Resolving large-scale cell culture bottlenecks for scalable and efficient bioproduction

Iris Fung

We recently sat down with Kolibri, a Paris-based biotechnology company creating the next generation of bioreactors designed to handle mammalian cells. Their first mission is to make gene therapies treatments applicable to more diseases by making gene therapy manufacturing more efficient, higher-quality, and more cost-effective. During our conversation we discussed the company’s groundbreaking science, how they’re accelerating that science with Benchling, and how they’ve established a trustworthy and secure cloud infrastructure

Could you each share a little bit about yourselves and your roles at Kolibri?

Amélie Quilichini: I’m the CEO and co-founder of Kolibri. My role in the company is to shape the strategy and the business. This means meeting with partners, meeting with investors, and making sure that everything stays on track.

Gabriel Dumy: I’m the CTO and co-founder of Kolibri. I did my PhD on acoustophoresis — on several acoustic manipulation techniques — which the Kolibri tech is based on. I primarily focused on acoustic manipulation of human cell lines themselves. At Kolibri, I supervise how we are designing the reactors; how we are making the acoustic field, and how we are designing the industrial device we ultimately want to produce.

Adrien Savy: I’m the Process Development Project Lead and lead biologist. I provide feedback on how the prototypes Gabriel and his team design affect cell growth and production when implemented in the lab.

How would you describe Kolibri’s innovation and science to someone who knows nothing about the company?

GD: We have a groundbreaking way of growing cells because we grow them in acoustic fields. This enhances their efficiency and bioproduction, and breaks through our current day limitations on cell culture scalability and efficiency.

What is Kolibri’s company vision for the next decade?

AQ: We are on a mission to unlock patient access to high value biologics, starting with gene therapies. The mission and the vision of the company is to support the current change we’re noticing in the way we do medicine, from chemical drugs to biologics. All these biologics hold a lot of potential,yet the manufacturing still presents key bottlenecks. We have this groundbreaking technology that unlocks specific roadblocks. We see ourselves as an enabler of the cell and gene therapy fields.

Where do you see gene therapy going with these more powerful tools?

GD: I see it as moving towards a larger range of diseases including large disease indications such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. If you expand gene therapy’s capabilities, you could imagine it being implemented for any indication involving dysfunctional proteins. Cost-effective gene therapy can help you conduct any protein alternation is needed into your body if you have the tools. We are offering the tools—as science continues to progress, commonplace gene therapy could become a reality.

What were the key driving factors that led you to start looking for a digital lab solution at Kolibri?

GD: We knew we would have a distributed organization from day 1: A physics team on one side, and a bio team on the other. Since we have two teams working on very different areas that would need to come together in the end, it was important to have a registry and inventory in an electronic form.

AS: I encountered Benchling at a previous job, and saw how powerful it was for tracking many moving pieces from multiple teams and building a cohesive single image of progress. The traceability that is inherent in Benchling is very appealing.

GD: The only thing keeping us back was a natural fear of bringing data online. But we had a meeting with Benchling’s head of security. We talked for an hour—it was amazing, and he walked us through the many security considerations and safeguards—and he convinced us that it was OK to trust Benchling.

This is a common fear that I hear about. What was it that convinced you?

GD: What Benchling is selling is security. You have nice features and so on—but in addition to Benchling's lab tools and features, you're also a security company. Every day you have to audit your server to qualify them. If we tried to do this at home, we would need to implement the same kind of security feature on smaller servers. But we could never do it as efficiently as a dedicated company could, since it is not part of our core mission. If you want the best service you just have to ask the experts. That’s what Benchling is in the end—an expert in sharing and securing online. It was also reassuring to hear him mention that multiple large companies use Benchling. So not only are you practiced in keeping data secure, the volumes of data you work with daily far exceeds what we are currently producing.

What is the top value add provided by Benchling?

AS: I would say being able to centralize experimental protocols, inventory, and results in a single platform. Having everything centralized enables us to speed up the testing and manufacturing of different devices. We can communicate our experimental information to our collaborators quickly and easily. This also mitigates the growing pain that many companies go through where, as teams grow, information sharing tends to slow exponentially. We’ve planned for our growth with tools like Benchling that keep our information sharing instantaneous and easy.

Tell me more about how Benchling helps you plan for growth.

GD: If I want to hire a new person we just need to add a Benchling account: It takes five seconds. They will then have access to all past protocols, past experiments, and location of the different components of the machines. So it’s essentially doing in one step what would normally take four or five steps if we were using a physical notebook.

AQ: We can also think about this in terms of growing our customer base. Let’s say that I have a European customer or US customer and we are processing the data with Benchling. Because Benchling has data centers in both the US and in Europe, we can ensure that the data stays on US soil or EU soil.

What other plans do you have for Kolibri’s future?

GD: We are looking ahead to a future where we scale up, produce more cells, and generate more data than we ever have before. To ensure that this future becomes a reality, we’re bringing on all the tools—not just Benchling for data management, but also bioreactors and other machines to make sure our capacity continues to grow.

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