Single Cell Mousetraps
A possibly inflammatory but necessary take on where we are in single cell.
Part of Thielsen’s role in the ecosystem to examine themes that we are seeing in-market, which transparently brings us to a clear, often contrarian view of the first and second order effects.
Everyone seems to have a new single cell hardware mousetrap right now, and similar to the preponderance of 7th and 8th and nth spatial genomics companies, we remain totally uninterested. Every technology you can imagine (chips, microfluidics, etc.) are in/back in the game, and the price per cell for the front-end of these assays is going to enter free fall.
In the “early” days of single cell, the challenge was cost and throughput. In one notable experience, I visited a large biotech that solved the second simply by purchasing ten 10x chromium devices and running them in parallel.
What we see now are, frankly, better mousetraps. Whether it be the ability to capture and store single cells for analysis (Honeycomb Hive) or push throughput massively (Parse Biosciences), to name two of many examples we have seen in 2022 alone – we see this next generation of companies doing good work to push down the cost of single cell sequencing; showing how 10X, with a focus on spatial, opened a lane for a crowded field; and ultimately do think this will enable more science. That being said, we are actively working with and looking for the "true" next generation of single cell inquiry.
With the focus of the past several years on RNA, T and B cell receptors, and surface proteins, we see an unmet need in assessing the functionality of these cells e.g. in cell therapy. In other words, if the first “phase” of single cell sequencing was about potential, this next one will be about driving extreme throughput, and moving to assaying reality (and … paying for sequencing). In our discussions with research scientists, they want to see something that they have not seen before – cell reality.
It's not enough to know what a cell could do, cell therapy scientists, immunologists, and other scientists are demanding to know what they are doing right now.
We remain interested in non-oligo/fluorescence consumable play here, especially in preparation that is differentiated + retains cell viability / enables cell selection. Extending our obsession on the “boring” – prep in single cell is all about encapsulation so we are excited to see new technologies there. Yet another single cell device, barcoding, or Poisson limited device for scRNA-seq ... is not where the real game-changing value creation is going to be for us.
We remain optimistic and are looking for companies that can also add prep or analysis around cell function – best is if a new form of prep brings these potentialities to reality.