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It’s Almost Here: Reserve Your Tickets for IndieBio NY Class 4 Demo Day

IndieBio is proud to announce its Demo Day for New York Class 4, taking place at The Gramercy Theater Wednesday June 29, 2022. Doors open at 5pm EST! Reserve your tickets here.

IndieBio is the world’s leading biotech startup development program, which supports founders tackling the biggest problems facing human and planetary health. Startups develop scientific projects into products that will transform our food, therapeutics, biomaterials, and diagnostics industries–and more.

This is your opportunity to celebrate with these incredibly talented teams, as they highlight the many milestones achieved during our four month intensive program.

Interested in learning more about what they are working on? Get a sneak peak of the startups that will be presenting here.

Meet the new chief science officers at IndieBio in NYC and HAX in Newark

SOSV, IndieBioNY, HAX
SOSV: Susan Schofer (left), PhD, Chief Science Officer of HAX Newark facility, and Sabriya Stukes, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer of IndieBio New York.
Susan Schofer (left), PhD, Chief Science Officer of HAX Newark facility, and Sabriya Stukes, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer of IndieBio New York.

At SOSV’s IndieBio and HAX, two new team members are helping deep tech founders address scientific challenges. Earlier this year, Sabriya Stukes, PhD, joined IndieBio as Chief Scientific Officer in Manhattan and Susan Schofer, PhD, joined HAX as Partner and Chief Science Officer at its Newark, New Jersey facility. Stukes and Schofer both bring world-class credentials to these leading programs addressing human and planetary health. 

The two scientists will work in a variety of areas, starting with due diligence on the science behind the startups applying to the programs. Once founders are on board, Sabriya and Susan will help them define their scientific milestones, build a compelling narrative, and develop a commercialization strategy. The aim is that by the time founders graduate, they are ready to raise seed capital and pursue regulatory approvals. 

HAX, founded in Shenzhen in 2011, opened its Newark facility this year in partnership with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. IndieBio expanded to NYC from San Francisco, where it started in 2014, in collaboration with New York state. Dr. Stukes and Dr. Schofer will build upon this foundation by developing the network of scientists and corporate partners crucial to emerging startups. 

Sabriya Stukes: Innovating With, Not For

Born in Arlington, Virginia, Sabriya grew up as a voracious reader with a dinosaur obsession. IndieBio can thank The Hot Zone, the nonfiction thriller about Ebola, for convincing Sabriya to study infectious diseases instead of pterodactyls.

After graduating from Virginia Tech in 2005, Sabriya conducted research on HIV at the National Institutes of Health and tuberculosis at New York University. She then pursued her PhD in microbiology and immunology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, graduating in 2015.

At a seminar highlighting women in STEM, Sabriya met Dr. Gilda Barabino, then dean of engineering at the City College of New York (CCNY). Dr. Barabino was about to launch the Master’s in Translational Medicine (MTM) program at CCNY and asked Sabriya to help build it. MTM would be the city’s first graduate degree to train scientists and engineers in medical technology innovation and commercialization.

“You can’t design in a vacuum. I’m big on designing not just for a specific population or community, but with them.”


Over the next six years, Sabriya mentored MTM student-founders working on everything from treating atopic dermatitis in individuals with melanated skin to a wearable device for managing the effects of menopause. Ideas like these “…got me thinking about who gets technologies designed for them, and who doesn’t,” Sabriya says. 

Sabriya noticed that many founders struggled because they often excluded their intended customers from the innovation process. “You can’t design in a vacuum,” she says. “I’m big on designing not just for a specific population or community, but with them.” 

In 2021, Sabriya brought that drive to Stellate Therapeutics, a biotech company using microbiome-derived molecules to treat neurodegenerative disorders. She took on operations for Stellate while continuing to teach MTM graduate students. 

Early in 2022, Sabriya heard about IndieBio’s opening for a Chief Scientific Officer doing what she loves: creating a community of scientists and engineers, in New York, dedicated to designing innovative and inclusive solutions for unmet clinical needs.   

