Inspiration from the TEDMED Stage

As with many of my fellow Americans, I have been reflecting about events that have been highlighted in 2016 in the media. Racial strife, gun violence and a polarizing political environment were repeated themes throughout the year. Over dinners and social events, the conversations with friends and family have been morose at times, as many are wondering if society is taking a turn for the worse.

I’m here to tell you that isn’t the case — there is a dedicated group of talented individuals working quietly to make the world a better place.

As a recent speaker at TEDMED 2016, I was fortunate enough to meet dozens of these inspiring pioneers and watch them on stage answering a question…


elevenXAR, Inc.

April 1 is an exciting day for twoXAR, Inc. as we are now re-launching the company as elevenXAR, Inc. This comes after tense negotiations with all of our staff. But finally, we are pleased to announce that everyone on the team has agreed to legally change their names to Andrew Radin! We will of course continue the tradition of unique middle names. It’s our honor to welcome Andrew Carl Radin, Dr. Andrew Nikolay Radin, Andrew Aaron Radin, Andrew Tewei Radin, Dr. Andrea Karen Radin, Dr. Andrea Marina Radin, Dr. Andrew Isaac Radin, Andrew Dane Radin, and Andrew Michael Radin II as our new namefellows.

Go, Duma!

The fuzzy line between what can be computed and what cannot

Long before my biomedical informatics studies at Stanford, I learned to recognize the difference between what is computable and what is not. In my past three startups this knowledge has been the key to engineering success.

Recently I made a trip to visit my alma mater, the Rochester Institute of Technology, where I earned my computer science degrees. For those not familiar with RIT, it has been ranked as one the top 10 of universities in the Northeastern United States. Recently, Linked-In ranked RIT in the top 25 for software development programs in the nation, and as #13 for software developers specifically for startups.

While on campus, I reconnected with my thesis advisor, Prof. Stanisław P. Radziszowski. Dr. Radziszowski is a highly-respected computer scientist and mathematician, and is best known for his work in Ramsey theory. He has published a number of works in Ramsey theory, block designs, number theory, and computational complexity. Since 1984, Dr. Radziszowski has mentored and trained thousands of students at RIT and I was not sure if would remember me and my work. I was pleasantly surprised that he not only remembered me, but had my thesis readily available on his bookshelf. He told me that he was very excited about my work in combinatorial mathematics, and in the years since has shown it to students to inspire them to work on similar problems in computability theory.

One of the most important things I learned while a student of Dr. Radziszowski was how to skirt the line between what is computable and what is not. It is easy to imagine scenarios that seem like they should be easily solved with a computer, however there are many problems that turn out to be unsolvable. For example, let’s say you want to build a chemical storage facility. To minimize construction costs, you want to find the minimum number of buildings to store chemicals in, but you have to make sure no chemicals that react with each other are in the same building. Sounds simple, right? Well, turns out that there is no known solution that can be calculated optimally without nearly infinite computational resources.

My thesis at RIT was about the mathematical problem described by the chemical storage problem above. My method struck a balance between computability and complexity, right in the fuzzy center of what can be computed and what cannot. It involved developing a new heuristic which approximated the optimal solution. While my heuristic was not guaranteed to always produce the best solution, it produced a result that was theoretically very close to optimal, and better than other known approximation methods at the time.

Heuristics like these are the way that computer scientists model extremely complex systems. Today, there is no way to model every small detail that make up the complex interactions between organisms, disease, and drug treatments. There are too many variables; and to compute every possibility of interaction is impossible. We have perfected a computational technique at twoXAR that represents complex biological reactions in such a way that accurately reflects reality, but is simple enough to perform fast computation on. This technique is what enables us to go from biological data sets to accurate drug-disease prediction within minutes.

It was a pleasure to circle back and talk about twoXAR with the mathematician who inspired in me the principals behind our methodology all those years ago. Students at RIT should be honored to learn from such a talented individual, and I know the next generation of great data scientists are attending Dr. Radziszowski’s lectures today.

We’re Growing: A Warm Welcome for Dane Bedward

Dane Bedward is no stranger to the pharmaceutical business. After ten years working as a product manager and then director of marketing at Johnson and Johnson and MDS Nordion, Dane was tapped to open the offices of Genzyme Canada. In little more than fifteen years, Dane worked his way up to the top of Genzyme, one of the largest international pharmaceutical companies in the world. He eventually became a Senior VP at the mother ship office in Boston. Needless to say, Dane knows the pharma industry inside and out.

Dane has just joined our advisory board this week. We’re pretty sure that with the the wealth he accumulated from Genzyme, a leader in biotechnology, he is acting as Boston’s unofficial Batman. But we don’t have any hard evidence yet.

Dane is filling a lot of those gaps we talked about in our previous posts: he is someone who has years and years in the business Andrew and I are entering for the first time. Genzyme in particular is a company that focuses on rare diseases, which is a popular topic of conversation in our discussions with potential investors. Genzyme also prides itself on its cutting edge research, and as a former leading member of the team there, Dane is very familiar with our unique methods of drug discovery. In a future post, we’ll explain why the world of biomedical informatics isn’t just for very special nerds.

