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No more ‘garbage in, garbage out’
WESTMINSTER, Colo.—Flagship Biosciences is expanding its reach into immunohistochemistry (IHC) and histology with the recent acquisition of IHCtech. The companies say they will work on a number of new techniques and approaches for quantitation in immunohistochemistry.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
According to Flagship CEO Steve Potts, the company was founded to deliver quantitative digital results in pharmaceutical pathology, marrying image analysis expertise with veterinary and anatomic pathology.
"We have built a network of more than a dozen IHC laboratories, many of them CLIA laboratories with specialties in areas like hematopathology, dermatopathology or gastrointestinal disease," he says. "However, it has been clear that despite the advanced approaches in digital imaging, the data and results are only as good as the underlying histology and tissue processing. Garbage in, garbage out."
Potts says the time was right for the acquisition, coming on the heels of what he describes as "a 10-year revolution going on in pathology similar to what happened in the 1990s in radiology."
"The discipline is going digital," he says. "There are approximately 100 million glass slides per year used in pharmaceutical research, from discovery through toxicology testing and into oncology clinical trials."
David Young, president of Flagship, says while his company has forged strong partnerships with a number of highly respected IHC laboratories, both within the United States and internationally, "the acquisition gives us the opportunity to internally evaluate tissue staining and implement new processes that better equip immunohistochemistry operations for use in quantitative pathology with whole-slide imaging analysis."
The acquisition gives Flagship an operating center right in the Aurora, Colo.-based Anschutz Medical Campus, a fast growing center of clinical operations in the Rocky Mountain region.
"We are also building a large laboratory near the Phoenix International Airport," says Potts. "The locations of these two laboratories right by major airports are no accident. Tissue analysis is a logistics business, and being a taxi ride from major airline hubs is a major advantage to preserving tissue quality and faster turnaround."
Flagship will retain IHCtech's employees, he adds.
"We will continue to keep the branding of IHCtech, as its owner, Patsy Ruegg, has built a strong reputation for high-quality and excellent customized work in discovery IHC and dual and triple staining," he says.
Founded in 2002, IHCtech has developed a reputation for advanced IHC and histology procedures, meeting the needs of pharmaceutical and academic investigators. IHCtech has optimized more than 350 antibodies for pharma and academic clients, says Ruegg, the company's owner and founder.
"Their approaches to whole-slide analysis and commitment to quantitative pathology makes a perfect partner with IHCtech's expertise in high-quality histology and immunohistochemistry," she says. "We enthusiastically look to further innovation by evaluating all aspects of the tissue chain—tissue procurement, fixation and processing, with the ability to measure with whole-slide analysis how each of these steps contribute to variability in the overall process."
Potts notes that "most of these 350 antibodies are things the clinic has not heard of, although some are ones that will eventually make the clinic in pharma companion diagnostic programs."
Going forward, Potts says a short-term goal is to integrate all the companies' digital processes into one histology operation.
"We have a tissue-tracking electronic system similar to the Amazon 'Where's My Stuff' or FedEx tracking—so we know which stage our projects at in—from tissue procurement, to tissue processing, to IHC, to whole-slide scanning, to image analysis and pathologist report and biostatistics," he says.
The combined companies hope to reinvent how histology is approached, with every change to the tissue standardized and measured with image analysis downstream.
"There are a number of exciting innovations we are working on related to new approaches in histology opened by a digital end product," Potts says.
Potts adds that Flagship continues to consider additional acquisitions that fit into its goal of being the preeminent tissue analysis services company in the pharmaceutical sector.
"There simply are not very many IHC laboratories that have the expertise in discovery IHC that is only developed with years of practices," he says. "It is far easier to purchase histology equipment than it is to find expert histologists who understand that everything you do to a piece of tissue will affect the end result when it is measured by a computer."