“Sabriya is a perfect fit for the IndieBio New York program,” said SOSV General Partner Stephen Chambers. “She brings a track record of accomplishments as a research scientist, an academic helping grad students translate research into commercial opportunities, and hands-on operational experience in a New York life science startup. In addition, Sabriya brings an enormous amount of energy and positivity with her can-do attitude, making her a pleasure to work alongside.”

Susan Schofer: The Commercialization Wiz

Born in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, Susan was lucky to attend New Trier, a massive public high school where she could “nerd out,” as she puts it, and “be challenged to my limit.” As an undergrad at Brown University, Susan got hooked on chemistry. 

After graduating in 1997, Susan tried out management consulting (“not a fit”) and instead went to Caltech for a PhD in chemistry followed by a postdoc in Sweden working on artificial photosynthesis. In 2005, she joined Symyx Technologies, a Bay Area chemicals startup accelerating new material discovery. 

Not many PhDs enjoy thinking about scale, cost, and marketing narratives, but Susan did. In her next job at Amyris, a San Francisco-based synthetic biology startup, she transitioned from the lab to product management and commercial operations. This was her sweet spot.

“You want to be inventing things that are new to the world, not inventing things that are new to you.”

In 2014, Susan landed a job as the eighth employee at Modern Meadow, then a New York-based startup that was working on animal-free leather and debating how to commercialize it. Partnerships, Susan reasoned, were the missing bridge between the laboratory and market. “You want to be inventing things that are new to the world, not inventing things that are new to you,” she says.

Susan secured partnerships with an Italian textile mill and major luxury and performance brands eager to be part of the innovation process. That way, Modern Meadow was able to develop a useful leather directly, without Marco Polo-ing its way to product-market fit. Susan’s approach helped Modern Meadow raise a $130 million Series C in April 2021.

In 2022, Susan met the HAX team at a hard tech happy hour in New York, where they were scouting for a Chief Science Officer. “This role combines all the things I love,” says Susan. “This team is super talented and trying to create the future.”

Susan applied for the job believing that HAX can revitalize planetary and human health—and New Jersey. “The way we produce, ship, and acquire things is broken and needs to be reinvented,” she says, arguing that cities like Newark—dismissed as Rust Belt relics—will be part of an industrial renaissance as hard tech innovations reshore manufacturing to the US.

“Susan not only has stellar academic credentials, but she has also spent most of her professional life focused on scaling new technology,” said SOSV General Partner Duncan Turner. “As HAX companies continue to push the envelope of hard tech, both in science and scale, we needed an experienced scientist to help us grow our expertise and capabilities in this area. We were absolutely delighted to meet Susan as she is a perfect fit for this role and so happy she chose to join our team.”

They Have Your Back

Sabriya and Susan know firsthand how communities of scientists and engineers, embedded among thoughtful mentors and experienced partners, can commercialize science that changes life for the better. They have seen what lies ahead and can spare founders from avoidable mistakes. They will ask the questions founders have never been asked and help guide startups where they never thought they could go. They know the science, and they have your back.

Meet Pae Wu, the new general partner at SOSV’s IndieBio in San Francisco

Pae Wu photo

Pae Wu is the newest general partner at SOSV. She runs IndieBio SF with fellow SOSV general partner Po Bronson. Pae is also the CTO of the program. 

Prior to joining IndieBio in 2020, Pae served as the Scientific Director of Telefónica’s moonshot factory – Alpha (Barcelona), Science Director at the US Office of Naval Research – Global (Singapore), and technical consultant at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).  She holds degrees in Electrical Engineering from Duke (PhD) and Princeton (BS).

Here are a few questions we asked Pae to mark the start of her new role.

Pae Wu photo
SOSV General Partner Pae Wu

Why IndieBio? 

