Applications for San Francisco (Batch 12) extended through September 15th, 2021!

Built with Biology: Aja Labs and Microterra

In this podcast, hear how Marissa Cuevas at MicroTerra is solving challenges for farmers with plant-based ingredients and how Osahon Ojeaga and Mary Ellen Moore at Aja Labs are creating plant-based hair extensions that help our planet and human rights. These IndieBio startups are blazing new trails with new leadership and new vision.

MezoMax: The Solution for Slow and Difficult to Heal Bone Fractures

mezomax

Over 600,000 people suffer from slow and difficult to heal bone fractures within the U.S. every year. These ‘non-union’ fractures are common in people with low and imbalanced hormones, such as the elderly, but may also result from infection, inadequate blood supply to the bone, and incorrect splinting. Surgery, which has a low level of success, is the current standard of care. Full recovery from non-union fracture surgery is rare and repeat surgeries are often required.

MezoMax created a first of its kind, convenient, twice daily oral formulation called MMX that works by delivering calcium directly to the bone producing cells to accelerate healing and provide for more complete bone union in non-union fractures. We asked the founder and President of MezoMax, Dmitriy Rybin, PhD., about his discovery and subsequent founding of the company:

How did you become interested in science?

DR: Science is really a tool to better structure and simplify ideas; it is also a means to channel one’s innate curiosity. I’ve always been curious about the variety of the world. My curiosity about our world is diverse, ranging from not only physics and science, but also includes non-scientific exploration. However, it is my scientific training that has allowed me to simplify and connect common principles based upon these experiences.

When did you decide to start a company, and where did your team get together?

DR: My team and I decided to officially start our company a year ago, but this is actually the result of a five year collaboration between my colleagues here in the US and in Russia. I have often thought about starting a company during my 30-year journey in science with my co-founder Dr. Girgoriy Konygin. Our shared work at the Russian Academy of Sciences has been rewarding and is the basis for our company.

How does your technology work?

DR: Our technical approach is based upon fundamental principles of solid-state chemistry reactions that take place under external mechanical loads. Sometimes although the chemical composition of a drug remains unchanged, the molecular crystal is transformed into a new state with unique physical and chemical properties, including a significant increase in biochemical activity. Using this approach, it is possible to obtain new pharmaceutical forms that may not otherwise be possible using traditional methods of fine chemical synthesis or which might otherwise be too expensive to produce.

What lessons did you learn transitioning from science to entrepreneurship at IndieBio?

DR: Entrepreneurship is a very practical, applied endeavor. An entrepreneur needs to quickly figure out who needs our product, and this became much more important to me when I started thinking like an entrepreneur. It seems rather simple, but it’s not. It’s a pretty big mindset shift. More over, it’s necessary to talk about our product in simple and clear language, and not to use ‘science speak.’ Customers need to understand what our product is and why it’s important to them. Learning to make the extraordinary and complicated be understandable, while still keep it exciting, is no small feat! We could not have adapted to this new way of thinking and articulating our value proposition as quickly as we did without the steadfast support and constant counsel of the IndieBio team. We are and will continue to be grateful for their expert advice.

How do you think your success as a company will change the medical industry?

DR: On the surface, what we do appears to be so simple! In reality, what we’ve done is to create a new and important platform for drug creation, one which is based upon solid-state mechanochemical synthesis. This approach can be used to create new pharmaceutics that were not previously possible or that were too expensive to produce. As such, we believe our approach will continue to be an important basis for much of the future for creating new pharmaceutical treatments.

What milestones are you aiming to hit in the near future?

DR: MezoMax intends to introduce our first compound, MMX, to the US in 2022 for treatment of non-union fractures. Given the extensive clinical safety and efficacy data, we are pursuing an abbreviated approval process based upon the expert advice of four independent regulatory experts. Therefore, one of our first important milestones will be for us will be to meet with the FDA to confirm this viability of our regulatory strategy by March 2019 with the intent of filing our IND by July 2019. We expect to receive our NDA early in 2022, leading to our subsequent product launch.

Watch MexoMax pitch on IndieBio Demo Day, Tuesday April 17th in San Francisco or via LiveStream. Register here!

Vetherapy: Stem Cell Therapy for Our Animal Friends

Vetherapy

We understand the benefits of stem cell therapy for humans. These amazing cells, with their self-renewal abilities, can be taken from areas where they live in the body and transferred to an injured area of the body, where they transform into the very cells that need to be replaced. Companies are making strides to make regenerative medicine more affordable and available. But what about our four-legged friends? Whether it’s a household pet or a farm animal, it’s important that they don’t suffer from a slow or disrupted healing process.

Vetherapy has harnessed the power of regenerative medicine and applied stem cell therapy to animals. They’ve created a wound healing hydrogel for external injuries as well as a stem cell therapy technology for internal injuries, which are both proven to work. We asked the company’s founder and CEO, Pedro Carvalho, more about Vetherapy:

How did you become interested in biotech?

PC: I was always interested in everything biology-related or nature-related. As I started working in regenerative medicine immediately after graduating from Veterinary School, it was always a very strong possibility for me to end up in biotech.​

When did you decide to start a company, and where did your team get together?

PC: I decided sometime during my PhD, more than 10 years ago. Our team actually got together during that time as we were all developing our graduate studies at the same research facility​, but the opportunity to found the company only came later on; we also wanted to solidify some key concepts and outcomes from the application of our technology before taking it to market.

How does your technology work?

PC: It’s difficult to pinpoint the technology itself. Besides our patented wound healing hydrogel, our stem cell therapy technology relies on many years of hands-on work in the lab. This allowed us to really understand some of the flaws and difficulties that the application of stem cells has, and optimize our technology to the best quality end-product​ on the market today. We ship our cells in our proprietary medium, ready to be injected by the vets, without any need for further processing. Our stem cells keep their viability for up to 48 hours and can be injected ​intravenously, intra-articular, epidural, intra-thecal, intra-lesional…without any concerns for any adverse reaction. This makes it extremely easy and accessible for our colleagues at the veterinary hospitals and clinics to apply it in their daily routines.​

What lessons did you learn transitioning from science to entrepreneurship at IndieBio?

PC: The mindset is totally different. IndieBio provided us with the tools we needed to gradually embrace that entrepreneur mindset​. It helped us understand what it takes to be an entrepreneur and how to transform your idea/dream into a lucrative and appealing business.

How do you think your success as a company would change the animal healthcare industry?

PC: I believe that medicine is changing and will continue to change even more in the near future. Regenerative medicine is definitely one of the fields ​that has this potential to completely disrupt the way we do medicine, and change not only the healthcare industry, but mostly benefit the people and animals treated with this approach. There are a lot of unsolvable problems for which regenerative medicine and stem cell therapies provide great solutions. The results and evidences are all over the scientific literature and we can only hope that the regulatory authorities will be able to keep up the pace.

What milestones are you aiming to hit in the near future?

PC: We want to focus on the US market and deal with all the regulatory pathways to put our products on the market. As we do this, we will continue to expand in Europe and increase our sales (reaching new markets as well). We keep a network of collaborations with academia and research centers which allows us to be always up-to-date with what is going on in this field, and always have the best solutions​ for different problems. Our main goal is to continue to have the best results, improve the quality of life of the pets we love, and thus become the leading reference on regenerative medicine for veterinary application on a global market.

Watch Vetherapy pitch on IndieBio Demo Day, Tuesday April 17th in San Francisco or via LiveStream. Register here!

Terramino Foods: Fungi as an Alternative Protein

Killing an animal and eating its flesh is not the only way to gain protein. Now more than ever, we need alternatives to conventional animal farming and fishing—not just because of animal welfare, but for human and environmental health. What’s happening now is not sustainable.

Terramino Foods uses fungi as a complete protein source which acts as a seafood alternative. Described as healthful, protein-rich, sustainable, ethical, and delicious, the company is working to help people reimagine meat and seafood with fungi, that has the proper taste, texture, and nutrition. We asked the company’s founders, Kimberlie Le and Joshua Nixon, more about their mission:

How did you become interested in science?

I don’t think either of us can remember not being interested in science. We think that science can be boiled down to just being curious and seeking answers about things around us.

When did you decide to start a company, and where did your team get together?

We started Terramino about a year ago upon completion of the alternative meat lab program at UC Berkeley which supports and helps scientists and engineers build a better food system through fixing the problems with animal agriculture/meat.  

How does your technology work?

We use fungi as our alternative protein source that creates well textured, nutritionally similar, amazing tasting seafood and meat products. We are starting with salmon and seafood products which have increased human and environmental health concerns.

What lessons did you learn transitioning from science to entrepreneurship at IndieBio?

We had already been quite immersed in entrepreneurship through UC Berkeley at the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship, however starting a company has been a learning experience in that there are always a million tasks to juggle and only a limited amount of time and resources. The biggest lesson we learned is that execution is the name of the game (thanks, Arvind) and our goal is build a transformative company that truly disrupts that way people consume meat and seafood.

How do you think your success as a company would change the seafood industry, and our environment?

We aren’t just going after seafood – we want to make a large impact on animal agriculture as a whole since it has detrimental impacts on human, animal, and environmental health. Our goal in the long run is to be able to provide a sustainable, nutritious, tasty, and most importantly accessible source of protein for every person on the planet.

What milestones are you aiming to hit in the near future?

We are going to be scaling up production in a few phases and making our processes more efficient to be competitive on price with seafood and meat products. We also want to work on formulation of a range of products that are delicious for plant and meat eaters alike, and all the picky eaters in between. Developing our product line and marketing/branding are also very important since there is a crucial education component to our products.

Watch Terramino Foods pitch on IndieBio Demo Day, Tuesday April 17th in San Francisco or via LiveStream. Register here!

Sun Genomics: Precision Probiotics Based on Your DNA

Sun Genomics

It all begins in the gut. We know that a balanced gut microbiome is key to a healthy (and happy) life. Probiotics, ingestible products that contain healthy bacteria and yeast, are available for people to buy and help with their digestive issues. But not all probiotics are created equal.

Sun Genomics found that an individual’s genome can help identify which probiotic strains are best for the person. By creating personalized probiotics, the company can eliminate the guesswork that’s involved with buying probiotics off the shelf and help people regain control of their health. We asked Sunny Jain, the company’s founder and CEO, more about their personalized probiotics:

How did you become interested in the gut microbiome?

SJ: I’ve studied Microbiology for a decade now and have always had interest in gut health. However, the real turning point was in early 2016. My son was suffering from a dysbiosis and when I went to the local grocery store to pick up a probiotic, I was faced with the realization that the consumer products on the shelf were utterly confusing. I had no idea what to choose between CFUs, strains, and the refrigerated section. So instead of picking up one probiotic, I grabbed tons off the shelf and began testing them in the lab.  My concerns were validated when the store-bought probiotics did not contain the strains listed on the bottle and failed to survive the gastric system. At that point, I custom formulated a probiotic for my son, alleviating his gut health issue. I realized that targeted probiotics were 8 times more specific and I could ensure they worked.

Sunny Jain
Sunny Jain

When did you decide to start a company, and where did your team get together?

SJ: I began the company by myself in 2016, but once I realized that I had an affordable solution for the world’s health issues, I began hiring key members of my team. We came together in a relatively auspicious way. For example, I connected with our bioinformatics hire, Thibaut Montagne, when he began following Sun Genomics’ Twitter Account.  We began building the team rapidly after Thibaut and all the pieces began to fall into place.

How does your technology work?

SJ: Sun Genomics uses next generation whole genome sequencing and a patented bioinformatics and data platform to process and analyze the DNA of its customers’ gut microbiome. We leverage existing data compiled by the Human Microbiome Project and American Gut Project and integrate that information into our existing technology. Our vast database of over 100,000 genomes allows our team of microbiome scientists to make calls related to not only bacterial strains but fungi, parasites, and viruses found in the gut microbiome, thereby allowing us to create custom probiotics for the end user.

What lessons did you learn transitioning from science to entrepreneurship at IndieBio?

SJ: IndieBio and its team challenged us to think bigger and innovate quicker. In order for me to share my findings with the world, I was going to have to move from just being a laboratorian to a entrepreneur. During our four months at IndieBio we experienced more growth than over the previous 14 months as a company. We developed and filed additional intellectual property, grew our customer base by 1000%, and hired several key employees to assist us with our growth.

How do you think your success as a company would change the healthcare industry?

SJ: At Sun Genomics we believe, as did Hippocrates, that “All Disease Begins in the Gut.” Billions of people worldwide suffer from disease states and chronic conditions that both Eastern and Western medicine have been unable to diagnose and treat. We believe the gut microbiome holds the key to alleviating some of these conditions including; arthritis, Chron’s, lupus, diabetes, IBD, IBS, colitis, obesity, and perhaps even certain types of cancers. As a microbiome health company, our vision is to not find really expensive solutions for only a few, but affordable solutions for billions of people.

