Posts Tagged CellWorks

CellWorks & BioImagene – Successfully bringing IT innovation to Life Sciences


With technology advancement and ability for wider application, interesting things are happening on the boundaries of disciplines, rather than within a given discipline.  Internet and Sofware technology advancement along with fresh “can do” attitude, has infused new energy into Biotech.  CellWorks and BioImagene are two examples, where software stalwarts and serial entrepreneurs like Pradeep Fernandes and Mohan Uttarwar brought innovation to be applied to the healthcare industry.

At www.eppicglobal.org event on August 5, 2013, Fernandes and Uttarwar discussed what motivated them to gravitate towards life sciences, after a career in IT and software, the opportunities and challenges in making this transition, and the lessons learned in the process.  They both said, their ignorance about regulatory challenges was a bliss because had they been previously aware of the regulatory hurdles, they might have doubted the whole enterprise.  Both of them encountered a problem in healthcare and realized there was a hole in the market, in addressing the problem.

Fernandes’s wife got thyroid cancer and while making the rounds of the hospitals and doctors, they came to realize that despite existence of huge amount of big data and large quantities of freely available published data, few people were connecting the dots for efficient diagnosis and treatment. Serendipitous discussions with his good friend and colleague (an engineer) and his wife, a PhD in biology, led them to investigate whether modeling can be used to connect the dots and predict biological effects computationally, bridging two disciplines. R&D costs in big pharma are skyrocketing and it costs about $1to $4 B per drug, before it is available for commercial use.  During the development stage, 40% of drugs fail due to lack of efficiency (that is, they simply do not work), and other 40% fail due to toxicity (bad side effects), said Fernandes.  In the long chain of drug development, Fernandes focused on Biology.  “If the biology is wrong, no amount of chemistry is going to make it safe or potent”, said Fernandes.  The challenge is that despite technology advancement, drug development process remains unchanged and key decisions regarding validation of drugs happen very late in clinical trials.   Bringing the advancement in computational algorithms and informatics, his company, CellWorks extracts information from large data sets and also predicts information through abstraction modeling and simulation.  With an ability to model how pathways interact to represent disease phenotypes, CellWorks has further refined their approach to design therapies with novel mechanism of actions.  Greatly reduced cost and time for drug development has enabled CellWorks to advance their lead candidates for several indications from early design stage to validated animal efficacy studies in very short time period.  CellWorks closed $10M Series B round, at the end of 2012.

Origins of Mohan Uttarwar’s company BioImagene also lie in his keen notice of a problem in the market place that was not addressed.  One of the close family friends had cancer and in accompanying the individual to the medical facilities, he noticed that the medical establishment used glass slides to analyze, store, and share critical information.  This made it costly and challenging to share tissue samples and other information, critical for timely and effective diagnosis and to discuss treatment options.  BioImagene addressed the need by creating a suite of dynamic, image-based technologies that enable image capture, information management, image analysis and virtual sharing of patients’ tissue samples from glass microscope slides.  Their unique software, iScan, enabled viewing, analysis, and managing of tissue images, using a computer.  Emphasizing the need to adapt and change, Uttarwar said, the pivotal moment in the history of the company was when they made the decision to go into hardware.  They built a unique image viewing input device called the iSlide, and a high performance workstation called Crescendo.  Together their products greatly improved workflow efficiency in image archiving and retrieval, remote viewing, and turnaround time and made them an attractive target and the company was acquired for $100M by Roche, in August, 2010.

Both Uttarwar and Fernandes credited their team and EPPIC for their success.  EPPIC was started with a vision to promote networking, entrepreneurship, and mentoring for life science professionals, by a handful of people of Indian origin and has since vastly expanded.  Uttarwar and Fernandes shared about how they received significant coaching and guidance from prominent EPPIC members and veterans like Nagesh Mhatre, at critical periods.  Additionally, through EPPIC, they connected with Artiman Ventures and received funding as well.  With such a strong community to support and energize, “if I can do it, you can do it”, said Uttarwar.  Mohan Uttarwar is the guest speaker on October, 29 at www.bio2devicegroup.org event, in Sunnyvale, and will be speaking about one of his new ventures.   These are free events and all are welcome.

Please note down following dates (September, 18 and October, 26) for upcoming EPPIC events and register at www.eppicglobal.org.

