Clear Labs wants to revolutionise food safety globally through its Clear Safety platform, an automated testing system based on Next Generation Sequencing (NGS). The innovation is a “vast improvement” over existing polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, the company claims.
Advantages include needing only one test to identify multiple pathogens with multi-target analysis that increases throughput and reduces costs. It is also more accurate than other testing methodologies, Clear Labs co-founder Mahni Ghorashi told FoodNavigator.
Clear Safety combines state-of-the-art NGS sequencing, advanced microbiology, robotic automation, data science, and software analytics to significantly lower costs while achieving 99.9% accuracy.
‘We expect to unlock a $100bn opportunity’
These unique attributes – and in particular the number of data points unlocked by NSG – mean that the potential market for the technology is vast, Ghorashi said.
Clear Labs already has over 40 customers globally, including leading food brands and service labs around the world.
During an initial pilot program, Clear Labs enrolled companies constituting 90% of the US poultry market, 85% of the pet food market, and 50% of the US’s third-party service labs. The company is currently conducting customer evaluations in preparation for general availability.
“As a part of the pilot, we have been conducting customer evaluations, comparing our Clear Safety platform side-by-side with existing testing solutions. Our platform has outperformed on every measure and so far, we're seeing a 100% adoption rate by our pilot customers,” Ghorashi said.
“We are [initially] going after the routine pathogen market, which represents a $6B market… But with the amount of data that NGS throws off – around 1M data points per sequencing run – we expect to unlock a $100bn opportunity above and beyond routine pathogen testing in fields including: predictive risk assessment, agri-genomics, food traceability, nutrigenomics, and new product development.”
The platform supports analysis for authenticity, GMO, and microbiome testing.
In the first phase of expansion, concentrated on the routine pathogen market, Ghorashi revealed Clear Labs focused on markets that run high volumes of salmonella testing poultry and pet food.
The next step will be to expand the breadth of pathogen support available: “Additional pathogen support will be rolled out in 2019. We'll move into markets that focus more on E. Coli, listeria, and campylobacter as we expand our platform.”
The ‘new standard’ for routine food safety testing
This ambitious plan is supported by a capital injection secured through a recently completed Series B funding round, led by Menlo Ventures. Other venture capital groups – Wing VS, Dentsu Ventures, Felicis and Khosla – also participated alongside a number of unnamed food processors.
The $21m raised brings Clear Labs’ total funding to $45m. The cash will be used to ramp up its commercial operations and build new features for Clear Safety.
“In addition to building out our platform so that we can go after new markets, we're also using the funding to expand our commercial operations,” Ghorashi explained.
“We expect to increase our market share in the food safety world considerably thanks to this funding round and future funding. We are the only automated NGS-based platform on the market and we are at least 2-3 years ahead of any possible competition, so it's reasonable to expect that Clear Labs will become the new standard for routine food safety testing.”
‘We can eliminate recalls’
Ghorashi believes that the accuracy and cost-competitiveness of Clear Safety means that the company can contribute to significantly improving food safety standards across the board. “Because our platform can achieve 99.9% accuracy (higher than any other test on the market), we believe we can effectively eliminate recalls and the foodborne illnesses they cause. This, combined with the economic incentive of Clear Safety, will have a huge impact on the market,” he predicted.
Ghorashi does not underestimate the importance of providing a cost effective solution for food makers. Clear Safety delivers this because the ‘all-in-one’ test means it can perform simultaneous molecular characterization on a single sample, eliminating the need for multiple tests.
Clear Safety can also help food makers drive down the cost of recalls, the entrepreneur continued. “Because we essentially eliminate false-positives and false-negative results, we will also help our customers reduce the direct costs associated with a recall and the operational costs associated with holding inventory when a false-positive occurs.”
According to a study by the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) in the US, direct expenses associated with a recall total an average of $10m per incident.
Going it alone
Clear Labs’ founders are not currently entertaining the idea of selling the business to a larger corporation, although the company is working with third parties to scale up distribution.
“Right now, we sell directly to food manufacturers who have in-house microbiology labs. We also sell to third-party service labs, who would provide our services and bioinformatics to the food companies they support.
“In short, we will remain an independent company, but we will leverage distribution channels that help us achieve broad market adoption.”