Maintaining Process Control In the Cell Culture Market

Source: Hamilton Company
cell culture market interview with hamilton co at interphex

On day two of Interphex 2014, Todd and Todd interviewed Jason March, the director of marketing and sales for Hamilton Company. March discusses new developments and technologies in process control, particularly for the cell culture market, and the impact that this control has on biotech and pharma manufacturers. March mentions how critical it is to make sure everything is 100 percent in control, and how you don't want your cells to be stressed because they could potentially create endotoxins. 

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Interview Transcription: 

Todd S:             Good morning, this is Todd and Todd, live in New York, Life Science Connect Radio on location, direct from Interphex day two. Todd, we have an exciting guest up next, but wow, we're off to a good start. So far, so good.

Todd Y:             We are. Have you looked up lately, at how many more people there are now than there were four or five minutes ago?

Todd S:             I know, that's the fan club of our next guest.

Todd Y:             Is it? Oh, that's what it is.

Todd S:             He has a throng of fans surrounding the Life Science Connect booth.

Todd Y:             I thought it was us.

Todd S:             It has nothing to do with us, that I can assure you. We're joined now by Jason March. He's the director of marketing and sales, Hamilton Company. Jason, welcome to the show.

Jason:              Thank you. Thank you for the time.

Todd S:             Our pleasure, let me assure you. Jason, before we get into our conversation around all things Interphex, take a few quick seconds and tell us a little bit about you and your background.

Jason:              Sure. I've been with Hamilton Company for over ten years now, and the company, it really blows me away, every day that I'm there. Something new and exciting to talk about, and I really appreciate the opportunity to be here to talk with you and the fans you're talking about. That's my family, actually.

Todd S:             Don't love the audience. They have to admit it.

Jason:              I can't tell a lie.

Todd S:             Tell us all about Hamilton Company. What do you do and how do you serve your market?

Jason:              Sure. Hamilton Company's been around for 60 years. We started in the line of precision liquid handling, precision measurement, and since then, we've grown to four major divisions.

                        Those divisions include laboratory products group, where they make sensors, liquid handling products, and other bench top devices for analytical precision markets. Then we also have a full line of automated robotics.

                        These would be liquid handling robots. They transfer fluids for things like drug discovery, diagnostics, clinical diagnostics, those sort of markets. That's the high end robotics. A follow-in from that is another division we call the storage technologies. They make -20, -80 freezers.

                        What's unique about them is that they're automated freezers. They can go into the freezer, can grab a sample, and pick one of 20,000 or 30,000 samples out and deliver just that sample to you. The samples don't have to freeze and thaw, so it really helps the sample integrity over time.

                        That's the core focus of that company, and then specific to this market here, to the biotech and pharma market, we're showing our process analytics line. That would be pH, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, and ORP sensors. Those are online sensors, so they go into a bioreactor and they measure the bioreactor to make sure that you're maintaining a constant pH for the cells.

                        They're growing happily, there's enough oxygen for the cells to respire, and so you're trying to control the process as tightly as possible to make sure that absolutely nothing goes wrong with your cells, so you don't lose a million dollar batch if you're a big pharma company or something like that.

Todd Y:             Lots to keep track of. Just to back up a little bit and put things in a different context: talk in terms of the issues you help your customers address, and the problems you help them solve.

Jason:              Certainly. With respect to the cell culture market, the most important thing is that you have your cells in control, and that each time that you run a batch, you can expect the same exact thing. You don't want your cells to be stressed, because they could potentially create endotoxins and things like that.

                        You certainly don't want to have that into your final product, if it's a drug product, or something like that. Controlling the pH is really critical. Even if your cells are growing happily, if you have the wrong pH, you can actually yield less end product.

                        It's absolutely critical to make sure that everything is 100 percent in control, and that's what we provide for the customers, a precise measurement of what's going on in the process, so they don't have to take samples and sit there and watch it and babysit it.

                        They can develop automated rules around when do we add media, when do we adjust pH with base or acid. All those things can be controlled and real-time adjusted, as opposed to somebody having to sit there and babysit the reactor.

Todd S:             I'm struck, Jason, by your comment at the top of the show that going to work blows you away, that this organization continues to do that. Not everybody is that fortunate, to say that about the organization. Talk about the culture of your organization, and why you feel that way. What drives you each and every day?

Jason:              One thing that I think is really unique about Hamilton Company is that we strive, in any market that we enter, to be number one or number two in that market. As a privately-held company, we have the opportunity to maybe spend or invest a little bit more for the long haul, to invest in a technology which may obsolete a current technology that we're selling, because we recognize and realize that that's the future and that's the direction that the market is asking us to go. We try not to be standing on our laurels of the products we've already made, and make sure that we're making the product for the future.

Todd Y:             I understand Hamilton recently made an acquisition in the nanotech world?

Jason:              Actually, it's a company. It's a company called Fogale Nanotech, and we didn't acquire the entire company. What we did was we acquired the technology that they had. With our sensors, we recently made an innovation where we integrated a transmitter directly into our sensor, as opposed to the normal relationship where you have a sensor and a transmitter, and that transmitter sends it out.