What milestones are you aiming to hit in the near future?

SJ: Sun Genomics is experiencing unprecedented customer growth and soon will announce additional partnerships, publications, and commercialization milestones. We are well on our way to analyzing 10,000 microbiome profiles and becoming a leading contributor to microbiome science. We have developed core technology that is beyond probiotics. Come hear about our newest innovation at IndieBio Demo day on April 17th.

Watch Sun Genomics pitch on IndieBio Demo Day, Tuesday April 17th in San Francisco or via LiveStream. Register here!

Neurocarrus: Treating Pain Without Addictive Opioids

Neurocarrus

Traditionally, people in pain are given Opioids—which, although they relieve pain, can have dangerous side effects such as loss of motor function, and addiction. Ocycontin, Vicodin, and other pain relievers are effective in subduing pain, but they are extremely addictive, which causes major problems in families and communities.

The Opioid Crisis is a reality we’re facing now—but what if pain could be treated another way? That’s exactly what Neurocarrus has been working on. Their new drug delivery technology safely disrupts pain signals without possessing addiction-forming qualities. We asked the company’s CEO, Benjamin Pavlik, more about how this works:

How did you become interested in biotech?

BP: After having reconstructive surgery on my knee in college, replacement of ligaments and anchoring with bio-diffusible and titanium screws allowed me to run again. It was an amazing success, but difficult. This experience changed my life in many ways, and I became interested in working on technology that would be useful for others experiencing similar procedures.

Neurocarrus
Benjamin Pavlik

When did you decide to start a company, and where did your team get together?

BP:  My former PhD advisor and I decided to start a company at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln when we realized the incredible potential for this technology.

How does your technology work?

BP: Neurocarrus has developed an injectable non-opioid pain drug called N-001. N-001 is a novel protein that was synthesized to target key sensory neuron structures called actin. It is designed to disrupt peripheral pain signaling without affecting motor function or causing addiction.

What lessons did you learn transitioning from science to entrepreneurship at IndieBio?

BP: Transitioning from science to entrepreneurship is challenging but rewarding. The communication skill set is different, and it takes time to learn and adjust. Once technical terms are replaced or simplified, sharing science with our greater society enables the research to reach a broader audience to learn and benefit.

How do you think your success as a company would change the healthcare industry?

BP: Our success as a company would change the healthcare industry by providing an alternative to opioids as a front-line pain management solution. This would give millions of Americans who live with pain a less difficult choice and in turn reduce substance abuse.

What milestones are you aiming to hit in the near future?

BP: We are aiming to test N-001 in an advanced animal pain model. A positive preclinical outcome would support clinical trials.

Watch Neurocarrus pitch on IndieBio Demo Day, Tuesday April 17th in San Francisco or via LiveStream. Register here!

JointechLabs: Point-of-Care Cell Therapy

JointechLabs

Stem cells have been a key source of innovation in regenerative medicine, because they possess the ability to self-renew. Adult stem cells are found within the human body, in bone marrow, tooth enamel, and other locations. When someone is injured, the inflammation from the injury acts as a signal for the stem cells to become activated. The stem cells heal the body by traveling to the affected location and changing into the cells that have been damaged.

This process doesn’t always work fast enough to heal all injuries, so stem cells can be manually harvested from areas where they are abundant, and transferred to areas in the body where they are needed. JointechLabs have created a device which makes this process more accessible and affordable for doctors and patients everywhere. We asked Nishit Pancholi, the President and Chief Medical Officer at JointechLabs, more about the company:

How did you become interested in biotech?

JointechLabs
Nishit Pancholi

NP: We were always interested in the potential of harnessing the natural healing powers of the human body, and use that to enhance healing, and regeneration. It is painful to see near and dear ones continue to suffer from orthopedic problems or non-healing wounds after receiving conventional treatments. Improving science so that one’s own stem cells can be more accessible to help these patients heal became the founding mission of JointechLabs.

When did you decide to start a company, and where did your team get together?

NP: In 2010, Dr. Nathan Katz, who has extensive experience in stem cell biology, started JointechLabs with Felix Pustilnik, who has experience in business and sales. I have a background in medicine with a focus on clinical applications of stem cells, and I joined the executive team as a co-founder later.

How does your technology work?

NP: JointechLabs has created a device to provide stem cell therapies on demand, in a doctor’s office, for 1/10 of the price of conventional alternatives. Although stem cell therapies have been shown to have tremendous potential and efficacy in treating a variety of illnesses, they are currently underused, as the facilities and doctors that are capable of delivering them are few and far between. Stem cells are not easily transported, and so patients often must travel great distances in order to be treated; so inevitably the treatment is also incredibly expensive.

Our technology enables doctors to practice stem cell therapies and allows for development of stem cell therapies for medical indications with unmet medical need. Our device provides access to a high quality cell fraction at the point-of-care, therefore, a doctor can offer cell treatments in the regenerative medicine segment. Going further, our cell therapies will provide treatments for medical indications with unmet medical needs: orthopedic indications, wound healing, vascular indications.

What lessons did you learn transitioning from science to entrepreneurship at IndieBio?

NP: Stay focused on what’s important for the company development and progress. Identify and clarify your product, development roadmap, regulatory aspects, market strategy and risks mitigation of all listed. Develop an understanding of the costs associated with each step. Prepare for prospective company growth: HR, legal, etc.

How do you think your success as a company would change the healthcare industry?

NP: Patients will receive access to effective treatments for indications with unmet medical needs. Since the condition will be treated in the early stage of development, the cost of indication life-cycle will be reduced dramatically, providing direct benefits to the insurance companies and, therefore, to the patients.

What milestones are you aiming to hit in the near future?

NP: FDA 510K approval for our medical device and brining the device to doctor’s offices. RMAT (Regenerative Medicine Advanced Therapies) FDA designation for our stem cell therapies.

Watch JointechLabs pitch on IndieBio Demo Day, Tuesday April 17th in San Francisco or via LiveStream. Register here!

Lingrove: Wood Without Trees

As humans, we love the aesthetically pleasing look of wood. It’s a beautiful material, but our planet is being harmed by the massive rates of deforestation as a result of supplying wood to various industries.

What if we could have a wood-like material without cutting down trees? That’s where Lingrove comes in. Using plant-based fibers and resins, they have created a more eco-friendly solution to fill the demand for wood. The material has a familiar natural grain look, and it’s already been successfully used to make guitars and ukuleles which have professional sound quality. We asked Joe Luttwak, the founder of Blackbird Guitars composite string instruments, a few questions about the history of Lingrove:

How did you become interested in science?

JL: I became interested in science through biology. The majesty and strength of trees was an early interest that extended to understanding the greater context of eco-systems as I got older. I remember being obsessed with smaller creatures like beetles and dragonflies whose exoskeleton are strong and light and later became an inspiration for the structural composite materials we make today.

When did you decide to start a company, and where did your team get together?

JL: Blackbird Guitars spent several years developing biobased composites for musical instrument applications. Working closely with Entropy resins, our efforts resulted in the first line of Ekoa instruments. After achieving exceptional performance and aesthetics, it was clear that many other potential applications existed, so Lingrove was founded in 2014 to help other products benefit from our R&D effort. And as Lingrove expands our product offerings and expertise in sustainable design, we added a PHD candidate from UC Berkeley with an expertise in biomaterials.

Lingrove
Joe Luttwak

How does your technology work?

JL: We combine natural flax fibers with bio-based resins to create a material that looks, feels and sounds like wood—but without any wood. The natural flax fibers are the strongest of all natural fibers, and with our technology they can be made to replicate the contours of many wood grains.

The bio-based resins mean our products are not derived from crude-oil, and are instead made from natural sources. We make a strong, water and mold resistant material that can be molded into any shape while still keeping the beautiful wood grain aesthetics.

What lessons did you learn transitioning from science to entrepreneurship at IndieBio?

JL: I was already an entrepreneur starting Blackbird Guitars 12 years ago. However, Lingrove is a different type of company, and being at IndieBio has been instrumental in helping me make the transition from my technology and current business to the thinking involved in the mass production of my product Ekoa.

How do you think your success as a company would change the lumber and construction industries?

JL: For generations we have cut down trees to fill our need for materials. But today 91% of quality timber is gone, and industries reliant on this wood are struggling with lesser alternatives. We continue to want what the heirloom quality woods have to offer, but wood is no longer a convenient or ecological answer.

The lumber and construction industries have been slow to change and to wake up to the continual environmental degradation our massive building needs create for the planet. With Ekoa as a new viable material for the construction industry, we would be slowing down deforestation and hence helping to reverse climate change.

Because Ekoa is lightweight, stronger and more moldable than wood while still having the high quality look and feel of wood, we know the industry will be able to increase innovation in design.

What milestones are you aiming to hit in the near future?

JL: We are about to launch a new application of our material Ekoa which will allow current and new buyers to design completely new forms.  We then plan to continue to roll out the mass-production of Ekoa and to steadily lower its price point.

Watch Lingrove pitch on IndieBio Demo Day, Tuesday April 17th in San Francisco or via LiveStream. Register here!

Onconetics: Genomics-Informed Drug Design

Onconetics

Science is catching up with cancer. We are in a new era of personalized medicine for diagnosing and treating patients, now zooming in even closer, on an individual’s genome. By understanding the genetic causes of cancer, and measuring the differences between someone’s cells that are affected by cancer with the ones that are not, Onconetics can leverage the regulatory network of the cells and create a trigger for a kill gene that only activates within cancer cells. We asked Gabe Hitchcock, the company’s COO and co-founder, some questions about how this all works:

How did you become interested in biotech?

GH: Luke and I became interested in biotech through our own channels, him through his father at UCSF and me through my own undergraduate research in neuropharmacology. Though we had different beginnings, our journeys led us to the same question: how do we make better drugs for patients? Luke and I strongly believe that the key to better treatment lies in the patient’s own genes.

When did you decide to start a company, and where did your team get together?

GH: After months of deliberation, we started the company in the fall of 2016. For the first six months of the company, I was finishing up my B.S. at Oberlin College in Ohio, so I would fly out of Cleveland on weekends to meet Luke in San Francisco, Washington D..C, or New York as we built the company and our network.

How does your technology work?

GH: Our technology is predicated on the understanding that genetics determine the advent and progression of cancer. The hypothesis was simple: what if we could use these unique biomarkers not only to diagnose cancer, but also to guide the development of our drug? In essence, to create a drug that works only within the genetic environment of our choice. This is exactly what we have done at IndieBio: we have engineered a drug that selectively kills cancer cells without impacting healthy tissue. We call this approach Genomics-Informed Drug Design and we see it as the future of medicine.

What lessons did you learn transitioning from science to entrepreneurship at IndieBio?

GH: Science is a highly iterative process. Ideally, one experiment tells you one thing that informs the next experiment… and on and on and on. When we first started out as entrepreneurs, we applied the same approach. We absorbed all the feedback we could in one go, went back to the lab and restructured, then did it again. However, the same perfectionist approach used in R&D does not always bear fruit in entrepreneurship. It’s easy to get lost in the details and caught in a cycle of endless restructuring. IndieBio helped us hone in on what really mattered: our story, our community, and getting out there. In a sentence, IndieBio helped us get out of the lab and into the Valley.

How do you think your success as a company would change the medical industry?

GH: There’s no point hiding it: what we’re doing is entirely new and disruptive. The success of our company will cause a fundamental shift in the way the medical community treats patients. We’re not screening a single molecule against 1,000 cell lines to see what sticks, nor are we tweaking a chemical a 1,000 different ways to best block a pathway. What we are doing is engineering a drug from the ground up to target cancer. In 15 years, Genomics-Informed Drug Design will be the standard of medical treatment.

What milestones are you aiming to hit in the near future?

GH: In the near term we are planning on transitioning into our own lab space in the Bay Area, making key hires, and moving our therapy closer to IND. Because we are taking a bioengineering approach to medicine, there is also a lot of optimization that needs to be done. This means long hours in the lab, but each new experiment brings us that much closer to the ultimate goal: an accessible, scalable cure for cancer.

Watch Onconetics pitch on IndieBio Demo Day, Tuesday, April 17th in San Francisco or via LiveStream. Register here!

Nivien Therapeutics: Cutting Through Cancer’s Shield

Nivien Therapeutics

Cancer cells have defense mechanisms that can cause chemotherapy and other standard cancer treatments to become increasingly difficult for a patient to endure, as stronger drugs are often needed after the cancer cells adapt. Instead of killing cancer cells with stronger drugs, Nivien has a found a way to break down the defense mechanisms of cancer cells by first watching their response to drugs, and then designing small molecules that act against the specific defense mechanisms that the cancer cells are observed to be using. For this reason, Forbes recently called Nivien’s technology “The Trojan Horse of Cancer Treatment”. Nivien’s approach will allow existing drugs to become more effective. We asked the company’s co-founders, Nikita Shah and Nathaniel Brooks Horwitz, a few questions:

How did you become interested in biotech?

