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…

READ THE FULL POST AT MEDIUM.COM

A milestone worth celebrating

There have been a series of events that have defined the history of twoXAR. There was the lecture from Prof. Sirota on computational drug discovery that inspired me to invent. There was the encouragement from V. Paul Lee to patent my idea rather than publish an academic paper. There was the realization that Andrew M. Radin shared not only my name, but my passion for biotechnology and entrepreneurship.  There was that key moment while sailing the Charles River in the summer of 2014 when Andrew and I decided to launch this company.

More milestones followed. There was the day we received funds from our very first investor, Haya Al Ghanim. The email that told us we had been accepted to the StartX accelerator program at Stanford University. The phone call with Michigan State University’s Dr. Tim Collier where we learned our technology predicted in silico what he saw in the lab.

All along the way we’ve assembled an amazing team of scientists and engineers who continually push twoXAR’s technology forward, beyond my wildest imagination.

Today, I’m pleased to announce an exciting new milestone that will further shape our future. Andreessen Horowitz has led a $3.5M investment in twoXAR, along with the Stanford-StartX Fund and our visionary group of angel investors.

We will use these funds to grow our team, form new partnerships and further progress our drug candidates through preclinical studies. We are honored and pleased to have Andreessen Horowitz support our efforts. In addition to their investment, the team at Andreessen Horowitz, including our General Partner Vijay Pande, have signed up to help us with everything from recruiting to business development. It gives us great satisfaction to know we have a world-class organization standing behind us.

There are many more milestones, to be revealed on the road ahead. We look forward to sharing with you our success and discoveries along the way.

Balancing Transparency and Protecting IP

The recent Theranos news has brought to mind the difficult balance between full technical transparency and protecting company IP. As co-founder of a company that has developed a technology that we believe will transform the drug discovery industry, I have struggled with how to best support our claims while protecting our trade secrets.

Early in our company history we thought about moving right from our computational drug predictions into animal studies without involving third parties. At the time, it seemed like the right idea. We could move quickly, reduce uncertainties and produce results in an efficient manner. We learned, however, that without anyone to validate our claims, it was difficult to develop the partnerships and raise the capital required to run these experiments.

Given these hurdles, we decided to  pursue a collaboration-based model. Today, we are working with scientists in academic and commercial biopharma labs who can validate our predictions independently without having any knowledge of our predictive algorithms. We do this by making computational predictions that are then compared to physical experiments made by our collaborators in the wet lab. As we continue to show that our computational predictions match the results they are generating independently in the wet lab, we build confidence in our technology while keeping our secret sauce under wraps.

While we feel that we’ve struck an appropriate balance for where we are today, we continue to think through the best ways to provide the right level of transparency for others to evaluate our claims. For us as scientists, it is important to have the feedback and input of the drug development community. We believe that it’s going to take more than just us to bring this new technology to market – we rely on our collaborators and partners to work with us in this regard.

We want to radically change the process of drug discovery, but, at the end of the day, we want to make sure we are able to do it without sacrificing our commitment to safety and efficacy through rigorous scientific validation.

Top 10 Things I Learned at StartX This Summer

Our first session at Stanford University’s StartX accelerator is coming to a close. It’s the perfect time to collect my thoughts on the top 10 things I learned at StartX these past months.

  1. Startups are hard
  2. Medical startups are even harder
  3. There’s torrential chaos behind every success story
  4. You know more than you think you know
  5. You know less than you think you know
  6. Evaluating the advice you receive is critical
  7. People will help you if you ask
  8. Grit is more valuable than intellect
  9. Grit without intellect is suicide
  10. There is always a way through

 

1. Startups are hard

A big part of the StartX experience is to share your stories with fellow founders. One of the key things you learn right away is that everyone, regardless of stage of funding and business, has big problems to solve. Funding. Customers. Traction. Recruiting. Competition. All of these things are amplified when you have limited resources and climbing uphill. Every day we are exposed to some of the brightest people on the planet, and I assure you, it’s hard for them too.

