First off, I want to wish all a wonderful, healthy, and successful 2017!
We at BlueBee had a great and exciting 2016 with the continuous success of our European product rollout, our platform security confirmation with ISO27001, IGSOC, and HIPAA certification, the opening of our office in Boston, the signing on of first US customers, and of course the $11M USD capital investment that will carry us forward. We are proud of our amazing team that has achieved all of this in so little time. Now, we are excited to see what 2017 has in store for us.
Let’s quickly look at current industry trends. Then I’d like to share how the BlueBee platform is addressing these trends in the market to provide innovative solutions for our current and future customers.
The list of top trends to keep an eye on in 2017
All these trends are interconnected by how they impact the field and can’t be looked at in isolation.
Making data accessible
Data accessibility is paramount for anybody in research and the clinic. Connecting discoveries within and across research groups and institutions means the importance of data availability will continue to increase in 2017. With increased data sharing, especially in the clinic where shared data enables better diagnostics, we must be mindful of absolutely secure data transfers. To be successful here, we need to do two things: connect the different research groups with each other, and provide mechanisms to ensure that highly sensitive genetics data is fully protected when shared. Additionally, we must continue to address the different data security and protection demands of local regulatory requirements.
The BlueBee platform is designed for the researcher and clinician who shares and collaborates on data within the clinical or research space, within and across organizations, and across countries. Our platform capabilities fully support global data sharing for multinational organizations, thus removing intercontinental boundaries, while ensuring local security, compliance, and certification (as recently completed). Specific capabilities support sharing and inclusion of reference data for data analysis, access to previously processed data, and collaborative data interrogation in discovery research, clinical analysis, or drug discovery settings.
Next generation analytics
We have reached an age where the limitations of next-generation sequencing are not at the level of sequence data generation. Various sequencing technologies such as Illumina, Thermo Fisher Scientific, PacBio, or Oxford Nanopore have evolved to now include global installs of high-throughput as well as benchtop sequencers capable of addressing the needs of pretty much every researcher, clinician, or larger organization. Rather, the limitations have now shifted to the challenge of extracting knowledge from the data. Analyzing and reanalyzing sequence data will be a far bigger demand and challenge as we learn more about new incoming data. Analyzing sequence data requires complex algorithms which in turn require an infrastructure that can support the task. We will witness a data-as-a-service explosion and the need for computational infrastructure and analysis expertise.
BlueBee is moving forward with delivering more functionality and technology in 2017 that can support exactly these requirements. The sequence data analysis audience is broad and includes researchers in academia, clinical laboratory personnel in high-throughput clinical labs, and also bioinformaticians in pharma drug discovery. Delivering standardized pipeline solutions that support aspects of RNA methlylation, exome or panel sequencing, or whole genome analysis in oncology or rare disease understanding are critical to further research and clinical applications to ultimately create the expected benefit for healthcare. We will continue to add more gold standard analytical pipelines as well as reports generating actionable clinical data, based on the feedback we gathered from our customers. This market is intriguing, and we are fully aware of the need for new pipelines. Analysis expertise is hard to come by, and therefore solutions that support relevant pipelines will substantially reduce the analysis challenges. Therefore, we have made it our number one priority to work with the community, both on the commercial and the academic side to add relevant analytical solutions to the BlueBee Genomics Platform in a timely manner. It is our goal and our commitment to adapt and shift priorities as the market shifts. There are several examples that highlight how we work with the community to address market needs which includes the CECAD RNA-seq analysis pipeline or the UMC Utrecht cancer pipeline.
In 2017, clinical omics is expected to be a huge focus point touching people and impacting healthcare and with that applications are transitioning from the research to the clinical lab. We will see many new clinical implementations in pathology, oncology, or companion diagnostics, just to name a few. However, clinical use of omics is only affordable and only makes sense scale can be achieved. This applies anywhere in the world – and we need to achieve scale, but never at the cost of quality. Therefore, clinical omics is a very delicate component that requires a supportive infrastructure, high data analysis speed, high data accuracy, all at an acceptable cost without ever compromising data security. Only when all of these components are in place can clinicians and high-throughput labs collaborate effectively and harvest the fruits of their labor through clinical implementations.