Nikita comes from a clinical perspective, preparing for medical school, working as an EMT, and shadowing oncologists. She also built a better preclinical model for testing small molecules (the same class of drug that Nivien is developing) in a biomedical research lab at Massachusetts General Hospital. Nathaniel worked in three biomedical research labs (Boston Children’s, Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Harvard Medical School) and at RA Capital, a biotech venture capital firm. We came together around a shared passion for translating important biomedical research into new medicines for patients.

When did you decide to start a company, and where did your team get together?

We began Nivien under the mentorship of Dr. Derrick Rossi, the scientific founder of Moderna. We decided to start the company when key academic discoveries converged around the importance of our target in cancer resistance. After raising initial venture funding, we recruited Dr. Ken Fang, a principal scientist from Allergan, and Dr. Dharmendra Singh, a veteran cancer biologist from UCLA, Houston Methodist and the NIH.

How does your technology work?

Rather than directly killing cancer cells, Nivien targets the shields that protect cancer from existing treatments. Nivien develops small molecules that inactivate the first upstream regulator of many proteins responsible for the failure of dozens of FDA-approved cancer treatments. We will combine Nivien molecules with existing drugs to create a better reformulated product that has higher effectiveness and lower side effects than current options.

What lessons did you learn transitioning from science to entrepreneurship at IndieBio?

We learned that science moves much faster at companies than in academia. We also learned to focus on doing “the killer experiment” at each step to prove or disprove a theory as quickly as possible, rather than spending time and money on auxiliary experiments that provide support but not clear answers.

How do you think your success as a company would change the medical industry?

Our mission is to dramatically improve the standard-of-care in cancer therapeutics.

What milestones are you aiming to hit in the near future?

We are filing key patents, establishing partnerships and hiring new team members to fill critical roles moving forward.

Watch Nivien Therapeutics pitch on IndieBio Demo Day, Tuesday, April 17th in San Francisco or via LiveStream. Register here!

Photo credit: IndieBio

Antibiotic Adjuvant: Transforming Antibiotic Use from Chaos into a Coordinated Campaign

Although doctors mean well by prescribing antibiotics, we can’t ignore the fact that antibiotic resistance as an effect of overuse has become an overwhelming problem in the healthcare industry and elsewhere. The situation can appear hopeless to some, but the team at Antibiotic Adjuvant sees it as a challenge they are willing to accept. They have developed software that works with the doctor at point-of-decision, along with the patient’s specific information and information about the facility itself, transforming antibiotic use from chaos into a coordinated, conscious campaign. Using the correct methods, antibiotic resistance therefore becomes preventable. We asked David Flores, the co-founder and CEO of Antibiotic Adjuvant, and Dr. Robert Yancey Jr, the company’s co-founder and Medical Director, to tell us more about their motivation and how it all works:

How did you become interested in healthcare?

DF: When I was a little boy, I wanted to be just like my father, a doctor. However, after being in the O.R. couple of times, I decided to study something else. The bug never seemed to fade on me though. While having another business, I found myself talking to doctors and doing apps in the healthcare space. After learning about this problem from Bob, our Medical Director, I just couldn’t believe how crazy it is that antibiotic resistance is growing so rampantly, and that no one seems able to control it—even though it is preventable!

RY: I have wanted to be a doctor since I was eight years old. It is a gift and a privilege to practice medicine. Infectious Diseases is by far the most interesting sub-specialty in medicine.  It is a little like being Sherlock Holmes. Seeing patients in the hospital getting substandard antibiotics so frequently made me think that there has to be a better way, and as a consequence, I have been working in the field of Antibiotic Stewardship for over 20 years.

Antibiotic Adjuvant
David Flores, CEO

When did you decide to start a company, and where did your team get together?

DF: Preventing the increase in antibiotic resistance is a very compelling problem that can be prevented by applying new technologies to existing systems. After doing couple of prototypes and getting good feedback from doctors and nurses, we decided it was time to tackle this problem. We started working in Gainesville, FL and relocated to San Francisco to improve our chances of making this idea a reality while doing IndieBio.

RY: I have been kicking this idea of how to codify algorithms for improved and coordinated antibiotic use for many years, after it became obvious that current methods of Antibiotic Stewardship were inadequate.

How does your technology work?

DF: We have created a software that reduces the time it takes a doctor to prescribe antibiotics, improves communications between pharmacists, doctors, and nurses; saves the hospital millions of dollars in unneeded procedures and loss of funding, and improves patient outcomes. We can do this by improving the way antibiotic stewardship programs are implemented in a health center. Our software uses input from the electronic medical records, lab reports, and other reports to provide personalized antibiotic recommendations for a particular patient and facility. We take into account the health center’s microbiome and create a coordinated antibiotic campaign to prevent antibiotic resistance from occurring in the first place. Since we are with the doctor at point-of-decision, we can affect virtually every patient in the facility and provide true comprehensive antibiotic stewardship.

Antibiotic Adjuvant
Dr. Robert Yancey Jr, Medical Director

RY: The basic premise is that given sufficient, easy to understand information, the busy physician will do the correct thing, especially if it is fast. In addition, modern analytics can help even the most knowledgeable physician make better decisions. The fields of Quality Assurance and Infection Prevention are enhanced by identifying and predicting all adverse events and infections in the facility, not just those with a positive culture, and their predisposing factors.  Administration can identify methods to reduce costs that were not visible before. Patients have better outcomes. Win-Win!

What lessons did you learn transitioning from science to entrepreneurship at IndieBio?

DF: The main difference I see between science and entrepreneurship is the market forces. In the market, you have to take into account the feasibility of the science but also the costs to create the product. The profit margins have to be healthy, and your customers must want to use your product. The market will reward companies that take these three pieces into account when commercializing a technology/idea.

RY: Saving lives and costs is a great product, but we have to demonstrate that we can execute. IndieBio has helped us execute in so many ways. They have pushed us to be the best we can be, not just an idea.

How do you think your success as a company would change the medical industry?

DF: We will fundamentally change the way antibiotic prescriptions are made in the world. In the future, people will be able to go to the hospital and not acquire an infection while receiving treatment because health centers will not have rampant antibiotic resistance as they do today.

RY: We will transform antibiotic use from chaos to a coordinated conscious campaign to minimize resistance and complications. More intelligent antibiotic use means a safer, more effective, less costly healthcare system.

What milestones are you aiming to hit in the near future?

DF: We are aiming to arm skilled nursing facilities with tools to improve their antibiotic stewardship programs and then start doing a pilot in hospitals.

RY: Out first installation into a skilled nursing facility is underway, and we will reach at least 100 more facilities within 10 months. CMS requirements for Antibiotic Stewardship and Infection Control will drive our sales. Testing in acute care hospitals will begin in early 2019 with demonstration of financial and patient safety benefits within months after that. At that point, AA will add physicians’ offices to the campaign to monitor and control resistance in entire communities. It’s a big goal, but doable according to the CDC.

Watch Antibiotic Adjuvant pitch on IndieBio Demo Day, Tuesday, April 17th in San Francisco or via LiveStream. Register here!

Pheronym: Pesticide-Free Food for the World

Pheronym

It’s no secret that the agricultural fertilizers and pesticides create major problems in our soil, water systems, animal life, and more. Thankfully there are people who aim to solve this problem, like Fatma Kaplan and Cameron Schiller, who co-founded their company Pheronym in 2012. Pheronym offers nontoxic plant protection in a new way: They are creating pheromones that direct beneficial nematodes—microscopic roundworms that exist abundantly in every ecosystem—towards insects and away from plants, creating an effective insect kill rate without leaving harmful residue on crops. Since nematodes account for 80% of all individual animals on Earth, Pheronym is tapping into a vast resource. The company’s CEO, Fatma Kaplan, explained more about the company’s background:

How did you become interested in biotech?

FK: I come from a farming family, so I know the importance of pest control to farmers. Without pest control, crop yield is reduced 50% to 80%. Therefore, I pursued an undergraduate degree in Agricultural Field Biology. I immediately recognized that biotechnology held great promise for agriculture. I pursued a Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology, followed by postdoctoral training in chemistry, to bring discoveries in biotechnology to Agriculture.

How does your technology work? What would it look like as a product?

FK: Our first product, Nemastim™ provides a safe and effective way to direct beneficial nematodes to seek and attack target agricultural pest insects. Our other products in the pipeline will target parasitic nematode control, or stopping common unwanted nematodes that eat the roots of crops

Nemastim is an additive to commercially available beneficial nematodes. It is a dry powder in a small package. The nematodes are treated with Nemastim for 15 minutes in water. Then the activated nematodes are sprayed onto the field using the same equipment that farmers already own. They will travel up to a foot searching for and attacking insects, resulting in at least 5X more insect death compared to untreated nematodes.

The powder affects the signal nematodes use to tell each other that resources are getting low and they need to go out find a new insect. Of course the signal’s effect does not last forever, so when the signal effect goes away, they stop searching. We basically remind them they do not have enough resources and they need to search for more.

What was it like transitioning from science to entrepreneurship?

FK: My transition to an entrepreneur began when I realized that my discoveries would never make it onto the field unless I was the one driving them. I knew that I needed to learn more about entrepreneurship, so I sought out a business incubator that provided support for fledgling companies. The transition has been a little scary because it took me out of my comfort zone, but I have been fortunate to meet a lot of helpful business mentors.

I must admit that I never thought entrepreneurship could be such an exciting and intellectual journey. At IndieBio, I met the CEOs of the coolest start-ups and got to learn about the most exciting new technologies across a wide range of disciplines. I also have a lot more appreciation for biotechnology products because I now know how much effort goes into it to bring them to market.  

How do you think your success as a company would change the agriculture industry?

FK: Our products are non-toxic pest control solutions, so they will allow farmers to protect their crops without toxic pesticides that poison our air, land, and water. Success of our company will empower nature and provide a sustainable pesticide-free food to every household in the world.

What are the milestones you’re looking to hit in the near future?

FK: We will complete our greenhouse trials, recruit a sales force, scale up our production, and enter the greenhouse market.

See Pheronym pitch at IndieBio Demo Day on September 14th in San Francisco or via Livestream! Register here.

Stelvio Oncology: Live Imaging For a Paradigm Shift in Drug Screening

Stelvio

It’s been clear for some time that a personalized approach to cancer treatment is key in overcoming the disease. Since certain types of cancer, like glioblastoma (brain tumors), have been found to be resistant to chemotherapy, new (and less toxic) approaches are desperately needed to combat the resistant cells. Stelvio is a company with a unique approach to identifying the resistance mechanisms of cancer cells, and overcoming them with targeted therapies for the individual patient. The company’s founder and CEO, Attila Hajdu, explains more:

When did you decide to start a company, and where did your team get together?

AH: We decided to start Stelvio Oncology in May 2017. While we are a relatively new company, we have had a number of major accomplishments which include an invitation to join JLABS San Diego, which is Johnson & Johnson’s innovation centre, where we will be based starting on September 26, 2017. Being a JLABS company exposes us to the ecosystem of J&J’s innovation centre and potential collaborations with the incubator companies as well as J&J. We are also in the middle of an evaluation process with Sanofi to utilize our technology to identify novel targets and molecules in Huntington’s Disease, which opens the door to the formation of Stelvio Therapeutics. We’ll begin the evolution to this new name over the next few weeks.

What problem are you aiming to solve with Stelvio Oncology?

AH: The main problem in cancer remains resistance to chemotherapy based regimens which leads to loss of response to treatment and no viable options for patients afterwards. Not only is chemotherapy based treatment ineffective in cancers like glioblastoma, breast, and lung, but it is also highly toxic. So we are addressing the problem that there is no cure for cancer and ineffective/toxic treatments are still used which give incremental benefit.

The problem we are solving with our work in neurodegenerative diseases is current treatments are ineffective in Huntington’s Disease, which is a neurodegenerative genetic disorder that affects muscle coordination and leads to cognitive decline and dementia.

How does your technology work?

AH: Our technology works by labelling histones within the nucleus which gives each cell an epigenetic fingerprint akin to a bar code, and then we can visualize the changes small molecules or drugs have on the cells using live imaging. This is a paradigm shift in drug screening for disease because it represents a 100 fold improvement in the precision of high throughput screening of proprietary drug libraries.

How did you become interested in biotech?

AH: I became interested in biotech after spending 20 years in big pharma mainly with GSK. I had a strong drive to become a catalyst for change, to solve problems that have a positive impact on people, that could improve their lives for the better.

What lessons did you learn transitioning from science to entrepreneurship at IndieBio?