2. Medical startups are even harder

Having helped build three different consumer based internet startups, I was blissfully unaware of the extra burden that comes with a medical based startup. In consumer you build and deliver with no delay, and immediately get feedback on your work. Iterations are fast because you are directly connected to the end user. In the medical world you build and test, build and test, and then do some more building and testing. Despite shaving years of the drug discovery process, it will take quite some time before any of our work makes it into a human being. It’s why medical companies stay in StartX for two sessions, while other companies stay for one.

3. There’s torrential chaos behind every success story

The StartX community includes many serial entrepreneurs who share their stories. The outside world is exposed to the big exits, the signed deals and the brand-name VC investments. What the world doesn’t hear about is the twists and turns of deals gone bad, employees who need to be dismissed, or investors who push entrepreneurs in the wrong direction. The craziest story I’ve heard at StartX is from an entrepreneur who built a successful company only to have an unscrupulous contractor drain the bank account and walk away with all the cash.

4. You know more than you think you know

I was surprised to find how helpful I could be to other StartX companies. While I’m yet to be a part of a billion-dollar exit, my role as CTO in my prior startups gave me more experience and wisdom that I had previously recognized. Every StartX founder has deep expertise or experience in a wide array of disciplines. Some of the best advice we’ve gotten to date, on pitching and selling, has come from other founders in the session with us.

5. You know less than you think you know

Every day the StartX community fills another gap in our knowledge. We speculate on the future and what we think it will take to conclude a successful scientific experiment, close a deal, or raise money. The community here offers their shared experience and allows us to think about things we had never considered before. What we’ve learned about working deals in the pharmaceutical space has been pure gold.

6. Evaluating the advice you receive is critical

StartX puts you in front of people who advise you all the time. Sometimes this advice is solicited by us, other times we receive it without asking. What we find is that often the experts disagree on what is our best path forward. We need to decide which mentors we think are best aligned with our world, and which are off the mark. The process of choosing which advice to follow is often more important that getting the advice itself. In retrospect, we realize we have sometimes received misaligned or mistimed advice from highly successful people. It’s sometimes tough to filter that advice given the high-profiles of those who advise us.

7. People will help you if you ask

There is a culture of mutual assistance at StartX. Part of being a founder in the community is actively helping others while being open about asking for help yourself. We quickly learned this applies outside of the walls of StartX as well. We’ve received help from world-renowned professors, CEOs of billion dollar companies, and scientific leaders from around the world – simply by asking – often with nothing expected in return.

8. Grit is more valuable than intellect

We are exposed to over fifty companies here at StartX. The ones we see making the most progress are those that take multiple hits on the chin and keep moving. Startups are about endless mini-failures that can wear down anyone without resolve. The mental attitude that backs up a culture of perseverance is a key factor behind those that make it and those that evaporate.

9. Grit without intellect is suicide

It’s a challenge to put a pencil in one of my ears and pull it out of the other. That doesn’t mean it’s a challenge worth pursuing. Part of accepting mentorship is being able to admit that your plans aren’t going to work. It’s sometimes tough to let go of what your heart says to do and listen to your head.

10. There is always a way through

We admire our peer companies that hit what seems like an impenetrable wall, only to wiggle and worm and find a way to get through. We’ve learned that every challenge has a solution as long as you are signed up to find it. Sometimes you need to grit your teeth and climb the mountain. Sometimes the fastest path is to hike around the mountain. In very special cases you can eliminate the mountain all together,

Riding the Wave of Data Science and Biomed Convergence

In 1993, I decided that I wanted to launch a biotech company.* Since then, my friends and I have brainstormed biotech-driven solutions in toothpaste, paint, energy, and medicine.

22 years later I have realized this dream. The path was by no means direct.  But despite my sometimes seemingly random education and career path, I have found myself at the nucleolus of bioinnovation: the intersection of data science and biomedicine. Fortunately, my timing was impeccable.  Technology is rapidly changing the rules for the life sciences and, like the many industries that it has already touched, software is finally enabling business models in the life sciences to scale to new heights.

