Biomanufacturing, Our Team

From Tech Transfer to Data Analysis and Beyond: Culture’s BAM Team Partners with Clients from Scale-Down to Scale-Up

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Diana Eng is the director of Culture’s Bioprocess Alliance Management (BAM) team where she leverages her experience in fermentation and technology transfer to support Culture’s clients. We sat down with Diana to learn about the BAM team.

Diana Eng headshotMattie: What brought you into the world of bioprocessing?

Diana: I first entered the field as a research associate at Amyris. It was a small startup at the time and I was in the biology group where I supported strain engineering and strain screening. Because it was a small startup company, the different groups helped each other out when needed. We did pretty much everything ourselves, from making our own media and setting up and taking down bioreactors to running analytical samples on the HPLC and everything in-between. It was exciting! I had so many bright colleagues at Amyris who mentored us more junior scientists.

There was a close collaboration between Amyris’ strain engineering group and fermentation scientists which is what got me interested in fermentation – I was fascinated by it! Eventually one of the directors of the fermentation team invited me to join their group. On the fermentation team, I was a part of process development and scale-up and supported tech transfers to CMOs. I traveled to many CMOs around the country which was a great learning experience since I was involved in preparing the process documentation needed for tech transfers. I learned what data is essential to provide the CMO and what other information is helpful to share so they can successfully execute the work.

After 10 years at Amyris I made the move to Bolt Threads, another biotech startup. At a small company, there's a lot of room to influence and build out different team roles and projects, and to have more ownership and independence to lead tech transfer projects. At Bolt I did more tech transfers with more CMOs, scaled-up processes from bench scale to the 3000-liter level and higher, and I had more opportunities to lead those efforts. I participated in early CMO conversations to prepare acceptance criteria, discuss process phases, and review equipment and technical feasibility. Over my six years at Bolt, I went from being a fermentation scientist to the Associate Director of Fermentation. There was a lot of learning during those years!

 

Mattie: What brought you to Culture Biosciences?

Diana: I had been following Culture for a number of years and I was so intrigued with their concept! I see Culture’s model as the modern-day solution for biomanufacturing – to be able to bring together fermentation, bioprocessing, software, and hardware to create this platform where clients can design their experiments and monitor everything as it proceeds without having to be in the lab.

So, I was very excited when Culture reached out to me about heading up their Bioprocess Alliance Management team – affectionately known as the BAM team. They wanted someone who had worked on the customer side of the table and could build an effective team that would anticipate and meet client needs. I knew that my understanding of fermentation, the bioprocessing workflow, and what it takes to have a successful relationship with a CMO would make me relatable to Culture’s clients.

 

Mattie: Tell me about the BAM team and what it does.

Diana: The BAM team is at the center of the Culture–Client relationship. Each client has one BAM Lead for all of their projects. We’re here to support our clients as well as our in-house operations team which includes BD, operations, software, and hardware teams. We work closely with our clients from tech transfer through the investigational and data analysis stages and beyond. This level of collaboration is important to the success of the client’s work.

During tech transfer, we work with the client to understand their process, criteria, decision trees and action plan, red flags, and so on. Our tech transfer process and acceptance criteria framework ensure that client processes successfully scale down into Culture’s reactors before starting a guaranteed capacity contract. We also make sure the client understands our platform, how their technology will be implemented at Culture, and how they will have cloud-based access to their investigations and data.

Throughout the bioprocessing phase, we check in regularly with the client. I know from experience that radio silence is not good. Our goal is ultimately to facilitate communications through Culture’s Cloud Console where runs are entirely planned, scheduled, designed, and updated through our software interface. While we build that, we need to ensure seamless communication and have been integrating with other messaging platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Slack.

During the data analysis phase, we work with the client to make sure they are getting the type of data they need, ensure any process tweaks are compatible with our technology, and discuss other ideas they might have to execute the next experiment. 

 

Mattie: What does a typical day look like for you?

Diana: Every day I check in with my team to see if and where I can help them. The BAM team also meets weekly to review all client projects and see how they are going. Some may need a bit more attention one week, a technical lead’s input may be needed, or brainstorming a solution might be helpful.

Depending on what phase my client projects are in, I may work on technology transfers, respond to calls or requests, meet with clients, work with the bioprocess engineering team to help resolve technical and operational issues, collaborate with the product and software team to develop features that are important for clients, and various other tasks. I check on the status of each of my client projects to keep track of action items that are in the hands of Culture scientists or the client. I also review each project’s Console to see what is happening and review any observations posted for the run. We are always striving to be as proactive and ahead of schedule as circumstances allow.

Client feedback is important to us, so I may have a client feedback session to see if there are other tools or features that we can provide, or if there is any aspect of the partnership that could be improved. The last thing we want is to find out six months too late that a client was unhappy about something that could have been resolved within a week!

And I think that's why I'm so excited to be in this role, trying to bring best practices to Culture and our clients. We really want to be an extension of the client’s lab or, if they don't have a lab, to be their lab.

 

Mattie: You’ve mentioned the Console a few times. Can you tell us about Culture’s Cloud Console and what it enables scientists and their teams to do?

Diana: Our Cloud Console is like a LIMS with a client-facing component. The Console gathers and organizes the experimental data for a client’s project, and the client can access it remotely as if it was in their own lab. It also captures the observations and notes of the experiment so the client can get further insights into their project.