AH: There were many lessons learned at IndieBio. One main lesson is that clarity creates confidence which was Arvind’s saying over the course of the program. One of the biggest challenges for us has been to explain what we do in a simple manner so that investors could understand and more importantly, write us a check! We’ve learned to communicate more effectively with investors in a simple and meaningful way.

How do you think your success as a company would change the medical industry?

AH: Success for Stelvio would mean ripping cancer out of the pages of medical history books within our lifetime. The same applies to neurodegenerative diseases although this success may not happen within our lifetime!

What are the milestones you’re looking to hit in the near future?

AH: Key milestones are demonstrating that we are stopping tumor growth in vitro and in vivo, screening Johnson & Johnson’s proprietary libraries while housed within JLABS to discover hits which we could further develop into lead candidates, screening Sanofi’s proprietary drug libraries against Huntington’s Disease and potentially other targets such as Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s Disease, and importantly, closing a seed capital raise of $4 million to fund these milestones.

See Stelvio pitch at IndieBio Demo Day on September 14th in San Francisco or via Livestream! Register here.

Pictured above: Stelvio CEO Attila Hajdu (left) and CSO Alexey V. Terskikh.

Finless Foods: Pollution-Free Fish, Thanks to Biotech

Finless Foods

It’s an exciting time for the future of food, as technology has finally enabled us to grow meat without slaughtering animals. Finless Foods has applied a similar technology to produce fish from cells, creating a sustainable source of seafood. The company’s timing is crucial as our oceans are not only being decimated by overfishing, but also being heavily polluted with plastic and other toxic chemicals that move up the food chain to consumers. Supporting healthy, lab-grown fish that tastes like conventionally caught fish seems like a no-brainer, and the company has already been generating buzz from the media. The company’s co-founder and CEO, Mike Selden, shared more of their story:

When did you decide to start a company, and where did your team get together?

Brian and I first met at UMass Amherst where we both studied Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. We started our company in Brooklyn, during the summer of 2016, when we put some real serious thought into how inefficient and environmentally devastating the current food system is. We then brought on Dr. Robert Hughes and Dr. Jihyun Kim once at IndieBio.

How does your technology work? What will your product look like to a consumer?

Our technology takes a small sample of fish cells and grows them out quickly and cheaply to be eaten as a replacement for conventionally caught fish. To the consumer it will look like the fish they know and love to eat, but on the inside it will be very different. Our fish is a return to the traditional fish that people used to eat before we polluted the oceans. Our fish tastes the same but won’t have the mercury and plastic that people are eating through currently industrial fishing.

How did you become interested in biotech?

I became interested in biotech because I took a chemistry class in college as part of my neuroscience major and realized I loved chemistry. I switched to biochemistry and from there fell in love with all of the crazy applications. We’re currently going through a biotech revolution. It’s like the early days of the invention of the computer, but it’s happening again for DNA and cellular biology.

What was it like transitioning from science to entrepreneurship?

It was a very natural fit for me. I’ve always been more of a people person and big on talking about big ideas. A history of political activism has trained me how to work with others and explain my ideas effectively. This has proven invaluable as an entrepreneur in a million ways, and I’m finding new ways every day.

How do you think your success as a company would change the food industry, and the world?

We will create a healthier, cheaper product with a steadier supply chain. A lack of affordable delicious healthy protein is a food justice issue, and we will solve it. We will remove the need for trawlers to destroy ocean ecosystems, and for giant fish farms to pollute waters used for centuries by local fishing populations. This will not only remove cruelty from the process, it will create something better for everybody and the planet.

What are the milestones you’re looking to hit in the near future?

We’ll very soon have our own custom cell culture media. Current media is extremely expensive, uses animal components, and is very variable batch to batch, making it unsuitable for industrial production. Ours will be cheap and animal-free as well as consistent, making our process easier and also viable as a commercial product.

See Finless Foods pitch at IndieBio Demo Day on September 14th in San Francisco or via Livestream! Register here.

Pictured above: The Finless Foods team.

DNALite: A New Age of Medicine Is Emerging

DNALite

What if instead of undergoing life-altering chemotherapy or surgery, a patient could take a daily pill to fight cancer? That’s the ultimate vision of DNALite, a new biotech company that wants to actually prevent instead of manage symptoms. Their technology aims to deliver genetic cargo to areas of the body that are hard to reach, giving them the properties they need to kill of the cancerous cells and empower healthy ones. The company’s co-founder Timothy Day explained more:

What problem are you aiming to solve with your company, DNALite?

TD: We are treating diseases for patients that currently have very few treatment options. We are a gene therapy company, and by delivering the correct genes to the necessary cells in the body, we are able to treat the cause of the disease—not just the symptoms. We are focused on tissues that are protected by mucus barriers, like the gastrointestinal tract, lungs, and cervix. The mucus is a necessary protective barrier for these tissues, but it also makes drug delivery a challenge. We are able to overcome this challenge with our technology and are focused on first treating a genetic disease that leads to a 100% chance of colon cancer by age 40.

When did you decide to start a company, and where did your team get together?

TD: We met as students in early 2016 at UC Berkeley. Mubhij had the idea of doing gene therapy for this particular form of colon cancer, and I was working a PhD thesis focused on overcoming physical barriers for gene delivery. We both share the core belief that a new age of medicine is emerging that we want to be part of, and if we have an idea that can help a large number of people we have an obligation to try out that idea. So, we started working on the company on nights, weekends, and in between classes, and haven’t looked back since.

How does your technology work?

TD: We both have virology backgrounds and were inspired by the properties that let viruses penetrate through mucus and deliver genetic cargo to cells. We translated these properties to a non-viral gene delivery system that allows for the delivery of genes to cells protected by mucus for the first time. For our first target indication, the gene that is delivered restores normal tumor suppressor function in cells. For the cells that are already cancerous in this disease, it leads to the cells being killed off or lost, and a regression of the tumors. For cells that are still healthy, it empowers them to suppress cancer mutations and prevents them from becoming cancerous in the future. The vision for this treatment is that instead of these patients undergoing life-altering major surgery and/or chemotherapy, they can just take a daily pill that restores the body’s normal ability to fight cancer.

How did you become interested in biotech?

TD: The appealing thing about biotech is that it is by necessity an applied science, so we are able to take the brilliant biology and chemistry research that has been performed to-date and channel it into something tangible that can change patients’ lives. We also get the privilege to work with top scientists, physicians, and business people to make brand new treatments that treat the cause of the disease and not the symptoms.

What was it like transitioning from science to entrepreneurship?

TD: When starting a new company each person has to wear many hats. Learning to balance all the necessary tasks simultaneously in addition to doing good science is a skillset that has to be learned. As scientists, we tend to carve systematic stories that are only read by a few people in the field, but as entrepreneurs we have realized the importance of selling the vision behind the science.

How do you think your success as a company would change the medical industry?

TD: Many patients with genetic diseases have zero therapeutic options and are either told by doctors that there is nothing that can be done for them or that they have to go through devastating medical procedures that only treat the symptoms of the disease or simply serve to control inflammation. We are actually targeting the cause of the disease and not just the symptoms. This provides medical a new option to patients that is safe, therapeutic and preventative.

What are the milestones you’re looking to hit in the near future?

We have demonstrated efficacy for our first indication in a rat model of the disease. This was one of the first gene therapy attempts for this disease. We are in the process of using that data to optimize our modular system to reach an efficacy endpoint that provides patients with the most meaningful clinical outcome.

See DNALIte pitch at IndieBio Demo Day on September 14th in San Francisco or via Livestream! Register here.

Pictured above: DNALite co-founders Timothy Day (left) and Mubhij Ahmad.

Sugarlogix: Prebiotic Sugar for Your Gut Health

sugarlogix

What if sugar was good for you? The consumption of excess sugar has led to health issues in humans, such as autoimmune diseases and IBD, that begin in the gut. Sugarlogix has found a way to create prebiotic sugars to fix this problem and make sugar that’s actually healthy for people to consume. Although there are plenty of probiotic solutions that add good bacteria to the gut, Sugarlogix’s prebiotic sugar is the missing link in actually nourishing those good bacteria. The company’s co-founder and CTO, Chaeyoung Shin, explained more:

Where did everyone on your team first meet?

CS: I’m from UC Berkeley, and that’s where our team got together. We were originally part of a large project funded by British Petroleum to make biofuels out of fermentation. Our co-founding team consists of two professors and two PhD graduate students including myself. After that project, we realized that, “Hey, we could use this technology to make something of higher value.” That’s when we decided to build a company.

So you started with biofuels, and now you’re focusing on sugars?

CS: Yes, but not just any sugar. Prebiotic sugars. These sugars naturally exist in human breastmilk, however they’re not really accounted for anywhere in the market right now. They are starting to make some products that look like it, but not much, because it is very expensive to recreate it outside of a human body. We have the technology to do that in a cost-effective and food-safe way. We brew the prebiotic sugars by using yeast fermentation. It’s just the bakery yeast that we normally use.

How did you become interested in science and biotech?

CS: That goes back a long way. I actually chose to be in the biofuels project during my PhD because I knew we had no way of going around biotechnology. Right now the current industry consists of a lot of chemical-based industries, but we know that these won’t last forever, and also they’re not environmentally friendly. Now in biology, the coolest things happen. Just look at our bodies, it’s amazing what biology can obtain. Improving our knowledge of biotechnology would enable us to mimic biology and use it to our benefit. So that’s how I became interested in that area and I decided to focus my PhD project on it.

Why is Sugarlogix’s technology needed right now, and what problem is it solving?

CS: We know that our current way of living is not the healthiest kind with conventional sugars. We’re exposed to a lot of fatty foods, and that’s why so many people experience gut discomfort. There’s been a huge increase in gut-related diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome and autoimmune diseases which are known to have direct relationships to gut health. One way to prevent that is to provide these types of prebiotics to the gut. In relationship to probiotics (the probiotics are the good gut bacteria), the probiotics are food for the good gut bacteria. Only by having those two components can the good gut bacteria really thrive in your gut. There are probiotic solutions out there, but not the prebiotic part. And by providing the other half, we would really be able to affect people’s gut health in a good way.

What would be the single biggest indicator that your company is succeeding?

CS: Thankfully a lot of people have done research on prebiotic sugars that exist in human breastmilk. It has been long been known as the holy grail of an infant formula ingredient. As long as new research doesn’t come out that proves otherwise, we have solid proof that our technology will benefit people’s gut health. In the long run, an indicator that we’re successful would be the fact that we’re making a lot of profit by selling these prebiotic sugars. The question is different in terms of a short term goal. We want to do a demonstration of a larger size than where we’re currently at. We are hoping to move up to a larger size fermenter to prove to our investors and customers that we can indeed manufacture this on a large scale.

What big lessons have you learned transitioning from science to entrepreneurship at IndieBio?

CS: I never envisioned myself going through this type of transition. I thought I was just going to be scientist. But now my role has dramatically changed, where I’m actively seeking out customers, and actively reaching out to suppliers and investors. For me personally, talking to investors and recruiting them is the toughest part about all this, because you have to sell yourself as well as the company, and it’s something I’m still getting comfortable with. At IndieBio, it’s been really fun to see all the gears of the company come together along with my partner Kulika Chomvong, who is running all the gears.

See Sugarlogix pitch at IndieBio Demo Day on September 14th in San Francisco or via Livestream! Register here.

Photo credit: Or Weizman

Quantumcyte: Cancer Just Got Personal

quantumcyte
quantumcyte

“I never intended on even giving a crap about cancer. It just happened,” said John Butler. “This isn’t a matter of me wanting to build a business, it’s a matter of wanting to help my wife.”

John quit his job to pursue a better cancer outcome and become co-founder and CEO of Quantumcyte. Together with Quantumcyte’s co-founder and CTO, Dr. Bidhan Chaudhuri, the company aims to look a patient’s cancer at a cellular level in order to match them with the best drugs for their recovery. The two founders explained more:

What’s your company’s background, and what do you do at Quantumcyte?

JB: Bidhan and I are developing a platform technology for doing cancer research. What makes us different from the rest of the world is we are really able to understand an individual’s cancer in order to find them the best drugs to cure it. Our platform is really designed around enabling researchers to better understand a patient’s cancer on an individual level.

So your platform figures out which cancer drugs are best for the individual, since cancer varies so much from person to person. How does it work?

JB: Yes, that’s the goal. To go into scientific detail about what we do that nobody else does…is we take a tumor, and we slice it up and take a microtome section. We put that section onto a slide, and look at it with a microscope and say, “Ok, that’s a T cell, that’s a cancer cell, that’s a stromal cell.” Then we can build a 3-dimensional model of the cells, and also extract the genetic information, the RNA, out of those cells and sequence them. With the 3-dimensional model, we can understand what cells are where in the tumor, and what cells they’re next to. If you can do that, you can really understand what’s going on inside that tumor. If you understand that on a patient level, now you can start looking at the right drugs to shrink that tumor and get rid of it. The way I describe it to people is, we’re really looking at cancer on a personalized level, and we’re trying to find best drugs for the individual.