I have posted previously about how biopharmas are shifting the burden of innovation to venture investors and startups and how, even at the POTUS-level, that data science is being recognized as the future of life science and healthcare.

More and more, we are seeing exciting examples of how biopharma companies are embracing big data, or at least confirming to the world that they need it, and how investors and startups are diving in to fill the gap.

Big pharma buys into big data

We were recently invited to speak at an internal Sanofi symposium called Convergence of Science, Technology, & Data Sciences – Impact on Pharma. We presented alongside leaders in the space including: Isaac Kohane (Co-Director of Harvard Medical School’s Biomedical Informatics Department), Vikram Bajaj (Chief Scientist, Google Life Sciences), and Avi Ma’ayan (Professor, Pharmacology and Systems Therapeutics at Mount Sinai).

Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised to experience how open to innovation large pharma companies like Sanofi are; I was also excited by how enthusiastically they embraced the opportunity to explore how data science-driven approaches can augment the drug development process from discovery to clinical trials.

As #databio nerds, we were stoked by the interesting approaches others in the computational biology space were taking; from the business side, we were equally pleased to hear a very clear message best summarized by a quote from the former NIH Director and Sanofi President of R&D, Elias Zerhouni: “Big Data and the way we approach it is going to be determinant for the long-term success as an R&D Organization.

And this sentiment is being echoed throughout the industry:

“We have to build a data-analytics capability that we don’t have today. We’re also going to have to create partnerships and think about different types of people that we need to bring into our company so that we can take full advantage of that part of healthcare.”Joe Jimenez, CEO, Novartis

“Data will also help more efficiently develop medicines and better define which patients will most benefit.”  – Geno Germano, Group President, Global Innovative Pharma Business, Pfizer

“The [combined] role of health care and technology is going to be critical”Alex Gorsky, CEO, Johnson & Johnson

 An example of pharma action in this space recently is the doubling down on genomics. A number of large biopharma companies have publically announced their efforts to utilize big genomic data in both companion diagnostic and new drug development.

“Dramatic breakthroughs in understanding how the human genome functions are still in their infancy in terms of how they can be applied to drug discovery, but we can see their potential to transform the process. This is not an incremental change. We are aiming for transformative outcomes that could improve our ability to bring innovative and more effective new medicines to patients.”Lon Cardon, Senior Vice President of Alternative Discovery and Development at GSK

“The acquisition of Bina is a significant step for Roche to enable the promise of personalized healthcare by delivering the highest quality genomic data possible.”Dan Zabrowski, Head of Roche Sequencing

 Where there’s scale, there is VC…

a16z’s recent podcast, When Bio Meets Computer Science, discusses “how everything changes when software eats biology” and captures why life science businesses can now scale.

“These new startups have potential to have the kind of economics profile and the kind of financing needs of a software startup as compared to a pharma startup?

These new startups remind me a lot of software startups in 2005 when we see cloud computing start to realize. That’s sort of what we are starting to see now and because they have software at their heart, either literally or in terms of how they think about things, that they are organizing themselves in a cloud-like biology way, this would be very much on the Moore’s Law curve of things. And in a sense you could use this differentiate traditional biotech from this new crop of companies. That traditional biotech is governed by Eroom’s Law and these are governed much more by Moore’s Law”

Life science investors have questioned the value of platform companies in the recent past but the venture community is starting to warm up to them. VC’s recognize that the life science investment model of betting the farm on a potential billion dollar drug (unicorn drugs, anyone?) with a binary outcome is dying. Computation-driven platform companies coupled with the established CRO industry enable life science companies to look and act much more like software companies yielding stepwise, milestone-driven returns and valuations, with much smaller investments and shorter runways.