Simply put, this place is an enabler of people who have great ideas and a genuine desire to bring positive change to the world. There are those in the industry who gate-keep and those who enable – I wanted to be with the enablers. 

But wait, you’re not a biologist, you’re an electrical engineer! How does that work?

I was met with a lot of resistance

Actually not true at all – I came out of academia at a time when biology was hitting its stride as something humans could engineer.  I was lucky to help the US government deploy huge sums of early R&D funding to accelerate biology’s transition into an engineering discipline.  The last decade or so, my portfolio has expanded to encompass the broad intersection between engineering and biology.  Really what I’ve learned through the years is that the most interesting new technologies emerge at the interfaces of seemingly disparate disciplines – semiconductors and molecular biology, neurobiology and phase-change materials.  So pretty much I spend my days mashing up topics that pique my curiosity.  

Engineers basically look at the world and try to figure out how to control systems to do useful things.  This is applicable whether the system in question is living or not.  What I’m saying is, if a company is trying to build a business that solves a big problem, there are inputs and outputs that matter and it’s OK to me if it’s electrons, photons, or neurons. 

What’s been the biggest surprise since you started working with biology-based startups?

What’s been exhilarating in my time here at IndieBio is how committed our team is to the mission of solving problems of human and planetary health.  That’s allowed us to really flex the definition of what is an IndieBio company.  Beyond biology, we’ve taken a more agnostic approach to solving problems like the decarbonization of heavy industries, to include physics and chemistry-based technologies.  

IndieBio is a place of great optimism.  Every day I’m inspired by our founders who have the mettle to see big existential problems as an opportunity to do an audacious thing.  Most of them leave academia or healthy careers to bring this thing to reality out of a sense of mission.  Here in the Ivory Basement, as Arvind calls it, I am constantly reminded of what a huge responsibility we have to these founders to launch sector-defining companies both from souvenirs left by the amazing alumni Arvind, Po, Jun, Alex, Parikshit, and Maya nurtured all these years and from the constant energy of the current founders pulling the long hours in the lab.  

IndieBio covers a lot of ground, from pharmaceuticals to bioreactors, CRISPR technologies and alternative proteins. How do you make sense out of all that? 

Very carefully. 

Is there such a thing as too much non-dilutive money?

There is such a thing as too much of the wrong kind of non-dilutive money.  One thing that I remind founders is that the cadence of capital from the government does not align with the cadence of execution for a venture-backed start-up.  Plus, it’s only mostly free money – trust me, I’ve read the required proposals, budgets, and reports and know the time and energy those take to generate. 

The ecosystem is growing flush with other forms of non-dilutive support for deep tech founders, which is largely great, as long as start-ups continue to move quickly.  There’s a reality behind the romantic vision of the lean and gritty start-up.   

In short: Don’t let your non-dilutive funding steer your execution.       

Can you tell us just one thing about DARPA that only DARPA people would know?

Sorry, I have to run to another meeting.

Healthcare is saving the world. Software is eating very little of it.

Healthcare is simultaneously one of the fastest evolving markets, and yet the one market most resistant to change. Global healthcare is so big – $8 trillion – that it can sustain this paradox. 

SOSV just published its Human Health 100, a list of our top healthcare investments. They are very diverse. Here’s how to understand them.

Image on a blue and green background with text SOSV Human Health 100

Over the last decade, historical advancements have been brought to market. The COVID vaccines set a sprint record, 12 months, no longer live-attenuated, deploying mRNA. Mostly, this single healthcare innovation helped the entire global economy get back on its feet. What has that been worth? Tens of trillions. During that time, telehealth grew a massive 38x in market size. We’ve seen psychedelics approved by the FDA, with many more coming, and we’ve cured Hepatitis C. Over 20 cell and gene therapies have been approved. Covalently-bound drugs have succeeded in oncology. So has checkpoint-inhibitor immunotherapy. 2018 was the sharpest one-year drop in US Cancer Deaths ever reported, and now the death rate from cancer is going down 1.5% every year. Meanwhile, we’re living in an apex of drug approvals. In 2008, the FDA rejected ⅔ of novel drugs. By 2015, they approved 23 out of 24. And in 2021, they approved 50. This has rewired the risk economics for the entire sector. 