And will these drugs be developed by someone else?

JB: Yes. So you know the situation with my wife, she was diagnosed with cancer, but now she’s actually doing quite well. The idea we came up with is, we’re going to grab her cancer cells alive, and throw some existing drugs at them and see which ones will work. When you look at the body of literature about cancer, I think there are enough drugs out there that can potentially help any cancer. We could easily partner with other companies who are doing drug discovery, including companies at IndieBio.

Where did you two get together to start working on this?

JB: Prior to Quantumcyte, I worked at a company called Pacific Bioscience, and that’s where we met. I was hired as the manager of manufacturing, and Bidhan was the manager of engineering. We were responsible for taking products from research and moving them through development into manufacturing.

I’m not an oncologist, and Bidhan’s not an oncologist, but we work with them. When we started working on this we said, “We’re not going to learn cancer biology, we’re going to go find the best in the world and work with them.” And that’s what we’re doing.

Since you started at IndieBio, was it challenging transitioning from science to entrepreneurship?

JB: Yeah, just a little. I think Bidhan and I have always been very aggressive in pursuing our efforts. Really understanding how to focus and defocus constantly is something that is required as an entrepreneur. I think something that I’m getting better at understanding is what it means to be in the C-suite: How to be a CEO, how to communicate less like a scientist and more like a non-scientist.

What’s the most challenging thing about building a business?

BC: It’s building a business, that’s the most challenging thing! I come from a big technology background. I can build machines. John is pretty good at the biology side of things. We put it together and say, this is technologically cool. That’s why we started this, because we thought we could solve a problem. But actually going out there and figuring out if there’s a market for it, and figuring out how to translate our vision to other people—people who will be using our tool or even investors—that’s challenging.

We have to tell people about what we believe is happening. We’re at the leading edge of a cancer technology that’s only now starting to come alive, and John has had the difficult task of gathering opinions of key people about it. John has done a fantastic job, but we did spend most of the past couple of years trying to convince people that this is worth something. And that was hard. For us, once we built the technology, we thought, “We’re there.” But really, we had to learn to convince people to believe in our technology as well.

JB: I think the most important thing is establishing relationships. It’s all about relationships, including relationships with investors. Understanding that you need to do that is something that was difficult for us. It took us a while to realize it’s more about building relationships and establishing trust than building a business.

Prior to this, Bidhan comes from the semiconductor industry, and there was an 18-month lead time to build a chip to get into manufacturing. It was pretty straightforward. When you’re talking about what we’re trying to do, at first we didn’t even know we were on the bleeding edge. We just said logically this makes sense. Later on we found out we were one of the very few people in the world thinking about this problem in this way. We let it sit and incubate for a while, and next thing you know we’re having discussions with Ryan Bethencourt about how to sell something we don’t even have, and then actually selling it. The hardest part is realizing it’s about relationships, and it takes a long freaking time.

How do you think your success as a company would change the cancer industry?

BC: As a person who’s outside of the cancer research field, here’s the way I look at it: Cancer started out as a disease that required a person to have surgeries. From there the treatment included chemotherapy. Now cancer therapy has reached a point where people are beginning to understand cancer at a patient level, a cellular level, but still they do not have the tools at hand to do much good about it. What our technology does is it brings all that capability to be very accessible to researchers. And I think this will allow for progress beyond what’s currently achievable today, at a level where it needs to be, a patient level.

JB: One way to think about it is drugs for all cancer patients.

What are the milestones that you’re looking to hit in the near future?

JB: Scientifically, we need to demonstrate that we can use our tool for what it’s designed to do. We need to show that we can take patient cells and look at the cell type, the phenotype, extract the genetic information, and then correlate that genetic information to that phenotype. On the business side, the milestones are to engage with some more thought leaders in the space, and to fund our efforts so that we can really pursue what we want to do with the company. Once we demonstrate that our tool can do what it’s designed to do, everything will fall in line.

See Quantumcyte pitch at IndieBio Demo Day on September 14th in San Francisco or via Livestream! Register here.

An Interview with John Mendelson of DxRx

“Rehab on Your Phone”

Photo: John Mendelson (center) and the DxRx team.

Not everyone who occasionally overdrinks is seen as an alcoholic in need of help. DxRx is a service for people who want to manage their alcohol consumption using an app, a breathalyzer, and medication if needed. DxRx wants to break the stigma of alcoholism and make treatment obtainable for people who can’t deal with traditional rehab or Alcoholics Anonymous, in terms of financial and social cost. We asked one of the company’s founders, John Mendelson, a few questions:

Tell me about your background, how did you become interested in public health?

My father was one of the first scientists to study alcoholism. His enthusiasm led to my interest in alcohol, opiate, and stimulant addiction, which blossomed into a career in clinical research for addiction treatments. Besides conducting research, I also treat patients. I have been in practice for 30 years and have had the extraordinarily good fortune to watch addictive diseases go from untreatable severe diseases often ending in death to manageable problems.

What problem are you working to solve with DxRx?

If you ask the average American to list the most deadly diseases, alcoholism doesn’t make the cut. Yet alcoholism is a devastating disease that destroys lives and kills more people then diabetes. Despite the toll of alcoholism, most people have no idea what makes a person an alcoholic, how to identify early problem drinking, or treat the disease. Part of the problem is that alcoholism is often viewed through binary lens – you are either a flawed person or the inevitable victim of a purely biological disease. In fact, like most important problems in life, voluntary choices combined with biologic vulnerabilities lead to the eventual disease state. Both my approach and DxRx’s philosophy is to provide tools to enable better choices of when and how much to drink, while also addressing underlying biological motivators of behavior.

If you could only pick one thing to validate your reason for forming a startup, what would it be? In other words, what would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing?

Of all the progress we have made over the past four months at IndieBio, there is one thing that convinces me we are on the right path. Our customers use a breathalyzer every day to measure their blood alcohol content so they can track their progress. When we average the results from the first dozen patients, the results are astonishing. The average patient at DxRxMedical is able to cut their drinking in half in a month.

How do you think success can change your industry?

At present there is no cure for alcohol addiction so treatment needs to be one day at a time. Our light, daily, empowering touches support patients for the long haul. 34 million Americans are estimated to have Alcohol Use Disorder yet only 2.5 million get treatment and only when the disease has done much of its destruction. The costs are enormous with an estimated $16 billion being spent to treating this small proportion of people in need. Success means 34 million people with AUD can get help and prevent hitting rock bottom.

How is your team uniquely able to tackle this? What’s the expertise?

Our team is successful, experienced and creative. I am a practicing physician and NIH-funded researcher with 30 years of experience treating patients and developing treatments for addiction. David Deacon, our CEO, has launched four companies of his own and helped found 20 others. Bob Nix, our CEO, has been a software architect at Athena Health for the last nine years and has been VP of engineering for nine start-ups.

Our Scientific Advisors are all leaders in addiction science. Chuck O’Brien developed naltrexone for addiction and is the leading academic physician in addiction. Ivan Diamond founded the UCSF Gallo Center, edits Alcohol Clinical and Experimental Research and is the leading academic expert in the biology of alcoholism. Warren Bickel is a Psychologist whose works pairs psychological interventions with technology. 

Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?

To be concise! I try!

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far?

There is a lot of stigma associated with addiction, which fuels denial, and deconstructing this stigma and empowering our patients to take charge has been a big challenge we are quickly learning to overcome. 

What are the big goals and milestones you’re looking to hit in the short term? Long term?

Over the last month we have enrolled our first group of patients and have launched demonstration projects with key stakeholders in medicine including a Yale-associated hospital, researchers at the NIAAA, and the largest hospital chain in California – Dignity Health. The team at DxRxMedical is now rolling out our solution to everyone in California, starting with employees at a few key companies, and hospitals that need a solution for their patients. If we are successful in California, we will scale up by hiring physicians across the country to deliver addiction treatment in every state. 

An Interview with Francia Navarrete Utreras of GEA Enzymes

GEA Enzymes

Liquid Dark Chocolate Is Now a Reality.

Photo: Francia (center) and the GEA Enzymes team.

GEA Enzymes engineers designer enzymes. Their first application is in food, with enzymes which reduce saturated fat levels while maintaining consistent aroma, taste, and feel. This makes it possible for a substance like dark chocolate to obtain that rich, liquid consistency that so many food companies want for their products. We asked Francia Utreras a few questions about the GEA:

Tell me about your background, how did you get interested in the biotech space?

My background is in biotechnology engineering. Our team started the company in Chile about 18 months ago. We decided to start GEA Enzymes because the three of us are incredibly passionate about nature’s architecture, and how we could adopt the same strategy that has successfully created all living organisms to solve world class problems.

What problem are you working to solve with your company, GEA Enzymes?

The classical protein discovery process is based on trial and error, taking a long time and many resources. Big companies have automated the process with robots, but it’s still slow and expensive with no rationale behind it. Due to this, we created MADI™, an artificial intelligence that allows us to create proteins for any desired industrial application.

To prove MADI™’s skills, we decided to start with a very challenging market, the saturated fats industry. Saturated fats are very dangerous for human health, because they can induce obesity and heart stroke. Due to this, our first designer proteins have the ability to take saturated fats and turn them into unsaturated fats. By applying this technology, we can create healthier and better quality food products.

This has huge applications in the chocolate, dairy, and vegetable fats industries, so we are working with large multinational companies in these fields. We know that this is just the beginning, because by using MADI™ we are exploring solutions beyond the food industry.

If you could only pick one thing to validate your reason for forming a startup, what would it be? In other words, what would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing?

Keeping passion alive. That’s the reason why we decided to move far away from our homes, work day and night including Sundays and holidays, and accept everything that entails being entrepreneurs. We’ve learned you need to sacrifice many things, put your personal life after your company, and even not get paid sometimes. Keeping this rhythm for too long might be the main reason most startups fail. If people don’t believe in what they are doing, it is easy to get lost in the journey and all the sacrifices it requires.

How do you think success can change your industry?

Our first approach to manage unsolved problems of the industry is a set of enzymes able to turn saturated fats into unsaturated fats. This will allow an increase in the nutritional value of oils and butter. In other words we could achieve the same lipid profile of the most sophisticated plantation with more efficient grow cultures.

Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?

Nobody else knows the potential of your business more than you. People can give you feedback, and you’ve got to be mature enough to realize if those opinions might work for you or drive your business to its death.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far?

As a scientist, is it hard to understand why you are not able to close deals if the science you’re working with is so cool. As entrepreneurs we painfully learned the transition between science and business, improving the art of closing deals. To sell science to multinational companies was a real challenge.

What are the big goals and milestones you’re looking to hit in the short term? Long term?

In the short term we want to raise our seed round to establish ourselves in the US, grow the team, and run in parallel all the projects we are working on. I see for the future GEA diversified in fields including Food, Pharma, Healthcare, and Agriculture — all handled by the power of proteins.

Learn more about GEA Enzymes by watching them pitch on IndieBio Demo Day Feb. 9th! Register for the event or LiveStream here!

An Interview With Daniel Dempsey of Venomyx Therapeutics

Venomyx

Photo: Deepankar Roy (left), Daniel Dempsey, and Alexio Capovilla of Venomyx Therapeutics.

Just like an Epi-Pen for Snake Bites.

Snake bites are one of humanity’s oldest medical problems, but they’re definitely not a thing of the past—millions of people are bitten by poisonous snakes every year, and if they are lucky, those people are able to get medical attention quickly enough to not lose life or limb. The process of producing antivenom is outdated—it usually consists of injecting a horse or sheep with poisonous venom and harvesting the antibodies that the animal creates. Venomyx is using biotechnology to eliminate the use of animals from the process of producing antivenom, along with making it available in a portable, easy-to-use injector that makes it seem like the Epi-Pen for Snake Bites. We asked the company’s CEO, Daniel Dempsey, a few questions:

Tell me about your background, how did you get interested in the biotech space?

As cliche as it sounds, I got into biotech to make a difference in the world—specifically to make a difference in the lives of people. I went to school at UC San Diego and studied human biology as an undergrad and then autoimmune disease for my M.S. during grad school, I seized the opportunity to research infectious disease in the Costa Rican rainforest for a summer. It was there (surrounded by snakes) that I became familiar with the problems surrounding conventional antivenom and envisioned what modern biotech research could bring to this space. I returned to San Diego to work for big pharma developing drugs against cancer and inflammatory diseases. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something should be done for people that currently don’t have access to safe and effective antivenom so I studied it in my spare time. I finally decided that we were on to something that should be given a chance and quit my job, forming Venomyx in 2015.