In a recent post on YC’s move in to the biotech realm, Atlas’ Bruce Booth commented:

“Although the math may be different, virtual biotechs doing drug discovery today are leveraging a similar trend: remove the heavy fixed costs of building out your own laboratory, purchasing expensive lab equipment, and then having to “feed” the system, and move to a lower cost virtual model of renting lab capabilities via a global network of CROs and collaborators. Others have already commented about the decreasing cost of DNA sequencing… but same holds for other aspects of drug discovery, like computer-aided drug design and structural biology. It’s easier to start a scientifically credible biotech today than ever before, and entrepreneurs can make real progress in validating a thesis on seed capital.”

Some examples of investments in the data science-driven drug development space today include Data Collective’s investments in Mousera and Atomwise and Atlas Venture Life Science’s investments in Nimbus Therapeutics and Numerate.

Software has enabled these dreams to become reality

I wish I was prescient enough in 1993 to have predicted the role of technology in transforming biopharma. Honestly, I was really just a kid eager to learn about biology and technology and explore the potential futuristic and off-the-wall applications. Applications that at the time seemed wacky, but today are becoming a reality.

At twoXAR, we use data science to accelerate the identification and validation of drug candidates for complex diseases. I hadn’t thought that this was possible until Andrew introduced me to the DUMA platform and demonstrated how, in minutes, we can identify new treatments for a disease. Since then we’ve translated our in silico results to the physical world and continue to do so through a growing list of exciting collaborations with commercial and academic discovery organizations.

Over the last 12 months, I have heard a variety of reactions to the speed and scalability that computational biology enables (and to the fact that both twoXAR founders are named Andrew Radin).  But, it’s clear that as software continues to penetrate all industries it will also keep altering the landscape of drug discovery and the life sciences. And, it’s refreshing to see executives and investors acknowledge the power of computation-based approaches and how they speed up discovery and validation of therapies and enable a new era of software-like scalability in the biopharmaceutical industry.

 

*feel free to ask me why!

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!

Star Trek Medicine: Data Science in Life Science and Healthcare

From the White House to medical education data science is being recognized as the future of life science and healthcare.

President Obama recently appointed Dr. DJ Patil (fellow USCD Alum!) as U.S. Chief Data Scientist.  In his memo: Unleashing the Power of Data to Serve the American People Dr. Patil states, “The vast majority of existing data has been generated in the past few years, and today’s explosive pace of data growth is set to continue. In this setting, data science — the ability to extract knowledge and insights from large and complex data sets — is fundamentally important.” One of Dr. Patil’s priority areas is the Precision Medicine Initiative President Obama announced in January, which is great to see that medical data is recognized as a strong national interest.  But a focus on data science isn’t just seen at a national policy level, it continues to permeate in startups, medical school, and biopharma.

Last Friday Andrew and I attended the MIT Sloan Bioinnovations Conference – He spoke on the Big Data, Policy, and Personalized Medicine panel with several other companies noted here and naturally, the conversation focused on the power of computation in this space and whether or not our vision of “Star Trek Medicine” (as one audience member put it) was soon to come. During the rest of the conference, topics ranged from Policy to Biomedical Research to Financial Engineering to Education and I was excited that a common theme that ran through each of the sessions was data science and how it’s changing the medical landscape.

One example includes Jaime Heywood’s ALS Therapy Development Institute/PatientsLikeMe who used mathematical algorithms to determine that ½ of the animal studies they were attempting to reproduce (n=50) of an ALS drug could not even possibly have been statistically significant prompting more rigorous studies. When describing how they initially approached this, Jaime stated very matter-of-factly, “This can be done with math.” The power of data science in the life science and healthcare space is also being recognized in medical education. Dr. Jeffrey Flier, dean of Harvard Medical School, states in a recent WSJ piece: “There is palpable excitement at the interface of biology, psychology, engineering, sensor technology, computation and therapeutics… …The opportunities are immense and consequential.”

I’ve heard similar sentiment from senior executives at biopharmaceutical companies that I have spoken to – that the future of drug discovery resides in the data (whether biological, chemical, clinical or otherwise) and the surrounding analytics that can reveal hidden insights. However, industry professionals also express that it’s not yet apparent how the data sciences will transform the industry – that is where startups have room to show them how.