But we pay for this innovation dearly, as a society. In the US, we pay twice as much to see the doctor but only half as often as most other countries. We pay 2x the price for biologics (at least). Physician burnout is unprecedented; they feel like assembly-line workers. The disease burden on our global economy only goes up, and up. Consumers spend 8 cents of every dollar on healthcare, then the government spends another 24 cents out of every dollar. 11% of all workers now are in healthcare. It’s not software eating the world; as others have noted, it’s healthcare. 

At SOSV, our vantage point is informed by living at the deep tech intersection represented by our startup development programs HAX, IndieBio, and CA/MOX … the Shibuya Crossing of hardware, genetics, and frontier markets. This makes us, well, a little different than most funds. We have the world’s fastest antibody discovery platform (Prellis). We also have the fastest-growing mobile health platform in India (Phable). Meanwhile, HAX launched the fastest growing company in our entire SOSV portfolio, R-Zero, a disinfection robot. It’s not that we are agnostic to how we make medicine better – it’s that we can informatively probe, “of all the ways we can attack this problem, which modality is best?”

In many ways, our portfolio mirrors the macro trends of improving efficiency, automation, and data prediction. Finish all these sentences with “is booming.” Remote care is _______ (Optimize, Ria Health). Lab automation is _______ (OpenTrons, Synthace). AI-assisted medicine is _______. (Mendel.ai). Epigenetics screening is _____ (Chronomics). At-home kidney care is ______ (Qidni, ProtonIntel).

Much has been hyped of the de minimus cost of gene sequencing. Though that hype engenders a false connotation that everyone has equal capacity to access all that data. Haha. Not so fast. Companies such as Gatehouse Bio defy that idea; they use novel, proprietary chemistry to read sRNA isoform signatures and parse disease – in ways invisible to others. Then there’s Biomage, whose software makes sense of metabolomic data faster than a thousand lab techs. And Biomesense, which collects microbiome nucleic acids, daily – the only service of its kind in the world – to solve the microbiome interaction that bedevils immunotherapy. 

For patients, most chronic diagnoses today are “rule-out” processes that take a year. So while there has been considerable hype around non-invasive methods of early detection, at SOSV we recognize these are just screening tests. They define probability, not disease. Meanwhile, most of the healthcare spend is in long-term patient monitoring, measuring the biomarkers that drive regular clinical decision-making. Companies such as DeepSpin (a 20x cheaper MRI), BioRosa (a blood test to score autism), StradosLabs (lung care), Cellens (bladder cancer recurrence) and FeetMe (monitoring senior care), are a few of many great SOSV companies in this space.  

As patients get more informed than ever, consumer health is growing much more sophisticated. Startups can run the playbook to grow a meaningful consumer base before (if ever) targeting disease claims and FDA clearance. Consumers are often so frustrated by their medical system and its “drug everything” approach that they want to take personal control. Markets that are open for this strategy include infertility (Microgenesis), pregnancy monitoring (Bloomlife), food sensitivities (FoodMarble), probiotics (SunGenomics), depression (Flow Neuroscience), kidney and liver toxin reduction (Unlocked) and chronic pain management (Sana Health).

In therapeutics, our risk model frees us to fund novel scientific approaches and indications that others are largely averse to at the early stage. DNA Lite has made considerable success with its oral mRNA vaccines and biologics. Synthex and Ten63 have likewise shown their capabilities with targeting protein-protein interactions, long considered undruggable. Non-addictive pain relief, meanwhile, has been near impossible to crack; Pannex believes it has an angle on nociceptor ion channels. Karma Therapeutics is taming auto-immunity with precision tolerogenic vaccines. Prothegen offers a new approach to preventing cell death by tapping the newly-druggable ferroptosis pathway.

