Thomas Forest Farb-Horch is CEO and co-founder of Thrive Bioscience and a serial entrepreneur. He has started 15 software and life science companies, leading seven of them to multi-billion exits. This rich experience has left him with a knowledge set that should prove valuable to many current – and budding – entrepreneurs and company leaders, particularly any looking to make a global impact in people’s lives as well as what appeals to investors.
Q: First, what is Thrive Bioscience about and what problems does it solve?
Thrive Bioscience delivers automated imaging instruments that allow researchers to see and record changes in live cells that they have never been able to see before. By combining AI, databases, analytics, robotics, microscopy, and fluidics, our solutions vastly improve the results from the $50 billion spent per year in the U.S. alone on pre-clinical stage drug discovery and development research. We are already having a significant impact on research for infectious diseases, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases.
Q: That sounds like life-changing work. But what does it mean to the average layperson who just needs a breakthrough treatment delivered to them?
The tools Thrive Bioscience provides are transforming the speed and efficiency of bringing medicines from lab to patient. And to do this takes the power of the best ideas from multiple fields to solve the pervasive pain points and roadblocks researchers in 80,000 labs around the world face.
Even though cell culture is key to bio-medical research, it is plagued by critical problems – it is conducted manually and with minimal retention of data, similar to the way it was done 70 years ago. Thrive is bringing industrial automation to biology by providing a family of instruments and software to this neglected area so that we have better cells, better data, better experiments, and more than a miniscule chance of a drug candidate getting from lab to patients.
Q: What are the industry pain points, and market qualities, that gain the attention of investors?
Thrive’s customers are almost all the therapeutic companies you read about – any company pursuing pre-clinical research as part of drug discovery and development. Although these companies are heavily regulated by the FDA, Thrive is not, since we sell research tools. Not requiring FDA approval greatly reduces our risk and our investors’ risks.
Also, there is not just a biotech and pharma market for our instruments. The cell culture market is approximately $30 billion, with approximately one-fifth of it from industrial, agriculture, and cosmetic companies, which are the fastest-growing segments.
The poor quality of and lack of information about live cells is a critical problem in drug discovery, with high rates of mislabeling, cross-contamination, and genomic drift. Then, billions of dollars are spent on experiments to study these cells of variable and often poor quality, resulting in costly wrong experimental results.
Astonishingly, 50% to 80% of all pre-clinical research has been found, across dozens of studies, to be not reproducible. This has caused what is known as the “reproducibility crisis” in science and is one of the principal reasons for such high rates of drug development failures. Thrive is going to solve these problems with data, analytics and automation and significantly improve the efficiency, accuracy, and process of drug discovery.
We invested in building an incredible patent portfolio, with 86 patent applications and 28 patents issued. Even independent of our success, I think our investors will win either way from that investment in intellectual property.
Q: Finally, what are you most proud of throughout your entire entrepreneurial career – not just with Thrive Bioscience?
I am proud of the drugs, devices, and diagnostics that I have helped bring to patients, which have saved and improved hundreds of thousands of lives. It took passion, persistence, and resilience through dark moments. And it always took investors, staff, friends, family, early customers, and vendors who had the confidence in me and helped me do it. Along the winding road to the success of these companies, there were always many people who made a difference alongside me and after me. I am proud that I could bring them together by articulating a vision and a plan and they backed me.
There are moments that make all the hard work and stress worthwhile when it comes back to a personal level. I couldn’t help saying out of excitement a couple of months ago while receiving a vaccine, “I helped that safety syringe become a product because we wanted to reduce healthcare worker needle sticks.” And the healthcare worker is excited to meet someone involved and says, “Thank you for doing that.” I always say, “Me and a whole lot of other people.”