Clients are able to interrogate their data in different ways right on the Console – they don’t have to wait for the batch record and then use Excel to evaluate it. This is important for our clients because each one has specific needs for data evaluation. Our software team is continuously adding functionality to the Console in response to client needs. The BAM team plays an important part in relaying client-specific needs to the Console team.

 

Mattie: How else is Culture making bioprocessing easier and faster for clients?

Diana: We work with a wide variety of clients. Some are small startups and others are large established companies. The startups usually have a scientist who designs their process and knows what is needed, but they don’t have the time or money to build out a fermentation team, set up an in-house bioreactor lab, etc. I've been there, and I know that process is really slow. So Culture makes it easy for them to get started on their experimental work sooner rather than later, and without huge capital investments.

And then we have other clients that are more established. They have their own lab and have a lot of strains they want to screen or development work across different projects, but they don't have the capacity or space to expand. Culture enables those clients to get more data faster and helps them continue to grow in scale.

 

Mattie: You’ve been on the client’s side of the table. As someone who could have been a client of Culture’s in your previous role as a fermentation scientist, how could Culture have allowed you to work differently? What could it have helped you achieve?

Diana: When I was doing fermentation, I would have loved to focus on designing and analyzing experiments rather than managing a bioreactor lab. That would have allowed me to make faster progress because the overall process would have been more efficient.

It takes time and money to build out a fermentation operation—to hire the right people for specific roles, then get the right equipment and commission it—I know there are many inefficiencies with that process. To have had Culture available and be able to say, “I want these runs and data next month” and get them would have been amazing!

This is just what biotech companies get when working with Culture. A great example of this is our client Sestina Bio where Mona Mirsiaghi, Sestina’s Director of Fermentation, works directly with Culture to run experiments instead of running an in-house bioreactor lab. She manages her experiments through Culture’s Cloud Console in much less time than would be required by an in-house lab.

 

Mattie: What does the day-to-day work look like for a scientist who works with Culture in contrast to that of a scientist who runs all their experiments internally?

Diana: Culture’s clients are able to focus their energies on experimental design and data analysis. They don’t have to operate their own bioreactors or even hire and manage an in-house team of operators. This doesn’t mean they have no input during their runs – they just use our Cloud Console to monitor their runs, make process adjustments, and evaluate their data. And they can do all of this from anywhere, so they have more flexibility in their schedule.

Also, when a client is ready to expand, they don’t have to worry about building new lab space, installing new bioreactors, etc. They just reach out to Culture to get their experiments up and running.

 

Mattie: What do you want your clients to expect when working with you?

Diana: An important thing for them to embrace is that this is a partnership in which both parties have ownership and responsibilities. Culture is here to help facilitate our clients’ vision and goals. I’d like them to think of Culture as their own bioreactor lab, but a better alternative: we run the lab for them and conduct the fermentation experiments so they don’t have to maintain banks of reactors or manage in-house teams.

Given that our clients are designing the experiments, we need them to be very plugged into the process. They do so mainly through Culture’s Cloud Console. Plus, each client has one BAM Lead who is their primary point of contact throughout the process, and a Technical Project Lead who works with them to translate their experimental design into our own records and then supports experiment execution. Through the Console, BAM Lead, and Technical Project Lead, our clients have the same level of awareness and control over their experiments that they would have with an in-house bioreactor lab – it’s just less labor-intensive for them.

 

Mattie: What does your ideal client look like?

Diana: I would say the ideal client, regardless of their size, is one that has a scientist or director who is very knowledgeable about bioprocessing and knows exactly what they want. That really helps with the collaborative nature of our work and enables them to complete their work without having to build or expand a lab. And after establishing a partnership with Culture, the company can continue to grow down the road and increase its scale and capacity.

 

Mattie: Based on conversations with our clients, what are the biggest challenges in biomanufacturing right now?

Diana: We recently compiled and reviewed our client feedback and one of the biggest challenges clients listed was having the capacity to do everything they want to do. They want to do more assays and investigations, work with different organisms and products, and look at different measurements in multiple ways. There are a lot of biotech companies out there that face the same challenge. This is the challenge that Culture is uniquely positioned to meet.

Our clients also reported wanting a software platform that will support all of the “more” they want to do. They see the value in our client Console, particularly the live run monitoring, and appreciate the data transparency and having all of their data at their fingertips. That makes them want even more flexibility for data analysis, plotting, interpretation, and reporting – all in real time and with the utmost security. These client needs are what drive Culture to continuously improve our cloud-based customer platform.

 

Mattie: What do you enjoy most about your work on the BAM team?

Diana: I enjoy interacting with clients and working with them to find the solutions they need. A lot of this is thanks to our platform which solves so many inefficiencies that I've seen in the industry. To hear a client say “Culture helped us move from here to here in such a short time” is rewarding!

It’s also wonderful that I’m able to focus on fermentation and connect with so many people in the industry, including peers that I worked with that are now at other companies. 

 

Mattie: What are you most excited about for this year? 

Diana: I'm excited to see the growth in our Cloud Console and the development work that we have planned for it because that's our main software and everything runs through it. There’s a lot to do, and we have a bunch of new hires in place, so I'm looking forward to seeing those capabilities get built out in the next year.

It’s also exciting to know that as word spreads of our clients’ experiences with Culture, more biotech companies will be open to investigating the concept. Once they do, they’ll learn that by working with us, they won’t be giving up control over their work – they’re actually getting the best possible execution of their own experiment designs.