One area missing on our thesis list is All Purpose Longevity, the search for a holy grail master switch to prevent disease onset through cellular health. We think it’s dangerously easy to make mice live longer, and dangerously difficult to do the same for humans, who live 50x longer than mice, naturally. However, this hasn’t kept us away from doing our share of regenerative medicine in specific indications. Back surgery is one of the biggest expenses for providers, and results are often poor. Intelligent Implants improves those odds, by inducing and steering spinal bone regrowth. OneSkin is the first skin health serum to turn back the molecular clock on our skin. Bioaesthetics helps women who’ve endured mastectomy, helping them regrow a natural nipple. Innate Bio has distilled essential metabolites that increase the clearing of cholesterol. And ReachNeuro uses an approved pain stimulator – but not for pain – to restore limb motor function for stroke victims. 

COVID challenged the healthcare and biomanufacturing infrastructure; for the first time, investors really understood the legitimacy of projections that our biomanufacturing capacity needs to 10x in ten years. Quickly, infrastructure spending announcements totalled $100 billion for a million liters of bioreactor capacity. At SOSV, we’ve been funding many novel approaches to bioreactors for years – such as STAMM’s laminar flow condensed reactor, and Kolibri’s acoustic wave reactors for gene therapies. In cell therapies, Indee Labs uses microfluidic vortexes for improved transfection and cell viability. “Don’t scale your problems” is a VC proverb, and we believe methods of biomanufacturing can be radically improved before we scale it by $100 billion. 

Lastly, here’s a statistic that very few venture funds can state: SOSV has healthcare companies headquartered on 6 continents. This means we’re tapping into smart innovators everywhere and creating startups for all manner of payer and provider systems. From the fractured and fluid US, to the single-payer dominant countries, to the thin-layer hybrids in developing markets. Drug availability varies dramatically and standard of care can vary even more. As we look to build global companies, sometimes our market exposure leads us to design business models differently than if it was only intended to work in the US – one example is ProtonIntel, with its continuous potassium monitor. Or we may intentionally launch companies ex-US because fee-for-service is the standard, such as Microgenesis Fertility in Europe and Latam. 

Especially with this global perspective, we see both acute and chronic holes in the healthcare system, everywhere. We see trends that will truly shape how people, local and global, will flourish by becoming healthier and overcoming disease. Disease knows no border, and we are playing to win through innovations that others simply are unable to even visualize. By rapidly adapting to COVID disruption, we are magnetizing life science founders – globally – to bring their best ideas to us, first. Though we already have invested in around 200 healthcare companies, we never feel like the good ideas are taken; we never feel our work is done. The best innovations of healthcare are yet to come, and we are cradling them. 

Advanced Microbubbles: Drug delivery across tumor and brain barriers

Getting drugs through the tumor barrier and across the blood-brain barrier is a well-known, major challenge for medicine. Many clinical trials are underway using chemotherapy co-administered with diagnostic microbubbles, energized by ultrasound at the site of the tumor — but these are performing poorly, with inconsistent acoustics, because the bubbles are highly-varied in size.

Today, I sat down with Dr Jameel Feshitan, CEO and Connor Slagle, CTO of Advanced Microbubbles from our current class to learn more about not only the field but also how their product compares to the existing solutions out there. The conversation below is a paraphrased version of our interview.

How did you get into this field of microbubbles?

Jameel: In college, in my final year, I took an elective class on medicinal chemistry which proved to be among my favorite classes. I was fascinated by the design of drugs. The different ways we can engineer poisons into life-saving drugs and how entire drug classes such as, say,statens are found. That started a fire that stayed with me all the way till grad school, at Columbia University. There I had a chance encounter with Dr Mark Borden, he was the first person I met during orientation and he introduced me to the use of microbubbles in medicine. The rest is history.