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Bio-IT to Biotech: BioImagene & CellWorks Success Stories at EPPIC event


About EPPIC

The fusion of Biology and IT is likely to continue to revolutionize and optimize healthcare.  EPPIC, a premier organization started in 1998, from its inception, leveraged and blended existing Silicon Valley resource, in terms of pharmaceutical, biotech and IT professionals.  In the upcoming event, EPPIC will feature two of its prominent members who benefited greatly from the networking and mentoring opportunities available through EPPIC and have achieved great success with their Bio-IT companies.  EPPIC promotes networking, entrepreneurship, and mentoring for life science professionals, in additional to helping create US-India life science synergy.  The two success stories that will be featured in the upcoming event, not only received guidance and mentoring, but also found the funding.  They both were funded by Artiman Ventures.  Artiman has been affiliated with EPPIC and has strongly supported EPPIC, from inception.  Artiman Ventures invests typically in “white space” technology and are looking for technologies that integrate multiple disciplines and offer brand new revolutionary approaches to touch problems.

When Mohan Uttarwar first conceived of his idea for BioImagene, he discussed his idea with Nagesh Mhatre, one of the founders and board member at EPPIC and Partner at The Angel’s Forum, Halo Fund.  Mhatre did not see merit in the idea, but Uttarwar did not quit.  With constructive feedback and mentoring, Uttarwar refined and polished his idea and the rest is history – as you can see below.  Similarly, Pradeep Fernandes, President and co-founder of CellWorks Group Inc. credits his success largely to the mentoring and networking opportunities he received, through EPPIC.  Fernandes spent most of his career in the semiconductor and software algorithms domain and was a relative novice to the life science industry.  However, valuable mentoring, along with his insightful application of his software expertise to solve life science industry challenges, led to the success he has achieved today.  Go to www.eppicglobal to register for the event below.

BioImagene

Recently Roche forked over $100 million to acquire BioImagene, Inc., a privately held company, in the emerging field of digital pathology.  What is digital pathology and why it is poised for growth?  The new technologies in the realm of digital pathology enable capture, information, analysis, sharing, and storing of information, including patients’ tissue samples, with greater efficiency and lower cost.  Moreover, unlike the analog age of glass slides, where pathologists frequently did the analysis and sent the information over to the physicians in charge of patient care, the pathologists today are increasingly involved in treatment decisions.  New and sophisticated tools greatly enable better and more accurate diagnosis.  BioImagene offered digital pathology application software iScan, a family of automated digital scanners, along with unique image viewing input device called the iSlide.  Additionally, the hardware and software came with a rich menu of Companion Algorithms, to help arrive at better decisions.  Mohan Uttarwar, founder and CEO of BioImagene will be speaking at EPPIC event on Monday August, 5.

Uttarwar is a serial entrepreneur, with 25+ years of experience in high-tech and bio-tech area.  He was co-founder and CEO of Roamware Inc., a leading wireless roaming software company; was founder and CEO of SoftPlus, a leading provider of eCRM software for telecom carriers around the world; and had co-founded and served as CEO of Digital Tools Inc., a leader in enterprise project and resource management software.  SoftPlus was acquired by US interactive for $360 million, in March, 2000.  Uttarwar is now founder and CEO of  OncoMDx/Core Diagnostics  Lab that focuses on Cancer Diagnostics both in US and India. It does translational research to come up with Lab Developed tests for patients stratification using novel bio-markers (personalized medicine) and early detection of Cancer, with a goal to connect any patient from any part of India, for second opinion, from any expert in USA. It has been funded by Artiman Venture (who also funded BioImagene).

View Mohan_photo.jpg in slide show     Mohan Uttarwar

CellWorks                                                                 Pradeep Fernandes

CellWorks Inc., founded by experts in software and semiconductors, recently received $10+million series B round at the end of 2012, with Sequoia Capital leading the round.  They had closed a $7.5 million in Series A, funded by Artiman, in 2009.  Pradeep Fernandes, President and Co-founder of Cellworks, spent most of his career prior to Cellworks in semiconductor world.  He was VP and GM of Synthesis Solutions at Cadence Design Systems, which acquired Get2Chip in 2003 and under Fernandes’s leadership, Get2Chip became one of the most externally recognized and fastest growing product in Cadence’s product lineup.  Prior to Cadence, Fernandes served on executive teams at TriQuest Design Automation and CyberX.

CellWorks is designing novel therapies, using proprietary dynamic and responsive disease models.  Scientists at CellWorks mine vast repositories of known information about drugs, protein interactions and genetics to predict the outcomes in humans.  Thus integrating biology and computing, the focus is to dramatically reduce spending for developing new therapies.  Each year, an estimated $100B is spent worldwide, for pharmaceutical R&D.  The cost for development of each new drug?  A staggering $1 to $4 billion!  Don’t miss the chance of to hear how CellWorks has created a pipeline of validated therapies for RA and Oncology in record time of 6 months, from computer to validations, using their proprietary platform.

