Finch Therapeutics Tracks Data from Fecal to SQL

Finch Therapeutics is looking to stamp out one of the most deadly, costly diseases we face today. By focusing its research around Clostridium difficile (C. diff) and dysbiosis of the microbiome, the Massachusetts-based biotech company born out of the non-profit OpenBiome is developing novel therapies that will help serve patients with serious and unmet medical needs.

The core of Finch’s business revolves around fecal samples – they collect stool “donations” and provide Fecal Microbiota Transplants (FMT), a purified stool treatment to patients dealing with C. diff, which helps restore balance in the microbiome. Throughout that process, Finch collects data on every step of the supply chain: metrics on donor profiles, data from processing donations, information from turning donations into treatments and then manufacturing and fulfillment data in partnership with OpenBiome.

Their therapies are positioned to make an impact not only for those with C. diff., but across a wide range of medical conditions associated with the microbiome. With lives on the line, Finch is always looking for ways to make the most of their data – in 2017, they turned to Sisense for Cloud Data Teams to provide a comprehensive data analytics platform that would allow them to perform cross database joins and fully understand every aspect of their business data.

Supporting Smart, Real-Time Data Access

Senior Manager of Product Operations Gina Mendolia has been with Finch and OpenBiome for several years, long enough to see the company evolve to needing its own SQL database to house all of its manufacturing and inventory tracking data.

“We got to a point where we wanted to do analyses that would be best viewed on a dynamic dashboard,” said Mendolia. “We started looking for a business analytics tool that would allow us to view operational data in real-time, so that day-to-day operators could see what’s happening and high-level senior management could see the healthiness of our day-to-day functionality.”

Mendolia and her team identified a wide range of features that made Sisense for Cloud Data Teams stand out from the crowd. Above all, the reliable, real-time nature of the dashboards was incredibly valuable across the organization for accessing up-to-the-minute metrics.

“Early on with Sisense for Cloud Data Teams, I was able to write queries in a meeting and pull up the visuals right there,” said Mendolia. “We don’t have to write that question down as an action item and transfer it to an analyst after the meeting to circle back next week. We can pull insights up immediately and make our meeting far more efficient.”

Today, Finch’s C-suite has immediate access to a Sisense for Cloud Data Teams dashboard with broad overall metrics, which they can access by logging in or view on a large display screen near their desks that constantly updates with new information.

Shifting from Ad Hoc to In-Depth

Data Analyst Jacob Dixon has been Finch’s most active analyst on Sisense for Cloud Data Teams, having built out dashboards and connected databases for many departments across the business, ranging from individualized dashboards to cross-functional ones that show sales and manufacturing data and overarching use of Finch’s platform. He says the addition of Sisense for Cloud Data Teams has made a significant, positive impact on the types of analysis he’s working on day-to-day.

“A big part of my job when I first got here was to query our database and find one-off, ad hoc answers for someone,” said Dixon. “The cool thing is, now that we’ve built out these dashboards and queries for different users, I’m not getting as many of those data requests from directors and our C-Suite – that data is readily visible to them.”

Recently, Finch began rolling out Sisense for Cloud Data Teams’s Data Discovery interface across its user base, which is even further reducing the ad hoc requests Dixon receives. Data Discovery is enabling non-technical users to drag-and-drop from curated data sets to filter and explore data on their own. In some cases, that has led Finch’s executives to spend less time searching for data – the platform has been optimized and personalized for their needs, so it’s easy for them to quickly check the data they need and then jump back into their work. However, for some data-driven teams, more access to data has actually led to the increased pursuit of advanced data insights.

“I’ve noticed many people are asking more strategic questions. They have easy access to a baseline of metrics, so instead of asking the simple question they can ask something more complex,” said Dixon. “That means I get to work on more complex, in-depth problems that leverage more of my expertise instead of one-off projects on any given day.”

Advanced Analysis with R and Python

“With Sisense for Cloud Data Teams as our single source of truth, it allowed us to have a controlled environment where we can clearly see if someone is working with the correct data. They can jump in and query the database, and we don’t have a fear that they’re modifying data, but they can still do their analysis and have their own dashboards. And then I can also access that dashboard to look at their code and queries to provide feedback really easily.”

Jacob Dixon
Jacob Dixon, Data Analyst at Finch Therapeutics

One of the capabilities that’s helped Dixon complete more advanced analytics projects is the R and Python integration added directly to the platform in early 2018. Dixon’s background was coding with R so he knew how to complete those analyses, but integrating R directly has allowed him to complete everything from straight-forward SQL to complex analytics in the same place within Sisense for Cloud Data Teams.

“For a lot of analyses, SQL does the job, but for more complex forecasting or modeling, we’re using R very heavily,” said Dixon. “Projecting out our quality review process and forecasting when we’ll have more treatments or materials available is a very important analysis, and we can now do all of that with R right in Sisense for Cloud Data Teams.”

Adding R to the platform has also helped Finch to naturally create a division of labor within the data team. Those with less technical experience are often given the work of completing basic SQL analysis, then handing off the work to Dixon and others for further modeling or creating algorithms with R. With the platform’s permission controls, Finch can control which users access which dashboards and data sets, limiting them to the workspaces that are relevant and appropriate to them.

“With Sisense for Cloud Data Teams as our single source of truth, it allowed us to have a controlled environment where we can clearly see if someone is working with the correct data,” said Dixon. “They can jump in and query the database, and we don’t have a fear that they’re modifying data, but they can still do their analysis and have their own dashboards. And then I can also access that dashboard to look at their code and queries to provide feedback really easily.”

Features That Make an Impact

Finch Therapeutics has been among the quickest to adopt new features as they are released, in an effort to maximally optimize their data analytics work. One of those recently added features is Sisense for Cloud Data Teams’s Git integration, which rolled out in September 2018 and is making an immediate impact at Finch.   

“I’m really excited about incorporating Git into the workflow of how we’re writing queries and syncing them across all the different analysts who write them,” said Dixon. “That way we can make sure all the creation and changes of queries are very collaborative and systematic.”

Among the other features that stand out for Finch’s data team is the auto complete feature that shows columns available in the table while typing SQL, making writing queries much faster. Sisense for Cloud Data Teams’ diverse options for filtering also play a critical role, enabling Finch’s users to drill down deeper on any sub-category of treatments or products they want to analyze. Sisense’s customer support team has also stood out to Finch as second-to-none – they regularly engage via the chat feature to ask questions about how to better utilize the platform.

“There have been many times where no one is around on my data team and I need a sounding board,” said Mendolia. “It’s a super nice feature, especially when you’re getting started, and when our team was very small it made us feel like a much larger team with more resources.”   

Finch is scaling so fast that they’ve only scratched the surface of what can be done with data analysis in Sisense for Cloud Data Teams. But becoming more data-driven has already made a clear impact in day-to-day operations, and helps constantly remind the team of their important company mission.