We made a thing!

kitboxI’ve had a lot of jobs, but they’ve always been about building software or services — virtual stuff. Drugstore.com was fun because we shipped actual things, and visiting the warehouse was like a super-cool playground of awesome machines (pick-to-light was my absolute fav). But I’ve never actually been a part of making real, physical things for sale — until last week!

Check out our announcement of the immunoSEQ (TM!) hsTCRB kit. “hsTCRB” is apparently obvious secret code for “human t-cell receptors, beta chain,” i.e., the first of many versions of the assay that we’ll be selling in this form for research use.

This is cool because it basically explodes the volume of tests we can do. Traditionally, we’ve run a service business — folks send us physical samples (blood, tissue, etc.) and our lab deals with everything from there — DNA extraction and concentration, both amplification steps and sequencing. Only then does my team jump in, run the data through our processing pipeline and deliver results and visualizations through the immunoSEQ Analyzer.

Running a lab is a big deal — it takes equipment, sequencers, reagents, and perhaps most of all lots of people. I love our lab team and we’ll need them and more of them forever, but we simply wouldn’t be able to scale the physical processes fast and cost-effectively enough achieve our goals with an exclusively service-based business. Beyond that, lots of institutions just want to do their own chemistry, for reasons ranging from economics to privacy and environmental control.

The kit (mostly) frees us from these physical limitations and lets us scale up digitally, something I know pretty well. All those steps before the data pipeline can be done by our customers, then they use a little utility tool to send the raw sequencer output my way and we’re off to the races. Especially as we transition our pipeline up into the cloud (“on the line,” Steve!) … this gives us near infinite ability to accommodate new customers. Pretty sweet!

(You know what the limiting factor becomes? It’s the dirty secret of big data — bandwidth. Our first kit works exclusively with the Illumina MiSeq, which is a cool but mini-sequencer that generates about 1-4GB of data per run. Internally we mostly use HiSeqs, which generate 250GB of base call data alone. This stuff takes a long time to move! So much so that even on our internal networks we consider data transfer time when we’re forecasting how much we can process. Crazy.)

Anyways. Some fun issues:

  • Hey, the label printed about half a centimeter askew, and now you can’t read the unique number that is the KEY TO THE WHOLE PROCESS.
  • Wait, our customers aren’t all in Seattle. Does relative primer efficiency change at different ambient temperatures? Humidity? Altitude? Better do some tests ….. a LOT of tests.
  • Well, this is an interesting race between customs processing time and dry ice melt time…..
  • Wow, these screenshots we printed into the manual LAST YEAR don’t look right anymore…
  • I’m not actually sure if our supplier has a shelf big enough for this stuff.
  • Expiration date? Hmm. More tests.

And now, finally, our brand new sales team can get out there and sell the heck out of this thing. I’m thinking stocking stuffers for your whole family. Interested? Hit me up!

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