[In husky, deep Batman voice:] It’s the wave of the future.

Computational Pharma: An Emerging Rotation

After three years of medical school and a whirlwind year of clerkships, I’m taking a detour from the strictly medical and enjoying a trek through the biotech pharma universe. It’s Day 10 on this special Silicon Valley incarnation of my medical, technological, and entrepreneurial interests, and I’m into it so far.

I recently decided to take a break from clinics and get to know the startup world, and I attended a Hacking Medicine event at Stanford to get a sense of what was out there and meet some interesting people. Andrew M. was one of them, and our conversation wooed me to join the team in business development at twoXAR, while also offering my medical know-how when and where it’s needed. Here are a few things they didn’t know about me before signing me up. The catch: one of them is false. That’s right, here’s a good old-fashioned game of Two Truths and a Lie:

  1. I performed in a med school a cappella group called the “Lymph Notes.”
  2. I consider biking a superior form of transportation to skateboarding, though it’s not always faster in Palo Alto traffic.
  3. My beverage of choice is butterbeer. I’m obsessed with Harry Potter.

Before I reveal the Lie, I’ll tell you a little more about why I’m excited about being at twoXAR that may or may not help you figure out which it is.

I’ve always been interested in computation as a way to push forward and improve on existing systems and processes. When it comes to work I’m passionate about, I’ll step outside my comfort zone to solve a problem from multiple angles. Thus, I’ve gone from cutting cadavers in medical school to investigating ways that technology can expedite cures by making sense of countless tissue samples of data. Of course, now I don’t have to touch or interact at all with human tissue, which is totally okay with me. I’m more than happy biking to the twoXAR office and spending the day tackling problems in pharma.

Have you figured it out yet? Here’s a hint: I’m keeping twoXAR well-stocked with buckwheat tea. No butterbeer here.

A Dose of Weekend Hacking: Hosting Stanford Medical School Hackathon

Last weekend, as part of MIT Hacking Medicine, I helped host the CareInnovations Patient Engagement Hackfest at Stanford Medical School. The Hackathon is an innovative weekend program that aims to create “more effective and reliable connections between patients, clinicians, and the information that can improve the quality and cost efficiency of healthcare” (Find out more here).  You may have seen my tweets about it all weekend. The event was sponsored by CareInnovations, (an Intel and GE joint venture) and went from Friday through Sunday, with about 100 participants attending the event. It was a really exciting crew of people with extremely varied backgrounds – it was just my type of crowd.

A large percentage of participants were clinicians, business & medical school students, software developers, and designers with industry experience. When you collect brilliant doctors, organization leaders, and computer scientists in the same room to discuss solutions in the healthcare space, you hear a lot of creative and fresh ideas about how to revolutionize medical care.

This weekend’s focus was on patient engagement, so we concentrated on questions like how to make it easy for patients to take their medication, how to collect accurate patient data in a useable format for physicians, and how to create medical tools that allow the patient to directly engage with their own health. It started with 30- and 60-second pitches on problems and solutions in the space and over the course of the weekend, teams self-assembled based on the specific problems they wanted to solve. In the end, 9 teams hacked and presented some pretty innovative hardware, software, and service-based solutions.

The most valuable element of this experience was seeing that these diverse teams could create incredible and unexpected solutions to a given problem and it reminds me that a diverse team is what makes for a successful business venture. I’ve worked on teams made up completely of engineers and teams composed of MBAs, and inevitably teams of people with the same ways of thinking will miss something important. The best way to create a sustainable solution to a problem is to have a team that can ideate from as many angles as possible.

I came out of the event energized and ready to tackle big issues in healthcare. As an entrepreneur in the space, I was inspired by the teams at the hackathon. I got to see firsthand and with immediate results, how unconventional and diverse approaches to old problems are not only effective: they can change our world.

At twoXAR we embrace this mindset and strive to build a team with radically different backgrounds and ways of thinking who can effectively come together to improve lives through computation. In fact, post the hackathon, Stanford medical student Desiree Li joined the team to support us both on the science and business development side. I guess Silicon Valley is the place to find the crossover between doctor and entrepreneur.

Just Another Day at the Office: Our New Palo Alto Digs

It seems every other post lately is about a new milestone. Here’s another: we’ve moved! Last Friday afternoon, we signed a lease on a great office space in Palo Alto. We just moved in Monday of this week, and we’ve broken in the 850 square-foot space with a little skateboarding already. It is a great place for us to grow, and our neighbors are awesome.

They’re actually our landlords and a fellow startup called Buttercoin, an open source digital trading engine using bitcoin software. The CEO, Cedric Dahl, is a like-minded fellow: he also rides a motorcycle.

From our desks we look out the plate glass entrance of our office onto Cedric’s custom built bike, built upon a handmade frame. He parks it on the sidewalk out front for all to admire… I do the same with my bike which is detailed with a custom Domokun by a former colleague and graphic artist.

On an hourly basis passerbys stop to take a solid look at our bikes (and often take some photos as well) and we’ve decided we’re going to stand outside and take a poll. The public must be heard: which bike is cooler?

