No more ‘garbage in, garbage out’

Seeking better data analysis in histology, Flagship Biosciences acquires IHCtech

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WESTMINSTER, Colo.—Flagship Biosciences is expanding itsreach into immunohistochemistry (IHC) and histology with the recent acquisitionof IHCtech. The companies say they will work on a number of new techniques andapproaches 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 inpharmaceutical pathology, marrying image analysis expertise with veterinary andanatomic pathology.
"We have built a network of morethan a dozen IHC laboratories, many of them CLIA laboratories with specialtiesin areas like hematopathology, dermatopathology or gastrointestinal disease,"he says. "However, it has been clear that despite the advanced approaches indigital imaging, the data and results are only as good as the underlyinghistology and tissue processing. Garbage in, garbage out."
Potts says the time was right for the acquisition, coming onthe heels of what he describes as "a 10-yearrevolution going on in pathology similar to what happened in the 1990s inradiology."
"The discipline is going digital,"he says. "There are approximately 100 million glass slides per year used inpharmaceutical research, from discovery through toxicology testing and intooncology clinical trials."
David Young, president of Flagship, says while his companyhas forged strong partnerships with a number of highly respected IHClaboratories, both within the United States and internationally, "theacquisition gives us the opportunity to internally evaluate tissue staining andimplement new processes that better equip immunohistochemistry operations foruse in quantitative pathology with whole-slide imaging analysis."
The acquisition gives Flagship anoperating center right in the Aurora, Colo.-based Anschutz Medical Campus, afast growing center of clinical operations in the Rocky Mountain region.
"We are also building a largelaboratory near the Phoenix International Airport," says Potts. "The locationsof these two laboratories right by major airports are no accident. Tissueanalysis is a logistics business, and being a taxi ride from major airline hubsis a major advantage to preserving tissue quality and faster turnaround."
Flagship will retain IHCtech'semployees, he adds.
"We will continue to keep thebranding of IHCtech, as its owner, Patsy Ruegg, has built a strong reputationfor high-quality and excellent customized work in discovery IHC and dual andtriple staining," he says. 
Founded in 2002, IHCtech has developed a reputation foradvanced IHC and histology procedures, meeting the needs of pharmaceutical andacademic investigators. IHCtech has optimized morethan 350 antibodies for pharma and academic clients, says Ruegg, thecompany's owner and founder.
"Their approaches to whole-slide analysis and commitment toquantitative pathology makes a perfect partner with IHCtech's expertise inhigh-quality histology and immunohistochemistry," she says. "Weenthusiastically look to further innovation by evaluating all aspects of thetissue chain—tissue procurement, fixation and processing, with the ability tomeasure with whole-slide analysis how each of these steps contribute tovariability in the overall process."
Potts notes that "most of these350 antibodies are things the clinic has not heard of, although some are onesthat will eventually make the clinic in pharma companion diagnostic programs."
Going forward, Potts says ashort-term goal is to integrate all the companies' digital processes into onehistology operation.
"We have a tissue-trackingelectronic system similar to the Amazon 'Where's My Stuff' or FedEx tracking—sowe know which stage our projects at in—from tissue procurement, to tissueprocessing, to IHC, to whole-slide scanning, to image analysis and pathologistreport and biostatistics," he says. 
The combined companies hope toreinvent how histology is approached, with every change to the tissuestandardized and measured with image analysis downstream.
"There are a number of excitinginnovations we are working on related to new approaches in histology opened bya digital end product," Potts says.
Potts adds that Flagship continuesto consider additional acquisitions that fit into its goal of being thepreeminent tissue analysis services company in the pharmaceutical sector.
"There simply are not very manyIHC laboratories that have the expertise in discovery IHC that is onlydeveloped with years of practices," he says. "It is far easier to purchasehistology equipment than it is to find expert histologists who understand thateverything you do to a piece of tissue will affect the end result when it ismeasured by a computer." 

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