The BlueBee Genomics Platform can achieve scalability via its cloud implementation which sits on top of a High Performance Computing infrastructure that ensures the highest data processing demands, including fast turnaround time of clinical findings, the clinic requires. Furthermore, the analytical pipelines are carefully selected to run in a highly secure environment ensuring compliance that not only allows researchers or clinicians to help translate research findings into clinical applications, but also to make clinical genomics a success. Lastly, the platform is built in such a way that cost can be managed within budget
Immunotherapy with emphasis on oncology and precision medicine
Next-generation sequencing applications in oncology and particular immuno-oncology have the potential to progress the field substantially in 2017. As always, however, the situation is complex with many hurdles. 2017 will be the year that we expect to gain many more insights when it comes to mutation-to-disease associations, and understanding of specific networks and their role in oncology and other diseases. Both DNA and RNA sequencing combined with advanced analytics will contribute to the elucidation of the intricacies of cancer, its associated genes, mutation network analysis, and altered gene expression. This will result in progress towards early stage cancer identification, applying companion diagnostics in cancer at a large scale, and appropriately identifying and managing relapse scenarios. Some of this is due to new technologies such as cell-free DNA and floating tumor cell analysis and advanced complex data interpretation from blood samples. This is a fascinating development at a broad scale.
In 2017, BlueBee is focusing on meaningful collaborations that support the functional applications of oncology implementations. We are working actively in this space through partnerships and collaborations with key institutions and laboratories on exciting programs to be announced throughout the year.
Successful implementation of next-generation sequencing in oncology – a current focus of precision medicine – requires the support of large cohort programs. Cohorts need to be managed, analyzed, and collaborated on to maximize the return that holds the promise for better disease understanding, improved patient healthcare, and even disease prevention. Precision medicine will take more and more center-stage as already demonstrated by pharma and diagnostics applications and large investments in precision medicine initiatives (European, US, and Asia Pacific). The therapeutic area of oncology is primed to be fertile ground for precision medicine applications as it is both broad as well as patient-centric due to the complex nature of the underlying gene regulation and interplay. Large clinical trials and cohort programs require scale through which we can better understand the underlying details of cancer. It’s the scale element where BlueBee’s solutions come in and provide an advantage. Furthermore, and forward looking, AI-enabled solutions are required. Very exciting times indeed, as we have now the technology, data, and solutions to make AI happen.
Data protection to support the community
There is nothing that defines you more than your genome, and as such the next-generation sequencing field will be penetrating the direct-to-consumer community, beyond the clinic. Direct-to-consumer genetic testing will reach new heights in 2017 and many more individuals will seek to have their genome sequenced. As a result, each of us could have our very personal data traveling the world (so to speak), which means that personal awareness of knowing and controlling your genome data will take center-stage. We will need to understand where the data is, who is accessing it for what purpose, and over what period of time. This becomes especially relevant with pharmaceutical companies eagerly seeking access to those data for target/drug discovery purposes. Working within a system that can assure full data protection for an individual as well as an organization is of utmost importance and relevance.
The BlueBee platform with its implemented security mechanisms not only allows any user to understand where and when the data has been touched, by whom, for what type of analysis, and whether the data was shared with others or simply viewed. The platform also allows the owner to directly manage who has access to his/her data at any point, and can provide patient consent with the “traveling data” if he/she wishes to do so. We must as a company and individuals handle data protection and ethical compliance with ultimate care, at the individual, provider, and clinical lab level, and this at all time. This is particularly important in the current phase where regulators are still playing catch-up.
IoT based platforms are turning into a commodity and is the approach to succeed, as it will become more evident in 2017. Nobody works in isolation; we are all part of a larger organization or community. A viral outbreak (e.g. Ebola) is affecting all of us and does not know borders. To efficiently manage a global outbreak of a new viral threat, researchers across the globe frenetically work on solving the genetics of the organism to be able to fast-track the development of a vaccine and reduce the threat. In a different scenario, one may require a diagnostic test on site (e.g. in developing countries) which involves sample sequencing and analysis. Being able to do this at the point of care setting decreases turnaround time of results and positively impacts disease control. To achieve either, one needs to connect the world and the multiple capabilities via the appropriate infrastructure/platform.
BlueBee already has two IoT components in place: 1) the direct integration of sequencers anywhere in the world, and 2) the global data management, analysis, and sharing by and with researchers and organizations across the globe via its connected, multi-site cloud infrastructure that is fully accessible via personal computers, tablets, or smart phones for task execution, and information and data retrieval. We strive to continuously build out the IoT capabilities of the BlueBee platform. Exciting examples are drug resistance tests some of our customers are releasing via the BlueBee platform with users across the globe. This test includes uploading and retrieving data via an application on remote devices which will be connected via the cloud in an IoT way to ultimately benefit the diagnosis and treatment of patients. This is an example of how we are connecting NGS applications throughout the world via the BlueBee Genomics Platform.
To sum it all up: I am truly excited about 2017 and what we will achieve as a team and a community to overcome the many challenges associated with sequence data management, analysis, and interpretation to improve patient outcome. I am excited that BlueBee is part of this movement and can play a major role via the many functional solutions we develop, going far beyond IT enablement, and addressing a broader audience in our quest to help cure diseases.
Author: Hans Cobben, CEO at BlueBee