What do you think? free polls

What I Learned on My Trip to the AMIA Conference


This past year, I bought a seat at the American Medical Informatics Association Conference to see what people are talking about in the field.

One of the sessions early on was about sharing medical records. There happened to be a lot of people who build informatics systems in the audience. In other words, people like me.

One of the speakers in this early session told a story about a ten-year-old girl who had a rare condition. Her doctors searched through all the literature and research at their disposal, but couldn’t figure out what she had. Unfortunately they could not arrive at a correct diagnosis before the girl passed away. Sometime later, this team discovered what she had was not only documented, but the information about her condition had been recorded for well over ten years. To make matters worse, another regional hospital had experience treating a patient just like this one, but did not have the ability to share their medical records. The speaker’s point: there needs to be a central worldwide database searchable to all medical professionals. “You guys need to fix this,” she said.

Later in the day I attended the keynote speaker’s address. I sat dead front and center. A man sat next to me and we got to talking about some of the sessions we had attended. I told him this was my first medical conference. The man asked what I thought about what I had heard over the course of the day.

“You’re not the keynote speaker are you?” I asked, making sure I wasn’t about to put my foot in my mouth. He confirmed he wasn’t.

So I explained to him that I worked in Silicon Valley startups and had for ten years. In the startup world, you have to make decisions and take action quickly, so sitting on important information—like the cure to a rare disease—would never fly. I expressed my shock and disappointment at the realization that innovation moves at a glacial pace in the medical industry.

The man introduced himself as Blackford Middleton and told me, “We need more people just like you in this field.” What I didn’t know was that I was talking to the director of the program and the AMIA Conference. So, I was pretty surprised when the lights dimmed and he stood to take the stage. He flashed me a warm smile and introduced himself to the audience. My jaw dropped. But the experience didn’t end there. Before he introduced the keynote speaker, he called me out by name and asked me to join the AMIA in front of the entire conference. I was flattered and a bit bemused by all of the attention.

So this is all to say that even the guys at the top of the field recognize that things move too slowly. At twoXAR we’ve invented a computational approach to drug discovery that saves tens of millions of dollars and shaves years off the drug discovery process. We are bringing the Silicon Valley startup culture to drug discovery and what we are working on will revolutionize the medical field.

Challenge accepted, Blackford.

We Filed Our Patent!

About five months ago, before twoXAR had a name or a team, Romy Celli, an intellectual property and biotech patent expert at Alston & Bird, had a close look at the drug discovery research Andrew had been working on at Stanford. Andrew’s first inclination was publish what he developed. It was only under advice from a friend—“You’re not going to publish this, you’re going to patent it”—that he found Romy. She had a feeling he’d discovered something exciting, and she took it to her colleague, Ishna Neamatullah, another biotech patent genius, to get a second opinion.

We’re grateful that these two people took a huge risk in helping twoXAR with this brainchild: they didn’t charge us a dime up front because they believe in what we’re doing. Not only that, but when Ishna took on the task of writing the patent (under Romy’s guidance), she turned a fifteen page academic paper into a comprehensive one-hundred-page document – and didn’t miss a thing. I could try to tell you how many people we’ve told about our technology and how many of them have said something along the lines of, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, but it sounds really interesting!” But I’ve lost count. Ishna, who is both wonderfully in synch with the wild workings of Andrew’s mind and incredibly humble, was on point in her rewriting the idea down to the smallest details. This is especially striking because the fifteen-pager really only described the function of the algorithm. It didn’t get into the thought-process behind it, or how we intended to apply the technology. Essentially, Ishna, through a few meetings, managed to get on Andrew’s wavelength and translate it all in legalese.

Which leads up to last week, when we filed our patent thanks to these generous and impressive lawyers, and twoXAR threw a cupcake thank you party for Romy and Ishna. Trader Joe’s gluten-free chocolate cupcakes are the best.

Building the Team: Adventures in Finding a Chief Science Officer

We have titled this post Adventures in Finding a Chief Science Officer because it has definitely been adventurous. There have been rained out tennis games, planes and buses to and around the east coast, and lots and lots of phone interviews with some… interesting characters.

In Andrew M.’s travels to the east coast a couple of weeks ago, he got on a Megabus and rode six hours from Boston to New York for one special guy. The guy said he was super interested, then he stood us up. So that wasn’t great.

There’s a different guy who says he knows the pharm biz like the back of his hand. He won’t answer any of our specific questions, but he emails us everyday. We don’t really get it.

There was somebody else who explained that Google was a competitor we should watch out for because of their new research into how to end death. We don’t really get that either. And yet another explained to us that we shouldn’t be looking for a Chief Science Officer, but a new CEO. So those didn’t really work out either.

Between Andrew M. and me, we’ve got computational biology and business strategy covered, but we need someone who really knows drugs. You know what I mean. Someone who can further validate the technology we’ve created with the science pharmaceutical companies already know and trust in a wet lab.

And, s/he has to be cool too. We’re kind of hoping to find an Andrew Z. Radin (since we’ve already got an A and an M Radin) who has had extensive experience managing CROs in drug discovery. The Andrew Radin bit is probably optional.