The shift in the recognition of the importance of data science is clear and being seen across the spectrum of public and private sector in the medical space. At twoXAR, we are excited to be a part of enabling society to reach Star Trek heights in medicine faster, cheaper, and ultimately more accurate.

The Ghosts of Biopharma Present: Biopharma’s Innovation Outsourcing

The holiday season has always been a time for reflection on the closing year and hope for the new one. In this spirit, today I’ll explore the Ghosts of Biopharma Present, and how startups in the Biopharma space may be the Tiny Tims that herald a brighter future.

As its cash cow patents expire, many biopharmaceutical companies are experiencing significant decreases in revenue [1]. Meanwhile, the cost of bringing a drug to market has soared in the past decade [2], creating a decreasing tolerance for risk, and thus for innovation. As a result, Big Pharma is increasingly slashing its R&D departments to appease investors and maintain their bottom line [3].

The last quarter alone has seen a wave of layoffs at many heavy hitter companies. This month, GlaxoSmithKline announced its plan to cut 900 R&D jobs at its Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, a decision prompted by the decline in sales of its star product Advair as cheaper inhalers gain market share [4]. In October, Southern California-based Amgen caved to pressures from activist hedge fund investors and announced that it would lay off up to 1,100 people [5]. While these cuts may buoy the next few quarters’ balance sheets, the LA Times wonders “whether such high-stakes face-offs result in short-term benefits to shareholders at the expense of a company’s ability to invest in its operations and thrive long term.” In other words, if companies continue to act like Scrooge, they, their investors, and their patients may face a bleak Ghost of Biopharma Future.

So how does Scrooge change course? He engages with the outside world. For biopharmaceutical companies, that means embracing the paradigm of external innovation. External innovation can take many forms: partnerships with academia, collaboration and risk sharing across two or more companies, and even crowd-sourcing problems through open competitions [6]. But some of the greatest potential for rapid innovation may lie in “Biopharma co-creation”: the funding and acquisition of Biopharma startups.

This approach combines the flexibility, efficiency, and innovation of small companies with the expertise and resources of Big Pharma, which gets to access new research while limiting and externalizing their risk.  A recent report from the Silicon Valley Bank on healthcare venture fundraising indicates that this approach is on the rise, and that large Biopharma companies are pointing their investment arms toward early series funding of preclinical and Phase I-stage research companies [7].

Different Biopharma giants have approached external innovation in different ways. Some have formed partnerships with venture capital firms to jointly fund new companies. For example, in 2013 GlaxoSmithKline created a $495 M fund with Avalon Ventures to launch 10 companies. While this investment is substantial, it is a fraction of the estimated cost of bringing a single drug to market [2], and fosters a diverse portfolio of innovation.

Other approaches include supporting therapeutic research companies in more physical ways. Johnson & Johnson, which has funded external innovation since 1973 [8], has more recently opened a network of bio incubators and innovation centers in California, Massachusetts, London, and Singapore [9]. Diego Miralles, head of the California Innovation Center, affirms, “At the end of the day, we’re going to live or die by the success of the biotech startups… Unless that space of entrepreneurs in biotech is robust, we are all in trouble, both as an industry and a society. Therefore our approach is to support the entrepreneur in any way possible.”

As startups are increasingly recognized as a major locus for bio-innovation, even Google is getting in on the action. In the last year, health and life sciences startups grew from 9% of Google Venture’s investments to 36% [10].  In particular, Google Ventures has focused on data-driven biopharma startups, such as Flatiron Health. Its CEO Nat Turner points out that “Google is trying to buy into technology that’s changing older industries and suits its big data expertise.”

Indeed, several Big Pharma companies are also investing in startups that develop “Target Generating Platforms” [7]. Thus, the synergy of data science, startup innovation, Biopharma expertise, and venture funding may create a viable alternative to traditional R&D that will “bless us, every one.”

 


[1] Levine D. (2014), Transforming health care. Burrill Media LLC.