I learned while there are many applications of bubbles in medical imaging, producing uniform sized bubbles in a reproducible manner was a big problem for the field. You cannot control bubbles of varied sizes. For bubbles to realize their potential for drug delivery they had to be uniform. Uniformity leads to consistency, an essential feature to control the dosage of the drugs our bubbles would enable. My first big project — to make bubbles uniform for their use to deliver drugs — turned into Advanced Microbubbles over time, the only company in the world currently offering uniform size-controlled microbubbles. It was also during my time at Columbia University, that I got to translate this work to that of other labs at Columbia University working on the use of microbubbles to deliver drugs across biological barriers and tumors.

Connor: Similar to Jameel, I had a chance encounter with bubbles. Got introduced to the company via a job-board posting for a chemical engineer to scale microbubble production. Dr Mark Borden, who at that time, was an Assistant Professor at my alma mater at Colorado University Boulder, where I studied Chemical and Environmental engineering, acted as the glue. He provided me with supplemental materials and some of the research on the field; that got me hooked. After going through the research and work done by the company thoroughly, uniform microbubbles emerged as a strangely commonsensical solution. Uniform bubbles and the use of ultrasound to trigger them was such an elegant solution not just for medical imaging but also for drug discovery, where controllable as well as localized response is key.

For you, it might seem commonsensical, but for the readers who are new to the product, injecting bubbles into the body is somewhat terrifying, no?

Jameel: When we talk about injecting bubbles people start thinking about embolisms and clots. It is, in reality, a very well characterized, commonly used and sophisticated engineered product similar to other prevalent delivery methods such as liposomes — which are spherical vesicles with lipid layers — used to deliver a range of drugs into the body. Our proprietary microbubbles are similar to liposomes, engineered on a microscale, except with a gas core. The gas core makes them reactive to ultrasound and they are precisely engineered to last for 30 minutes in the body.

Connor: And to give a bit more context, our bubbles can be easily co-administered with existing clinical protocols for the most part. They are injected systemically, using IV, which is already used in chemotherapy clinics and for most indications they can be triggered in a highly localized manner using conventional ultrasound machines. Our bubbles are designed with the clinic and the patient in mind. It is only for specialized indications of the brain that we look to R&D and partnerships with specialized ultrasound machines.

Now that we understand the concept, how will Advanced Microbubbles impact the space?

Connor: Delivering precise amounts of drugs in a precise space is the holy grail for oncology — really motivates me to work towards this goal. Our lofty goal is to pair our size-isolated microbubbles with promising drugs that can’t get to cancer or are injected at such high doses that cause debilitating side effects to the patient.

One example that comes to mind is glioblastoma, a notorious cancer of the brain that can’t be challenged well today, and a lot of it is due to the blood-brain barrier making it hard to deliver drugs with consistency and safety. With our technology, we have preliminary mice data showing that we can temporarily disrupt the blood-brain barrier. This data is published in a study Advanced Microbubbles did with NIH- NIDA, that showed dramatic improvement in delivery to the brain compared to non-uniform bubbles. And off that study, a dozen partners have interest in using AMB’s bubbles instead of conventional bubbles. Of course, the data is not in-human / clinical data, but offers promise to one day deliver the payload across the barrier and then the barrier heals for normal biological purposes.

Jameel: Couldn’t agree more. I see the potential of Advanced Microbubbles to enable a new standard of care in the field. The standard of care for chemotherapy hasn’t changed in hundreds of years.

With chemo, we have to poison the patient to hope to cure them. Advanced microbubbles can really impact the life of a lot of patients by making chemo less toxic and more efficacious.

Where are you currently in this process?

Jameel: We have been hard at work to get preliminary in-vivo data during IndieBio. Despite the pandemic and limitations of being a pre-seed startup, we were able to work with an excellent partner lab at the University of Texas. Led by company co-founder Dr Shashank Sirisi. Dr Sirsi has been with the company since it’s origins at Columbia University. There he was the key liaison between laboratories for the execution of microbubble development and therapy experiments.