What problem are you working to solve with your company, Venomyx?

We are working to make the world’s first recombinant antivenom that offers broad-spectrum treatment for bites from all medically relevant species of snakes.

Every year 5.5 Million people are bitten by venomous snakes. For the victims of snakebite, this results in disfigurement, disability, or death. Conventional antivenom has been able to approximate treatment of snakebite but is associated with limited efficacy, side effects, and a difficult production process.

Our antivenom is showing early preclinical success as a universal treatment for snakebite. It is a recombinant product which is manufactured at scale using microbial fermentation. The stability of our antivenom means that it does not require cold chain and will be available in the field for the first time ever.

If you could only pick one thing to validate your reason for forming a startup, what would it be? In other words, what would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing?

The entrepreneurial path is not an easy onebut I think that’s why we chose it. At some point, if it seems you have the ability to do something important, it becomes almost a responsibility to act. We’ve definitely received raised eyebrows from people in the past for what we are attempting to do; but we have also received support and encouragement from prominent opinion leaders of our space and that is the most validating of all. There have been many great minds who have dedicated their lives to studying snakes and their venom, so we hope to validate them by getting our solution to market and saving lives with it.

How do you think success can change your industry?

Our product will transform a very old industry that still relies on milking snakes and immunizing horses with the venom. We plan to manufacture our product overseas or license to overseas pharmaceutical companies who are already showing willingness to change. This will lead to a shift in local jobs from animal handling to biomanufacturing and, of course, spare great numbers of snakes and horses as a result.

How is your team uniquely able to tackle this? What’s the expertise?

Dan Dempsey
Deepankar Roy, PhD
Alexio Capovilla, PhD

We each have experience in both research and business as it pertains to drug development. This strong base is then differentiated further where each of us is able to lend unique perspective in the areas of R&D, project management, business development, regulatory compliance, and commercialization. Our complementarity skills help tremendously with the decision making process of an early therapeutics company where important decisions are made daily.

Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?

Don’t sweat the small stuffjust keep moving forward. There are so many challenges encountered as a start up and not everything goes as planned. It’s important to stay diligent and stay on your path. I’ve looked back at some of the early setbacks we’ve had as a company and noticed that it’s par for the course and we’re always able to find a way through.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far?

I think there is an inherent challenge associated with operating in our space which is part of the reason there still isn’t a viable solution. Snake venom is a complex drug target and requires the same scientific diligence that you would employ with any other disease indication. Traditionally, pharma companies and investors have been hesitant to venture into a space that falls outside the more widely accepted investment areas. I think we are changing that. They are beginning to see the cost and regulatory advantages of our space and that it opens the doors for our future projects in bacterial antitoxins to combat antibiotic resistant strains which is a huge and growing market.

What are the big goals and milestones you’re looking to hit in the short term? Long term?

We are already showing neutralization of venom from multiple species of snake and plan to finish preclinical development and enter the clinic for Vipax Asia at the end of 2017. The acute nature of our trials combined with our qualification for fast track status means we can complete clinical trials and gain approval as early as Dec 2019. Once our clinical trials are underway we plan to shift focus to development of Vipax for our other three regions (U.S., Africa, South America) as well as our bacterial antitoxin programs.

Learn more about Venomyx by watching Daniel pitch on IndieBio Demo Day Feb. 9th! Register for the event or LiveStream here!

An Interview With Hyunjun Park & Nathaniel Roquet of Catalog Technologies

Catalog Technologies

Storing Information in DNA

Photo: Nathaniel Roquet (left) and Hyunjun Park of Catalog Technologies. 

As the amount of information that humans create grows exponentially, hard drives and older methods of storage are becoming obsolete. DNA has been discovered to be effective medium for storing the world’s information, and it has several advantages in terms of storage space and shelf life. Catalog Technologies is not only storing info in DNA, but making the process economically viable so that it becomes more common in the near future. We asked a few questions to the company’s founders, Hyunjun Park and Nathaniel Roquet:

Tell me about your background, how did you become interested in science?

Hyunjun: Former postdoc in Prof. Timothy Lu’s group at MIT, Hyunjun obtained his BS at Seoul National University and PhD at the University of Wisconsin Madison. While in graduate school, Hyunjun worked at the university technology transfer office (WARF) and participated in the Wisconsin Entrepreneurial Bootcamp. Upon coming to Cambridge for his postdoc, he participated in MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service, as well as StartMIT, an intensive training program for startup founders.

Nate: Nate is a PhD candidate in the Harvard Biophysics program, conducting his thesis research in Prof Timothy Lu’s lab at MIT. He received his BA in physics from Princeton University. Nathaniel has a deep passion for fostering STEM education, especially with underprivileged or underrepresented youth, participating in various education outreach programs including serving as a teacher/mentor for Science Clubs of Mexico, Science Club for Girls, Citizen Schools, and the MIT Undergraduate Research Opportunity program.

What problem are you working to solve with Catalog Technologies?

As our tagline “Infinite Data Archives” suggests, we want to leverage the inherent characteristics of DNA to preserve humanity’s knowledge forever, in a very sustainable way.

If you could only pick one thing to validate your reason for forming a startup, what would it be? In other words, what would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing?

We want to make the greatest possible positive impact through our activities. If we are able to show that we are making a bigger positive impact through a startup than through other means, we would know that we are doing the right thing

How do you think success can change your industry?

DNA information storage has been talked about for several decades for the following reasons: 1) DNA is extremely information dense. For a given volume, DNA can store ~1,000,000X more information than SSD. 2) DNA will retain the info for thousands of years under the right conditions. This compares to decades in magnetic tape. 3) It is essentially free to copy DNA, making it possible to make many redundant copies of the information you want to archive. One of the biggest reasons DNA is not yet a major information storage medium despite these advantages, is the high cost of synthesis of DNA. If you try to store information at the point of synthesis, the cumulative cost of synthesis would get prohibitively high for large data sets. This is why our technology has the potential to disrupt the industry.

How is your team uniquely able to tackle this? What’s the expertise?

We are pioneering a paradigm shift in information storage that was invented in house. The fact that we are using DNA molecules to do this means that we can draw on our own expertise as highly trained scientists, as well as from a pool of world-leading experts that we are closely affiliated with. When it comes to the team make up, the two of us have highly complementary skill sets and have a deep level of trust in each other’s abilities.

Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?

We learned that many things we’ve picked up as scientists, such as logical and quantitative analysis skills are very useful as entrepreneurs. At the same time, we felt an immediate need to learn how to communicate our long-term vision with a general audience.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far?

Public speaking, social media, and engagement with the press.

What are the big goals and milestones you’re looking to hit in the short term? Long term?

Our external milestones are set as the ability to encode a given amount of information within a day. In the immediate term, we are shooting for a megabit stored by Demo Day. In one year, we aim to get to a gigabyte.

Learn more about Catalog Technologies by watching them pitch on IndieBio Demo Day Feb. 9th! Register for the event or LiveStream here!

An Interview With Brendan Griffen of Scaled Biolabs

Scaled Biolabs

A Biomedical Lab the Size of Your Phone.

Photo: The Scaled Biolabs team – Brendan Griffen (left), Justin Cooper-White, and Drew Titmarsh.

Biological experiments are time-consuming, and space-consuming, while requiring repeated manual motions from lab technicians. But technology has allowed Scaled Biolabs to shrink down the entire system of experimentation down to the size of your phone. Using microfluidics, scientists can conduct thousands of individual tests in one fell swoop and accelerate the rate of discoveries. We talked to the company’s CTO, Brendan Griffen, a few questions about how this all came to be:

Tell me about your background, how did you become interested in biotech?

My academic background is in computational physics with an specialization in astrophysics, theoretical physics, and cosmology. I’ve spent the last ten years working on large projects trying to understand the origin of our universe, the evolution of stars, and galaxies.  From these experiences, I’ve seen first hand the power of a supercomputer in solving some of the most complex problems in the world. This is fundamentally because we’ve been able to control the flow of electrons through circuits at increasingly smaller scales. Biology is similar in many ways but instead of mixing and moving electrons from point A to point B, we’re moving fluids. This is the fundamental way biomedical research is currently done so it always perplexed me as to why we continue to use clunky equipment to interface the human scale with what we’re actually interested in (e.g. cells interacting). This is what excited me about the future of biotechnology, our ability to do biology at nature’s scale. The potential to miniaturize most of biological research means that in the next 50 years, we will likely transform our lives even more dramatically than what computers have done in the past 50 years.

I’ve always been interested in biotechnology but never had the opportunity to apply myself to developing these ideas. When I saw the technology my co-founders Drew Titmarsh and Justin Cooper-White had developed, I immediately understood that a microfluidic approach to experimental biology is exactly what’s needed to make the aforementioned future a reality. In order to be part of this exciting future, we formed our company Scaled Biolabs.

What problem are you working to solve with Scaled Biolabs?

We are accelerating discoveries in biology. We’ve taken the functionality of a modern biomedical R&D lab and shrunk it all down on a system the size of your phone. By shrinking things down we rely on less expensive materials, less highly trained manual labor, and most importantly we can execute numbers of experiments on an unprecedented scale. We can run nearly 10,000 experiments on a single system and additionally resolve every single cell in every one of those experiments. Why is this important? If a biologist can run down every single possible path in a maze of possibilities faster, then they can find the optimal solution which gets them to their desired outcome sooner rather than later.

Stem cells are one such maze and a very active area of research right now — how do we turn stem cells, the ‘blueprint cell’, into different parts of the human body? Our collaborators have already grown human kidney and beating heart tissue in our system because they found the optimal method for getting to those outcomes faster than traditional methods. At Scaled Biolabs, we enable these kinds of breakthroughs by allowing scientists to get more done, cheaper and sooner.

If you could only pick one thing to validate your reason for forming a startup, what would it be? In other words, what would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing?

All discussions of “what has value?” tend to link back to a basic notion of health and wellbeing. I personally believe that our team really does have the potential to deliver fundamental improvements to human health. Take just one example — in 2005, 65 million people died from kidney disease. Being able to regenerate a patient’s kidney from their own stem cells, which won’t be rejected by their immune system, will literally save lives. If we had to boil it down to a single reason for doing all of this then it’s that — accelerating the advent of regenerative medicine to meet the needs of millions of patients who can’t be helped by a pharmaceutical drug.

How do you think success can change your industry?

Apart from meeting patient’s needs, success to us is creating a new status quo in our industry. Biological research is in desperate need of an upgrade, and should our approach be successful, we would be enamored to see it more widely used. We don’t want to stop just there though. Unknown problems on the horizon will require solutions not yet invented, and so being successful will mean not just creating a new status quo, but also continually creating novel technological solutions.

How is your team uniquely able to tackle this? What’s the expertise?

We’ve got complementary talent trained around the world.

Our CEO, Drew Titmarsh, is a trained chemical and biological engineer and co-inventor of the microbioreactor technology which is the workhorse platform of Scaled Biolabs. He has coordinated multidisciplinary projects at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnogy (Brisbane, Australia), and the Institute for Medical Biology, A*STAR (Singapore) in the areas of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.

Our CSO Professor Justin Cooper-White is a global leader in tissue engineering and microfluidics, and co-inventor of our microbioreactor technology. With 20 years of expertise in running and funding large research programs, he currently holds the positions of Professor of Bioengineering in the Australian Institute of Bioengineering & Nanotechnology and the School of Chemical Engineering at the University of Queensland, Director of the Australian National Fabrication Facility-Queensland Node, and Office of the Chief Executive Science Leader within CSIRO, Australia’s federal research institution.

I’m the CTO and have ten years in computational physics employing a wide variety of hardware and software tools to create solutions to big data problems. My previous four years research as a postdoctoral fellow at MIT has provided me with a wide range of interdisciplinary skills which are well suited to our challenges ahead.

Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?

It’s been quite a dramatic transition. The following three areas are where we’ve found the biggest lessons:

  1. Being OK with moving more quickly than you’re comfortable with. Academia tends to have a perfection focused mindset because the operational timescales are much longer. In industry, things are measured in days. The closest analogy I’ve found is it’s like morphing from a mammal into an insect — your priorities certainly change!
  1. As the phrase goes, “it’s not what you know, it’s who who you know”. Academia tends to (in the ideal case) be more of a meritocracy where what you know really does give you the greatest return. In industry, having strong relationships with people you can lean on for help or to stage a warm introduction often converts into something of great value.
  1. Follow up. No one cares about your business more than you, so you really have to make that extra effort to follow up with people if an email or call thread goes cold. Even if there is not a quid pro quo to be had on the business side, it is always very useful to keep all learning opportunities available. There are large number of tools online now which allow you to maintain several hundred conversations at once and ensure that you don’t let potentially important relationships go cold.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far?

