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transmitted to a cloud service where it is stored and analyzed. Vium says scientists can monitor the animals and access the information from anywhere via an online portal, and that its system has controls to minimize human interaction with the animals, which should reduce possible study errors.
According to Robertson, there are a few key advantages to this approach. One is speed. Typically, if a researcher wants to run an animal study, it’ll call up a contract research organization, which will send out a representative, and then “spend typically weeks” going back and forth with the CRO on how to run the study and getting a price quote. Vium replaces this with an online research suite; a researcher types in how the experiment should be run, and gets a price.
Another difference is the amount of data being collected. With traditional methods, Robertson says, a technician walks around with clipboard, looks in a cage, logs an observation, and that’s “the only data point you get for a whole day.” All those observations are put into a report that can take weeks to put together, Robertson says. Vium replaces that process with a sort of digital health tracking system, in which an array of sensors track the mice all day, capturing data about their behavior and physiology, and computers log the information. Researchers can adjust their experiments or make decisions on experimental drugs as the data come in, rather than waiting for a report. And because they’re getting more data, researchers can use fewer animals, Robertson says.
Additionally, this should lead to fewer human interactions with the mice, which view humans as predators and go into fight or flight mode when they’re picked up. Less interaction, Robertson says, can lead to less variable results.
Vium has done “a number of scientific studies” over the last three years to prove its claims, Robertson says. The startup has been applying its approach to testing drugs for a variety of diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, leukemia, and liver fibrosis, and has been working with select customers in an invitation-only beta mode. The company will be putting its technology on display at the BIO International Convention next week in San Francisco, and is now officially making the technology broadly available to large and small pharmaceutical companies and academic labs.
Vium charges a fee for each experiment. Robertson wouldn’t disclose specific pricing figures, but says the costs per experiment are “very comparable” to quotes from a traditional CRO.
But Vium also aims to strike deals with companies that want to bring the technology in-house. That’s a much more sizeable investment, something in the “seven to eight figure range,” according to Robertson, but Vium has to prove that its technology is worth it to customers first. He says discussions are underway, but it’ll take many such deals before Vium starts to make a big dent in the preclinical drug testing world.