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

Augmenting Drug Discovery with Computer Science

The short-list for the annual Arthur C. Clarke Award was recently announced and it reminded me of a post we did last fall on augmentation vs. automation. Clarke is a British science fiction writer who is famous for being the co-screenplay writer (with Stanley Kubrick) of the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. He is also known for the so-called Clarke’s Laws, which are three ideas intended to guide consideration of future scientific developments.

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

These laws resonate here at twoXAR where every week we meet with biopharma research executives who tell us — usually right after we say something like, “using our platform you can evaluate tens of thousands of drug candidates and identify their possible MOAs, evaluate chemical similarity, and screen for clinical evidence in minutes” — that’s “impossible” or “magic”!

READ THE FULL POST AT MEDIUM.COM

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.

Defining Our Vision

I don’t want to get all motivational-speaker on you. Many of you probably are motivational speakers or could at least give a better speech than me if asked. But I want to talk about past failures and how they’ve made twoXAR one of the greatest and most exciting adventures I’ve ever taken. And that’s including the time I rode alone in a sleeping berth with 7 strangers on a twenty-nine-hour train through China and the time I separated my shoulder while mountain biking in the Blue Mountains in Australia.

When I founded the mobile scheduling company Thyme Labs last summer, I discovered that the number one factor to align a startup team and help focus and prioritize the infinite tasks and sub-goals it must accomplish is defining a vision. We were slow to do that at Thyme and in the course of managing the company, we changed our central goal, or our vision, a couple of times. There are several factors that led to Thyme’s wrap up including the fact that we tried to balance launching the company while in school and missing our lofty fundraising and development targets. But mostly it was that each team member was not on board with the vision which led to conflicting goals. If we had been on the same page, we could have overcome the other issues set before us. But I have learned a lot from my former team’s challenges. (Check out a few lessons from last summer)

At twoXAR we’ve nailed down our vision early, and we know how it will guide us in the long term.

Improving lives through computation.

These four simple words motivate us every day. What they mean is that we will keep striving to make drug discovery more intentional, more efficient, and more comprehensive and ultimately provide better care to the patients who need it. We believe the work we’re doing will enable the healthcare system to better address patients’ symptoms as a whole. By analyzing large biochemical and genomic data sets, we are determining new ways for drugs to alleviate symptoms better and faster with reduced negative side effects.  Computation is the key to breaking through constraints in the existing drug development process.

With a strong vision and the technology to back it, twoXAR is continually developing computational solutions to improve lives. So I’m making past failures into a gain not just for myself and twoXAR, but hopefully far beyond. And that is, like, really exciting.