Thanks to his support the team was able to get preliminary results in animal data. In “n of three”, small cohorts of neuroblastoma mice models — a tumor and rare disease that develops in adrenal glands. We are excited to showcase the data this demo day where we demonstrate not only proof of delivery, relative to control, with a commonly used chemo-drug. But more importantly, we show efficacy, a 1mg/Kg effect at significantly lower doses. Sending a strong signal in support of our thesis of low-dose efficacy without chemo-like side effects.

Excited to see this data this demo day. Looking beyond demo day, what does the next phase look like for Advanced Microbubbles?

Jameel: Work in mice models can always go wrong. Demonstrating reproducible and consistent results in-vivo, and in outcompeting non-uniform bubbles is where we are going next. This would mean running larger cohorts. We plan to show the efficacy of the platform in Neuroblastoma and pancreatic cancer animal models by the end of next year.

Looking beyond next year we want to show the versatility of this platform in more than one indication. Extending in-vivo proof of concept in a wide range of chemo toxic drugs expanding the market to other cancers such as breast cancer, prostate, and lung cancer. Showing we can take existing chemo toxic drugs and achieve higher efficacy at hopefully lower doses also plays into our business model to partner with Pharma to enable the efficacy and safety of their old and new drug classes.

With clinical trials coming next, should we be preparing for a long wait to see your product commercialized? Curious to learn more about your regulatory strategy and some learnings in this process?

Connor: At a very high level this data helps us gather more safety data points, setting us on a trajectory to get to IND and therefore, into the clinic in two year’s time. We do realize that there are many indications and potential drugs we can partner with.

Bubbles can go so many places, but at IndieBio, we learned that focus will set you free.

Jameel: Totally. To piggyback off that comment, focus is key. Bubbles have been used in ultrasound imaging, tumor ablation and other medical uses as an approved product for many years. IndieBio emphasized the value of tying key scientific milestones and data to a good go to market strategy. Starting with hard and rare diseases to drug tumors and then opening up to broader markets as we gather more performance and safety data.

Delving into regulatory strategy, early-on, was also a big learning that came out of the program. We didn’t wait instead the regulatory strategy helped us focus on our experiments. We learned how we can leverage the existing safety profile of bubbles and use an accelerated FDA pathway, the 505 (b) 2 to speed up going to market. An eye-opening experience to learn the role of the regulatory process in go-to-market decisions. Furthermore, based on advice from industry experts, we plan on combining this pathway with the orphan drug pathway can cut our time to market to 3 to 4 years.

Connor: When I come to think of it went from the mode of optimizing the best bubble and researching methods to do so in the lab to operationalizing the company to scale and sell the best bubble coming out of that research. In doing so we learned there is a new set of skills one has to code-switch to. Acknowledging this mindset shift is important as there is a stigma of moving too slowly in the lab. It is also exciting as we face a new set of challenges.

Jameel: In all this, I must say, IndieBio network really helped get a sense of the bigger picture and conveying that to a different set of audiences. We are gaining a sense of pitching the company to a rare disease investor versus a platform investor. How to engage different stakeholders and get people excited about what we are doing. We will continue to advance our relationship with regulatory experts and mentors we gained through the program. Look forward to keeping the momentum going around demo day and recruiting post-doc scientists to help speed up our preclinical data package.

IndieBio’s Demo Day is October 27–28, with the New York batch on Tuesday the 27th at 10 am, and the San Francisco batch on October 28th at 10 am. Please follow this link to Eventbrite to RSVP. A single registration will grant you access to both days’ events.

Introducing IndieBio Class Six

Today we’re extremely excited to announce the fourteen startups joining IndieBio Class Six in downtown San Francisco.

At IndieBio, we are on a mission to solve the world’s biggest and toughest problems by using biology as a technology. We are giving scientists the resources they need to drive innovations across food, biopharma and healthcare, agtech, regenerative medicine, neurotech, biomaterials and beyond.

