as little as two weeks—it effectively blows the researchers minds. They’ve realized that that lower cost enables them to iterate faster,” says Stephan.
This is one of the things Meenta has learned—a marketplace with available sequencing lanes and a variety of pricing options allowed for a researcher to choose between price, quality, and speed. That value to the researcher—the ability to change how you want to shop—has never been available for science.
This is echoed by the groundbreaking researchers who have been early users of Meenta’s platform. Chad Moles, MA, Chief Science Officer of Humane genomics, has said it’s allowed his team to expand their novel oncolytic virus platform by an order of magnitude.
Humane Genomics’ experience with previous sequencing outsourcing companies was lackluster and wait times were a hindrance, with two-month turnarounds for important cancer samples. “By the time we had usable data in hand, it was two months down the road. Before our ability to leverage Meenta’s platform, we sort of struggled with whether it was worth the time and money to sit around waiting for data. Having RNA-seq data turned around with Meenta sort of got us, and continues to get us, to next steps in our research,” says Mr. Moles.
With Meenta, says Mr. Moles, complete transparency existed between his team and the core site. Humane Genomics was in touch with the Meenta’s partner lab and had usable information in two weeks vs. two months. Not only did Humane Genomics benefit in terms of the actual time cost associated with it, but through the researchers’ abilities to ‘shop science.’
The idea that the researcher can look at what is available right in this marketplace and say, ‘okay yeah this is great, this is what we want, and this option is a little bit high priced,’ is of tremendous value. “Meenta says ‘here’s four great options I think cover the spread of things that work for you.’ And we say, ‘this works for us, great.’ And then we’re on to the next experiment,” says. Mr. Moles.
Having a fully curated list of cancer and viral control targets allows Humane Genomics to move forward concurrently with building, testing and designing new oncolytic viruses. Because of the quick data turnaround time, it informed some of the team’s designs, based on previous PCR experiments. Ultimately, it allowed them to make viruses that were even more efficacious in vitro. “Because Meenta allowed us to tap RNA-seq in the order of time they guarantee, we were seeing those effects output in our clinical models directly,” he says.
As Mr. Moles looks to home in on new disease indications, he’ll continue to use the platform. With Meenta, the team can quickly iterate, sequence and validate. “We can say ‘okay here’s our top receptors, here’s our top genes.’ Great, let’s design it, print it, start testing, and now the turnaround time for us, having that upstream element informing our design has made us even faster. We can design and build a virus in a week now.”
“The turnaround time Meenta guarantees, having that upstream element informing our design has made us even faster. I mean we can design and build a virus in a week now.”
Mr. Moles says the team can continue expanding its library, since their adoption of the platform. Ideally, they can use current data and methods, but also leverage Meenta to rapidly learn something new. “That turnaround time is what was impacting us before, And now, with Meenta’s two-week turnaround guarantee, we can keep the cycle turning—design, build, test, learn really quickly. And That’s really where we’ve benefited from Meenta.”
COVID-19 as The Transition Catalyst to Meenta’s Long-Term Vision
The first three or four years were spent figuring out how to prove the marketplace was needed—that it would work. Keeping Meenta highly focused around what its initial customers and investors cared about was helpful to advancing the endeavor forward. Meenta’s relatively simple marketplace evolved rapidly to one that’s become much more nuanced with a lot of stakeholders.
The biggest change for the company has been the rapid transition in focus from pure research to clinical testing, says Stephan, who notes that the platform went from four to 2,322 researchers in a matter of months. “We’ve always known that long term, there was an arc, and COVID acted catalytically to lower the activation energy for our transition from the focus we had at the company’s inception to our longer-term vision of tipping the scales in favor of bench-to-bedside impact,” he says.
Meenta has brought in a lot more vision. In the research space specifically, the team needed to come to understand some of the positive, disruptive consequences when a new marketplace comes online.
Rare Disease Advocates Tip the Scales as Third Party to The Marketplace
When members of the team talk with parents about the marketplace and what it offers, the feedback is markedly different from the typical platform user. Usually, this is because they are a parent of a child with a rare disease, almost always for which no therapy exists. The parents care about driving forward awareness and research, and thus are keenly attuned to Meenta’s potential for accelerating change. “Several parents have touted the benefits of funding individual members of Meenta’s large research network. The aim is to reduce the cost for research that touches the rare disease of concern for these parents,” says Stephan.
Solving the problem of choice in science, and its convergence with the revelation of an underlying need for rare disease advocates to accelerate specific research on the platform—it’s of incredible substance and bears tremendous disruptive potential. “That third party can come through and say, if you’re working on these three genes, in combination, on any research at all, those things are directly linked to the rare disease on which I wish to push research forward, and we want to fund it,” says Stephan.
The ‘Sequencing Superhighway’ as a Catalyst for Cures
The problem Meenta is solving is invisible and pervasive. Noting that well over 50% of instruments sit idle at any given time, Stephan draws an analogy between economic productivity’s relationship to wealth at a national level, and—potentially—the correlation of scientific and translational medical innovation with academia’s utilisation of its sophisticated scientific infrastructure. “What happens when you get a 5% increase in the utilisation of that investment in these incredibly powerful machines?” asks Stephan. “There’s no word that describes what happens—is it that the number of discoveries per month go up? We don’t have a metric in economic terms, yet,” he notes.
Ultimately, at Meenta we hope that, through our sequencing superhighway, we act as the catalyst to solve the larger problem of accelerating research from the lab—to the clinic.
“If a parent ever came up to us at Meenta and said, ‘my child received their lifesaving therapy a little bit faster than they would have without you,’ that would be my professional and personal zenith,” says Stephan. Abstracting to broader patterns of altruism organisationally, Stephan notes that abdication of such roles in society has influenced the company’s vision. “It bothers me that nations don’t do the right thing. It also bothers me when the wealthy don’t use their money to improve the world,” says Stephan.
In the bigger picture—from bench to bedside—keeping the ‘design, build, test, learn quickly’ cycle going, has been the key benefit of working with Meenta. When Humane Genomics came to Meenta, they hoped the team could help them accelerate an important osteosarcoma canine disease model project. The prognosis, for canines, is 72 days. With other companies’ two-month turnaround times, Humane Genomics had no time to build a therapy, test, and get a quick test on patient samples. In a translational context, two months means a lot.
“We were validating our platform with canine cancers, but now we’re targeting human cancers.” If you can learn fast, you have a huge advantage. That’s why it meant so much to us to have Meenta’s turnaround times,” says Mr. Moles.
“The team is pulling a heart heavy wagon. It’s akin to Don Quixote,” says Stephan. “One has to believe what no one else will believe. And, you have to believe it for a long time, and we’re just getting to the point where enough people are believing. So, more believers sounds good. Unlike Don Quixote, we are not fighting windmills. We are fighting giants.”
Cures shouldn’t be left waiting in the sequencing queue. Meenta can help unfreeze your research.
See our DNA Sequencing Services here: https://www.meenta.io/product-category/life-sciences/dna-sequencing/
Business Development Executive