                        It's a more expensive way to go, and it's a separate point of failure. What we've done by integrating that transmitter is we've gone from being just a sensor supplier of pH sensors, into a solution seller to the customer.

                        Now we get in, and the customers are talking to us about this is where we see our process going, this is where we want to be, and what we were seeing was a lot of talk around we want to measure CO2, we want to be able to measure turbidity.

                        These are generally measures done to get an idea of how fast your cells are growing. CO2, from the respiration of the cells, or turbidity, from the overall cell density. What they don't do is they don't actually measure the living cells in the process.

                        Instead of getting another [INAUDIBLE 00:05:44] product, like CO2, we went out and said, “How can we measure what they really want to measure, which is the living cells, the viable cells in the reactor?” We found this company, Fogale, who had a technology that uses capacitants to do just that.

                        Their probe in this technology, which we purchased, is a capacitants probe and an optical density probe, can actually go into a process and tell you how many live cells you have, and measure the growth rate of those live cells over time. You get a true measure of just the live cells, and not the entire cell mass. If something's dying off, you can tell right away in the growth rate, and be able to adjust in real time.

Todd S:             Well, Todd and I certainly appreciate the idea of cannibalizing older products to advance the common good, but talk about this new technology. Why is it so much better than traditional methods?

Jason:              Sure. Traditionally, if you wanted to know, you could get indications, like I said, with turbidity of the total cell mass. But if you wanted to know exactly how many cells were alive, you'd have to take a grab sample. You'd have to manually go to the reactor, grab a portion of the thing, take it to the microscope and do a trypan blue or something like that, and see how many cells are alive, manually counting.

                        With this technology, you're able to, in real time, without having to go to the reactor, get an idea of where your growth rate is, and get an idea that this is when we should inoculate, this is when we should add various medias, this is when we should harvest the cells. It gives them this real time, as opposed to snapshots over time.

Todd Y:             It's so easy to get wrapped up and fascinated by this technology, all this process control, at such a fine level of being able to respond and react to it. At the end of the day, I've got to pay the bill. What kind of financial impact does this level of control have on a manufacturer?

Jason:              The probe itself is not cheap. I'm not going to go down that road, but what it gives you is the ability to not have to have somebody, as I said, babysitting the reactor. But if you have a facility in an R&D that maybe has 50 to 80 reactors simultaneously running, that's a lot of babysitting.

                        It's a lot of people. The manpower is definitely one aspect of it, but really, it's the consistency of the batch, as we talked about earlier, making sure that you're doing the things at the precise point that the cells need additional growth media, or they need pH adjusted, or they need to be harvested.

                        It affects your yield downstream, and in the end, some of these companies are running a batch that could be a million dollars yield of product, at the end. If you can improve the yield by five and ten percent, because you've precisely timed all of your actions, that's really the true benefit of this, is getting and seeing exactly what's going on with the cells, and then adjusting the process accordingly.

Todd S:             I just want to be real sure that the audience is clear on the markets that this is targeted to. If you don't mind, run through that real quickly for us.

Jason:              It really fits a lot into the biotech and the pharma market. That's really our core focus right now. Since it's recently acquired, it was just in December, we're in an evaluation phase of the technology, making sure that it fits under what Hamilton expects of a product when it goes to market, making sure that customers, when they get it, are going to be happy with the quality and the integrity.

                        Right now, we're really evaluating where it can fit. For us, we know there are opportunities in breweries, we know there are opportunities outside of the biotech and pharma, but it's really Hamilton's focus to be number one or number two in the biotech and pharma. To circle back on that, this is why we acquired the product, and this is what we're focused on for now. But we know it has future opportunities.

Todd S:             The biotech and pharma execs I know are constantly asking me two questions: What have you done for me lately and what are you going to do for me next? Talk about that second question a little bit. What are you going to do for me next?

Jason:              As I mentioned before, we have the Arc product line. That's a product where we integrated the transmitter into the technology, into the sensor itself. Down the road, once we get established with the existing transmitter sensor integration that we purchased from Fogale, the goal is to then make it into the Arc product line, where we get rid of the transmitter altogether, and we really simplify the whole thing for the customer. We just hand you a probe that gives the data directly into your process control system.

Todd S:             You're exhibiting here at Interphex. Why? What are the goals and objectives here at the show?

Jason:              We want to get more customers and getting out in front of the customers, this is our opportunity, the coming out party for Fogale. This is where we're at, year after year, but this year we have something particularly interesting to talk to the customers about. The response has been quite good.

Todd S:             Outstanding. Alright, Jason, before I let you go, how can people get in touch with you and learn more about Hamilton Company?

Jason:              Hamilton Company's website is the best resource, HamiltonCompany.com.

Todd S:             Alright, Jason March, director of marketing and sales at the Hamilton Company, Jason, it was great to have you. Thanks so much for stopping by and joining us.

Jason:              Thank you.

Todd S: Alright, that wraps up this broadcast.  On behalf of our guest, Jason March, my co-host, Todd Youngblood, I'm Todd Schnick