When we first introduced the first class in 2015, we made a bet that scientists are more creative, driven and entrepreneurial than most VCs give them credit for. IndieBio was built on the belief that with the right environment and structure, scientists can make the shift to entrepreneur and build transformational companies. Three years later, we are amazed at the results: we’ve had the privilege of working with 81 of of the most exciting founders in the world and playing a role in their growth – including Memphis Meats (cultured meat), Koniku (biological neurochips), SyntheX Therapeutics (targeted therapeutics), Catalog (biological data archiving), Ava Winery (engineered wine) and Qidni Labs (implantable artificial kidneys). We are proud to have created a repeatable design-driven process to enable scientists productize their discovery.

Class Six is comprised of therapeutics, cell therapies, food & agriculture and diagnostics for cancer and neurological disease hailing from all over the world. More than ever, the IndieBio teams are on the cutting edge of science and solving massive problems in the world today.

Check out our events and make sure to RSVP for Demo Day, which is happening on April 17th at the Herbst Theatre.

Antibiotic Adjuvant

Delivering AI-powered decision support software designed to monitor and reduce antibiotic resistance.

BeeFlow

Developing smart and strong bees for crop pollination. With their technologies, farmers can increase crop yields up to 90%, target specific crops for pollination, and substantially reduce bee population decline.

Dahlia Biosciences

Leading the next generation of multiplexed in situ single-cell RNA analysis tools for research and diagnostic applications.

Jointech Labs

Pioneering access to high quality fat grafts, fat-derived stem cells and cell therapies. Their device enables doctors, clinics and hospitals to provide safe and cost-effective non-surgical treatments for patients.

Lingrove

Creating ‘wood’ without the tree. Their formable, natural fiber and resin replicates the performance, look, feel and re-usability of premium wood from scalable, carbon negative materials.

MezoMax

MezoMax enables faster bone fracture healing, improved osteoporosis treatment, and stronger bones in elderly patients with their novel calcium gluconate stereoisomer, which regulates calcium and mineral metabolism.

Neurocarrus

Developing long acting non-opioid chronic pain medications. Its novel delivery system eliminates addiction potential and side effects that are seen across all opioids.

Nivien Therapeutics

Nivien Therapeutics is developing the first small molecule drugs to enhance both chemo and immunotherapies. Their compounds overcome multiple resistance mechanisms across 15 cancers to increase efficacy and decrease toxicity of treatments.

Nuro

Nuro enables instant communication and computing for millions of incapacitated patients in ​post-surgeries and ICUs, ​nursing homes and rehabilitation​​ by using brain signals.

Onconetics Pharmaceuticals

Onconetics Pharmaceuticals develops gene therapies which target tumor cells with specific gene expression profiles. The effector arm of the therapy involves a genetic switch which activates an apoptotic inducer to kill the cancer cell and spares healthy tissue.

sRNAlytics

sRNAlytics has developed a novel bioinformatics platform to identify error-free, small RNA biomarkers. Their Proof-of-Concept work in Huntington’s Disease validated eight biomarkers that are 100% accurate for classifying early vs. late stage disease, and disease progression.

Sun Genomics

Sun Genomics is a microbiome health company focused on curing dysbiosis through personalized probiotics. Their platform enables the highest resolution profiling of customer gut makeup, empowering them to make and track changes over time.

Terramino Foods

Terramino Foods is reimagining seafood, using fungi and algae to make healthy, affordable, and toxin-free products.

Vetherapy

Vetherapy creates novel stem cell therapies for cats, dogs, and horses.  Their most innovative product speeds up wound healing and treats autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.

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
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

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

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

“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”

dxrx medical

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.

GEA Enzymes

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

Just like an Epi-Pen for Snake Bites.

Venomyx

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

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 is developing a DNA-based data storage platform.

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.

Scaled Biolabs

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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Ravata Solutions

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.

Pure Cultures

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
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
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!