Our biggest challenge has been our messaging and identity (i.e. “what are we?”). This is often the case for platform technologies — you can address multiple problems but the key is to find the underlying compelling narrative which brings it all together. Thinking more fundamentally about our technology and which direction we are heading has really helped us solve this problem. Traction also does wonders to identity woes because you get validation that what you’re building is something people want, so it’s much easier to speak to that than just a lofty garage band idea.

What are the big goals and milestones you’re looking to hit in the short term? Long term?

At the moment we are focused on providing value to customers who seek the advantages of our technology. We are in the early stages of our long term goal of placing our system in every research lab around the world. These are primarily companies either creating high quality stem cells or turning stem cells into different tissues of the human body. In the very long term we want to place our instrument in all doctor’s offices so that unfortunate folks who are diagnosed with cancer can get personalized treatment plans tailored to their own immune system and cancer type. With this two pronged approach we aim to become industry leaders in both regenerative medicine and personalized medicine. We’ve got a long journey but we’re making good strides.

Learn more about Scaled Biolabs by watching them pitch on IndieBio Demo Day Feb. 9th! Register for the event or LiveStream here!

An Interview With Arshia Firouzi of Ravata Solutions

Ravata Solutions

Electronic Embryo Alteration.

Photo: Arshia Firouzi (left) and Gurkern Sufi.

There are numerous reasons why new therapeutics take so long to become accessible to people suffering from life-threatening diseases. Many lab animals which are used in the testing of new treatments, most notably mice, often need to be genetically modified in order for them to best represent the condition that needs to be treated by new substances. The process of altering mouse embryos is extremely manual and time consuming, which is why Ravata Solutions has developed a new device to cut the process down to a fraction of its original time. We asked the company’s’ CEO and founder, Arshia Firouzi, a few questions:

Tell me about your background, how did you become interested in biotech?

I grew up in Southern Illinois and moved to Sacramento, California in late 2001. In 2011 I began my education at UC Davis where I studied Physics and Electrical Engineering. Following my graduation in 2016 I teamed up with my long-time friend and housemate Gurkern Sufi to start Ravata. We were and continue to be very excited about the intersection of electronics and biology. It is our view that the union of the two can accelerate achievement and advances in both fields.

My personal interest in public health stems from my experiences with my epilepsy. I am fortunate to have my seizures controlled but I continue to visit a neurologist and interact with many people having various neurological diseases. One of my favorite moments at Ravata was seeing the neuroscience research being done in mouse models. Knowing that our success means the success of neuroscience has fueled my passion for our work.

To an extent I almost feel like biotech became interested in me. I ended up with friends doing research in bio, professors working with biotech entrepreneurs, and then eventually a research project in biotech that led me to Ravata.

What problem are you working to solve with Ravata Solutions?

We are working to solve the limitations surrounding embryo engineering. Our technology is opening a bottleneck in the way genetically modified animals are created. Today, the process of transforming animal embryos is a manual one. As a result, animals used in medical research and preclinical trials can take over a year to produce. Furthermore, many times these animals are not good models of the disease they are meant to represent. What we are doing at Ravata is providing a cost effective and time efficient method to create quality animal models.  

If you could only pick one thing to validate your reason for forming a startup, what would it be? In other words, what would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing?

The fact that we have a technology to make a difference and a focused team to bring it into reality is how I validated forming a startup.

How do you think success can change your industry?

Our success means that the rodent model industry can produce better animal models for medical research and preclinical trials faster (up to 100X) and more efficiently than ever before. This will significantly shorten the research and drug development timespan.

How is your team uniquely able to tackle this? What’s the expertise?

Our technology involves the intersection of electronics and biology. My team has the necessary experience with electrical engineering, biology, and material science to tackle the challenges associated with the science.

Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?

The biggest lesson I have learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship is that having a great idea is only 1% of having a successful business. There are many great people with many brilliant ideas. It takes a combination of a large network, hard work, and strong mentors to be successful.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far?

The biggest challenge I have encountered so far is learning how to manage my bandwidth. There are always urgent tasks needing to be handled, many of which I have no experience with. In order to get through everything requires a new understanding of what is necessary, how to delegate tasks, and time management.

What are the big goals and milestones you’re looking to hit in the short term? Long term?

In the short term, we are looking to finalize the designs for our current system and enter the rodent model market. In the long term, we are aiming to adapt our device to work with other animal models and eventually other cell types such as plants, fungi, and even human cells.

Learn more about Ravata Solutions by watching Arshia pitch on IndieBio Demo Day Feb. 9th! Register for the event or LiveStream here!

An Interview With Steve Kazemi of Pure Cultures

Pure Cultures

Enough With All the Antibiotics in Livestock.

It’s no secret that much of the animal meat consumed by humans contains antibiotics that are excessively used in the raising of livestock. This leads to damaging health effects in humans, and contributes to the ever-growing issue of antibiotic resistance. In comes Pure Cultures, a startup creating a solution for farmers who want to raise healthy animals and eliminate the overuse of antibiotics in the food chain. We asked the company’s CEO and co-founder, Steve Kazemi, a few questions:

Tell me about your background, how did you get interested in science?

I got interested in science early because my father is a petroleum engineer and a PhD professor at Colorado School of Mines. He always stressed the importance of science and math. I remember being around 10 years old when I asked for a chemistry set. It came with a burner, a set of chemicals, and a book of a couple hundred experiments. I probably completed half of the experiments within a few days.  

After college I moved back to Colorado and I was employed by Hauser Chemical in Boulder, where we were extracting Taxol from the bark of the Yew tree. Taxol is still one of the best chemotherapies for cancer. The culture of the company was similar to a university. There were many PhDs working at the company, and they had an open office policy where they would teach chemistry and engineering on a regular basis.  I loved the fact that we were saving lives with a novel cancer drug. Then we moved to producing high quality herbal products. I was excited to be affecting health with a more natural approach.

What problem are you working to solve with your company, Pure Cultures?

Bacteria are crafty. Their job is to learn how to survive in harsh conditions. When antibiotics are used in humans or animals, they kill both the good and bad bacteria, and the bacteria learns how to adapt quickly. Some bacteria are able to develop a resistance to the antibiotic dosed. If an animal or human then gets exposed to another pathogen that requires medical treatment, dosing with an antibiotic might not work because the bacteria are immune. This is what has caused 700,000 deaths a year in humans.

Antibiotics also travel up the food chain to humans from eating animals. 80% of human antibiotics produced are used in our livestock to promote weight gain, and many are used on healthy animals. By reducing even a small amount of these antibiotics, it will have a greater effect on saving human lives because the rate of antibiotic resistant bacteria generation will be slowed.

Pure Cultures believes that developing natural solutions to use as an alternative to antibiotics will have a significant effect on human health and our environment.

If you could only pick one thing to validate your reason for forming a startup, what would it be? In other words, what would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing?

When our solutions produce data that validates our product effectiveness, and our customers pay us, we will have validation we are building the right business.  

How do you think success can change your industry?

Our innovative natural solution is disrupting the animal nutrition space and will ultimately affect the health and wellness of meat-eating consumers.

How is your team uniquely able to tackle this? What’s the expertise?

The Pure Cultures team is constantly working to improve its technology – and move the science of probiotic product development forward. We have complementary backgrounds in science and business strategy. I have over 20 years of experience managing probiotic manufacturing operations for clients such as Trader Joe’s and Perrigo which generated $35 million in annual sales, in addition to having expertise in fermentation and operations.

Colleen is the co-founder and CMO, with over 20 years of marketing and business strategy experience working with Fortune 500 companies. She has deep experience in B2B sales and marketing strategy and execution. For the last five years she has served on the Board of Directors for Tomboyx, and consulted for several startups, accelerators, mid-level, and B2B enterprise companies located in major hubs nationally. Colleen and I are married and have a blended family of an 11-year-old, 15-year-old, 20-year-old and 28-year old.

Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?

Yes, great businesses are built on customers. Learning how to find customers and sell product has been challenging and rewarding.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far?

Time and money. We are constantly having to make decisions on where to focus our time to move as quickly as possible. We are on the cutting edge of a health conscience boom. We have the opportunity to be one of the first products on the market with our proprietary solution. We want to make smart decisions but move quickly.

What are the big goals and milestones you’re looking to hit in the short term? Long term?

In the next four months, we want to raise our financing round while focusing on generating revenue. 2017 has started out great for us and we want to keep up the momentum.

In the long term, we intend to hire a CSO and broaden our understanding of how to produce novel antimicrobial agents.

Learn more about Pure Cultures by watching Steve pitch on IndieBio Demo Day Feb. 9th! Register for the event or LiveStream here!

Magnetic Pulses to Combat Depression: An Interview With Mehran Talebinejad of NeuroQore

NeuroQore

Photo: The NeuroQore team (Mehran on far left). 

Depression is a major burden in many people’s lives who we know. Some of the treatments that are prescribed, like medication, are not always effective or without major side effects. Drug-resistant depression is sometimes treated with electroshock therapy, which is risky, despite being the gold standard. In comes NeuroQore, a new device that aims to treat depression by sending magnetic pulses to a small region of the brain, which is safer than electroshock therapy. We asked NeuroQore’s CEO, Mehran Talebinejad, a few questions:

Tell me about your background, how did you get interested in the biotech space?

As a teenager I was fascinated with brain machine interfaces (BMI) and mind uploading. This drove me to study Biomedical Engineering and go towards neural prosthetics and brain surgery. Fast forward 10 years after getting into the university, and I did my first brain surgery. During this surgery I realized the brain is so extremely complex, and machine BMIs have a long long way to go before being publicly available. I also realized non-invasive brain tools and neuromodulation is super important since we don’t have easy access to the brain while the skull is blocking us!

So how did you try to turn that complexity into something practical you could work on?

Among non-invasive approaches to brain stimulation or neuromodulation there are only two very promising approaches: the first is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or electroshock therapy. This is the gold standard for treatment of drug-resistant depression. The second is the magnetic brain stimulation or repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), which emulates ECT in smaller brain regions without convulsion. ECT requires hospitalization, anesthesia, and has severe cognitive side effects (memory loss) and a risk of death. Less than 1% of patients are willing to endure ECT! On the other hand, rTMS is outpatient, has no systemic side effects and is widely accepted by patients. I saw the potential of rTMS and I had a vision to make it more accessible and more effective for treatment of drug-resistant depression and a range of other brain disorders (psychiatric and neurological).

What problem are you working to solve with your company, NeuroQore?

TMS is a platform tech with a range of applications, but we are focused on drug-resistant depression at this time. Over 16M patients are diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) every year in the US, and more than 4M remain drug-resistant. Which means they do not get satisfactory results from drugs in the first line of therapy. There is an option for them to do ECT, but as I mentioned less than 1% willing to endure ECT (still over 100,000 patients/year). So there is a large unmet need, or I would say crisis, for drug-resistant depression. Depression is among few disorders in medicine where a patient says “I rather die than have this”! NeuroQore is set to make TMS accessible and more effective as an alternative option to ECT.

If you could only pick one thing to validate your reason for forming a startup, what would it be? In other words, what would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing?

The indicator is being able to execute on my own vision and feeling satisfied after seeing patients getting into remission. Patients bring us all types gifts and flowers in the last sessions of their treatment, and almost all of them have been super satisfied, which is very fulfilling for me.

How do you think success can change your industry?

NeuroQore is set to change mental health care and psychiatry as we know it, a condition that has been relatively unchanged since the 1960s. Patients with depression will be able to go to our centers (i.e. the “Apple Store for Depression”), monitor their depression with physical evidence (biomarkers not just anecdotal questioners), and finally get effective outpatient treatment! Today mental health care and psychiatry both suck, it is literally depressing to get depression treatment.

How is your team uniquely able to tackle this? What’s the expertise?

We have a great multi-disciplinary team and have been working together for over a decade. My academic background is in biomedical engineering, neuroscience, and technology management. I was selected as a rising star CEO by Invest Ottawa and I have been recognized and awarded many times for my work at NeuroQore as a co-founder and CEO.

Adrian is my co-inventor and co-founder, and has been working with me for over 14 years. He is an award winning expert in scientific research and development, with academic background in electrical and biomedical engineering specialized in non-invasive approaches.

Jonathan is a pioneering rTMS clinician/psychiatrist. He is very well known and well respected in the psychiatry society, and has had amazing contributions to improve clinical rTMS for depression treatment. He has experienced over 2,000 patients in his practice to date.

Brittany is an angel, she is our anticipatory patient service expert, with an academic background in psychology and mental health neuroscience. Her role is crucial in patient experience, which is very important for mental health. She is helping us change mental health care as we know it with her innovative service approach.

Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?

Life can be very exciting and fulfilling, but as an entrepreneur I must be ready for anything above and beyond what I know and have learned. I must be ready to learn on the fly and adapt to new situations.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far?

Educating the government, the public, and clinicians about rTMS and non-drug depression treatment… and removing the stigma of depression.

What are the big goals and milestones you’re looking to hit in the short term? Long term?

In 2017 we will have four centers operational/active in California (SF, LA, Oakland, and Long Beach), and in the long term we are planning to repeat this model across the US with over 100 centers in the next three years.

Learn more about NeuroQore by watching Mehran pitch on IndieBio Demo Day Feb. 9th! Register for the event or LiveStream here!

Doctors Meet Data Science: An Interview with Karim Galil of Mendel Health

Mendel Health

Photo: The Mendel Health team with Karim in the center.

Do you ever feel your medical records are an unorganized mess, making it impossible for doctors with their busy schedules to match you with the latest treatments that are most optimally matched to your needs? In comes Mendel Health, a way for your data to be “in the driver’s seat”. Thousands of treatments for cancer and other diseases are in trials, and few doctors know about them… which is something Mendel Health is working to solve. So people do not lose their chances of beating disease. We asked the company’s CEO, Karim Galil, a few questions:

Tell me about your background, how did you become interested in public health?

I went to med school and got to practice medicine for a couple of years. I was very frustrated with how the practice of medicine was immune to the rate of advancement in technology.

What problem are you working to solve with Mendel Health?

We are trying to stop needless deaths in medicine. Every day thousands of patients pass away. It’s all too common that after their death we learn about a clinical trial that would have saved them. This is due to the huge increase in the rate of research, and the inability for any human to stay up to date. To make the promise of precision medicine real we have to find ways for doctors to keep up with all this research and data.

If you could only pick one thing to validate your reason for forming a startup, what would it be? In other words, what would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing?

Our success metric: Number of  patients matched to a new trials or research which was never mentioned to them before AND it saves their life!

How do you think success can change your industry?

It will close the gap between research and the practice of medicine. This means faster drug development cycles and patients generating a wealth of data. All that will accelerate biomarker discoveries and curing terminal illnesses like cancer.

How is your team uniquely able to tackle this? What’s the expertise?

What is unique about our team is the multidisciplinary skills. You have a physician leading a team of doctors and a technical PhD leading a team of data scientists.

The intersection between medicine and data has sparked solutions to many problem other AI companies have been facing in healthcare.

Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?

Move fast. The faster you fail, the faster you will succeed.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far?

The biggest challenge has been getting the data team to understand medicine and getting the medical team to understand AI.

What are the big goals and milestones you’re looking to hit in the short term? Long term?

Our goal is matching 10,000 cancer patients to effective treatment options, which was not considered possible before using Mendel.ai.

Learn more about Mendel Health by watching Karim pitch on IndieBio Demo Day Feb. 9th! Register for the event or LiveStream here!

The Bad Boy of Biosensors: An Interview With Ray Chiu of BioInspira

Bioinspira

Photo: Ray Chiu (far right) and the BioInspira team. 

Every year, more than 200 natural gas pipeline-related incidents happen on average in the United States, and $5B in economic opportunities are lost as a result of gas leaks. BioInspira is aiming to solve this problem by bringing air chemical detection to the next level.

At IndieBio, we call the founder and CEO of BioInspira, Ray Chiu, the “Bad Boy of Biosensors”. Not only has he helped the company raise over $1.3M, he’s also closed partnerships with a consortium of the largest northern and southern California gas and electricity companies. BioInspira uses biology to change the economics of how we monitor our infrastructures. We asked Ray a few questions:

Tell me about your background, how did you get interested in the biotech space?

My background is in chemical engineering. I’ve had a huge passion for science since I was little, and I was always very keen on learning about breakthroughs in new frontiers of scientific research. Because of this, I made the decision to participate in this task of expanding scientific knowledge. Biotechnology is a relatively unexplored area filled with unknown potentials. Whereas the microelectronic revolution has come and gone with the projected bottleneck from Moore’s Law, there are still many secrets we can still learn about biology, biochemistry, and how they can change our way of life. This wealth of potential for discovery and impact on our life is what propelled me into the biotech space.

What problem are you working to solve with your company, Bioinspira?

Billions of dollars worth of economic opportunities are lost because there are currently very ineffective ways of tracking our infrastructures. This is a huge problem. We envision that, by combining network connectivity with powerful sensors, we can eliminate waste that is generated by the use of Earth’s natural resources. Take natural gas leaks, for example. BioInspira can save as much as 40% of the gas that is leaked from our gas infrastructure while cutting the leak inspection time in half.

Such engineering marvel, if successful, will also provide unprecedented data and insight and lead to a safer smarter world. However, current sensing technologies can’t achieve this goal due to their power consumption, size, cost, and accuracy. BioInspira believes a new revolutionary sensing mechanism is required. And we aim to solve this problem with our technology.

If you could only pick one thing to validate your reason for forming a startup, what would it be? In other words, what would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing?

Passion. I firmly believe that the technology our team is working on will revolutionize people’s way of life and lead to a safer and smarter world. Seeing my technology become successful and actually influence society would be the single biggest indicator that I am doing the right thing.

 

“I firmly believe that the technology our team is working on will revolutionize people’s way of life and lead to a safer and smarter world.”

 

How do you think success can change your industry?
If we are successful, we will revolutionize the way in which the industry performs inspections for safety and emission control. Our customers will have constant and real time information on leaks in their systems, leading to efficient leak repair processes. This would help reduce waste and save lives.

How is your team uniquely able to tackle this? What’s the expertise?

We have more than 20 years of professional sensor research experience. We are experts in phage sensor engineering. Our sensor research goes back more than 10 years with more than $2M research funding invested to date. We also have industry experts, thought leaders, and the chief inventor of our technology forming a powerful advisory board. In addition, we have partners with OEM partners on device manufacturing that will ensure the quality of our solution.

Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?
Do not take anything for granted. Besides changing our R&D plan to meet the customer’s schedule and needs, we invested most of our time to grow relationships with potential customers and end users. If we do not turn these into a potential sales channel or investment opportunity, or we ruin our relationships, all our time will be wasted.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far?

As this is a completely new sensing mechanism, one of our biggest challenges was to explain the technology to potential end users as well as investors. Most of the end users are experts in sensors, but do not know much about biotechnology. On the other hand, most of the interested investors are very familiar in biotechnology, but do not understand much about the sensor industry.

What are the big goals and milestones you’re looking to hit in the short term? Long term?

Short term: successfully deliver our sensor development kit and complete field tests with customers. Long term: overhaul the sensor industry by providing a revolutionizing sensor platform with improved combined capabilities.

Learn more about BioInspira by watching Ray pitch on IndieBio Demo Day Feb. 9th! Register for the event or LiveStream here!

Designing Drugs In Silico: An Interview With Ed Painter of A2A Pharmaceuticals

What if people suffering from cancer, tuberculosis, and other life-threatening diseases didn’t have to wait as long for the right drugs to be developed to help them stay alive? A2A Pharmaceuticals is a biotechnology company committed to the advancement of innovative scientific research and new therapeutic agents. We asked the company’s founder, Ed Painter, a few questions:

Tell me about your background, how did you get interested in the science/biotech space?
From my initial exposure to biotech companies like Amgen and Genentech doing research on cancer and other life threatening diseases around 20 years ago, I have been fascinated with process of building businesses around critical therapeutics. My success with investments in public companies gave me a great understanding of what is needed to make a company succeed.

What problem are you working to solve with your company, A2A Pharmaceuticals?
With A2A Pharmaceuticals we are addressing the extremely high cost and long time needed to make new therapeutics available to patients. We use both proprietary and commercially available software to make the process dramatically less expensive, faster and more likely to result in success.

 

“With A2A Pharmaceuticals we are addressing the extremely high cost and long time needed to make new therapeutics available to patients.”

 

If you could only pick one thing to validate your reason for forming a startup, what would it be? In other words, what would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing?
Few people get a chance to save a person’s life. That is the greatest accomplishment to which A2A aspires.

How do you think success can change your industry?
By illustrating the effectiveness of using computational tools to develop new drug candidates, we hope to help drive more interest and investment in software tools that can help get new medications to patients.

How is your team uniquely able to tackle this? What’s the expertise?
The capabilities of A2A’s team range from founder Sridhar Vempati’s skills with selection of disease targets to Brendan Kelly’s skills with development and use of drug design tools.

Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?
We are learning every day. The lessons most critical include making sure employees are happy and the power of networking to find the people who will make the company work.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far?
One of the most important dynamics we face on a daily basis is the need to manage expectations as we strive to exceed.

What are the big goals and milestones you’re looking to hit in the short term? Long term?
A2A is currently doing proof of concept work on a Leukemia drug. We hope to have positive results before the end of January. We are also working on partnerships with other pharmaceutical companies to help advance our new drug programs for cancer and drug-resistant bacterial infections as well as programs conceived by third parties.

Learn more about A2A Pharmaceuticals by watching Ed pitch on IndieBio Demo Day Feb. 9th! Register for the event or LiveStream here

Improving Your Pet’s Digestive Health With Science: An Interview with Holly Ganz of AnimalBiome

Photo: Holly (left) and Adrien from AnimalBiome with their furry friends.

It’s not uncommon for a pet dog or cat to have digestive issues, especially early in life. Instead of treating the root of the problem—an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut—veterinarians commonly prescribe antibiotics. Without a true fix for the problem, pets can fall victim to a number of other health issues later in life as a result.

Animal Biome is harnessing the power of the microbiome to make targeted therapeutics for dogs and cats that are suffering from digestive issues. We asked the company’s CEO, Holly Ganz, a few questions:

Tell me about your background, how did you get interested in the biotech space?

Up until recently, I was an academic researcher working at UC Davis studying co-evolution between animals and microbes. I became interested in the biotech space after launching a citizen science project to study the microbiology of domestic cats. From this experience, I learned that digestive disorders are common in cats and that many of these kitties have an imbalance in the composition of bacteria in their gut. I found that chronic conditions like Irritable Bowel Disease cost pet owners thousands of dollars to diagnose and manage, and there is currently no cure. My goal is to rapidly translate what we are learning in our research to create solutions for pet owners.

 

“I found that chronic conditions like Irritable Bowel Disease cost pet owners thousands of dollars to diagnose and manage, and there is currently no cure.”

 

What problem are you working to solve with your company, AnimalBiome?

We estimate that about 10 million dogs and cats in the US suffer from digestive disorders. Based on our research, we have found that many digestive disorders are linked to low bacterial diversity in the gut. The current solutions to these disorders are expensive and they only address the symptoms, not the source of the problem. At AnimalBiome, we are using our assessment kit to allow pet owners to view their pet’s bacterial diversity, and we are developing solutions in the form of fecal transplant pills and cat- and dog-specific probiotic mixtures.

If you could only pick one thing to validate your reason for forming a startup, what would it be? In other words, what would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing?

Our customers and partner veterinarians are already telling us that we are doing the right thing. It is a certainty that microbiome data is going to be used to improve the health and wellness of both pets and their owners in the future, and we are striving to make that happen as soon as possible.

How do you think success can change your industry?

Our success can change the pet health industry by enabling pet owners and veterinarians to make data driven decisions about the care of their pets. The gut microbiome influences more than just digestion; it’s been linked to conditions such as allergies, diabetes and even depression. The more pet owners we have participating in our cause, the more successful we will be at addressing the underlying role of gut bacteria in a wide variety of disorders.

How is your team uniquely able to tackle this? What’s the expertise?

Our team of scientists has amassed the largest database in the world on the microbiome of the order Carnivora (dogs, cats, and their close relatives). We are researchers from UC Davis and UC Berkeley, who have published more than 30 papers and have extensive experience in both microbiology, computational biology and data analytics.

“Our team of scientists has amassed the largest database in the world on the microbiome of the order Carnivora (dogs, cats, and their close relatives).”

 

Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?

In academia, we have more freedom to pursue our own personal, intellectual interests, so long as we can find funding to do so. In the private sector you have to understand the market needs and focus your time on building your business to meet those needs.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far?

We’ve developed personal relationships with a number of our customers who have grieved the loss of their companion animal. Although we are currently able to diagnose low gut bacteria diversity, we do not yet have the amount of data necessary to provide tailored cures for their pets. The biggest challenge we’re currently facing is learning how to quickly spread our mission so we can provide solutions to ailing pets as soon as possible.

What are the big goals and milestones you’re looking to hit in the short term? Long term?

Our big goal in the short term is to hit 5,000 participants in DoggyBiome and KittyBiome. In the long term, our goal is to create tailored probiotics using isolates that we have identified from this database as being essential for animal health.

Check out the products in Animal Biome’s shop, and register for the IndieBio Demo Day LiveStream (Feb. 9th) to watch them pitch!