The event is on Monday August, 5th from 6 to 9 pm at The Westin, San FranciscoAirport in Milbrae.  Go to www.eppicglobal.org for more information and to register for the event and to sign up to become a member.

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EPPIC 2013 Annual Life Science Conference Highlights


EPPIC 2013 Annual Life Science Conference Highlights

The annual EPPIC Life Science Conference (www.eppicglobal.org) takes place on the day before the start of the J. P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, each year, and offers a forum for information, networking, and mentoring. This year, the conference took place at the Westin SF Airport Hotel on January 6, 2013 and was jointly chaired by Ramani Aiyer, EPPIC President & Principal at Shasta Bio Ventures and Geetha Rao, CEO of Springborne Life Sciences and VP of Corporate Development at Triple Ring Technologies. The Gold sponsors of the event were Global Industry Analysts http://www.strategyr.com, Camargo http://www.camargoblog.com, Merchant & Gould http://www.merchantgould.com, Morrison Foerster http://www.mofo.com, Vivo http://www.vivoventures.com, and WSGR http://www.wsgr.com. Below are the highlights from the conference.

Plenary Talk – Carlos Olguin

The conference opened with plenary remarks by Carlos Olguin, Head of Bio/Nanotechnology/Programmable Matter Group at Autodesk and was moderated by John Cumbers, Head of Synthetic Biology & Resource Utilization in Space at NASA Ames. If you are wondering what has Autodesk to do with life sciences, the talk was an eye opener about interesting things happening on the boundary between bio-nano technology with 3D visualization, simulation, and design. Autodesk professionals bring design and engineering knowledge and look at ways to program matter, through scan, modify, and print pattern, said Olguin. Scan in the case of molecular biology is akin to sequencing DNA, modify refers to modeling, simulation, and optimization and print alludes to synthesizing the DNA. Looking beyond molecular biology, design and engineering in manufacturing as a whole may shift from being top down to self assembled, from being inert to being alive, from being generic to personalized, and from being product oriented to being service oriented, said Olguin. The talk was a clear indication that interesting, cutting edge stuff is happening on the boundaries between disciplines and that is where we will see some breakthrough advances take place in the years to come.

Personalized Medicine Panel

Personalized Medicine Panel was moderated by Sara Kenkare-Mitra, SVP of Development Sciences at Genentech. Brian Naughton, Founding Scientist, 23 and Me, Eric Sasso, VP of Medical and Scientific Affairs at Crescendo Bioscience, and Deborah Kilpatrick, Chief Commercial Officer at CardioDx discussed the implications of efforts in personalized medicine for chronic diseases.

Crescendo Bioscience is a molecular diagnostics laboratory focused on rheumatology. Currently,  assessment of rheumatoid arthritis disease activity depends on subjective clinical indicators and is a time consuming process. Crescendo is developing quantitative, objective, biology-based tests intended to provide rheumatologists with deeper clinical insights, said Naughton. The blood test, commercially available since  2010, integrates the concentrations of 12 serum proteins associated with rheumatoid arthritis disease activity into a single objective score to help physicians make more informed treatment decisions.

CardioDx offers Corus CAD blood test that can quickly and safely identify symptomatic patients unlikely to have obstructive coronary artery disease (CAD). However, getting physicians to think differently about using these tests versus imaging based tools, is a challenge, and “we are asking them to trust biology and not just an image”, said Kilpatrick. Currently, 75% of its commercial use is by primary care physicians and about 25% by cardiologists. Cardio Dx works the referral channel from an advocacy standpoint. An additional benefit observed by CardioDx is that after the test, the compliance to statins among patients is dramatically improved. Thus the test leads to a behavior change that would not otherwise occur.

23 and Me has an exciting story and it will again be covered in greater detail in my JPM post. The exciting development is in dramatic reduction of cost. Naughton shared that now it is within the reach of everyone and for $99, any consumer can get all sorts of information about their genetics, including increased risks for diseases like AMD, Alzheimer’s and others The panelists discussed their strategies for broadening the use of their tests with partnership opportunities and for other indications. Hearing about advances in personalized medicine, beyond oncology, was exciting.

Panel on Repurposing of Drugs

Mahendra Shah, partner with Vivo Ventures, moderated the panel that focused on repurposing of drugs. While new drugs cost upwards of $1.1B to develop and bring to market, and take over 10 years, once approved, there is no guarantee that they would be commercially successful, said Shah. The knowledge accumulated, can be analyzed to see the effectiveness of old drug for new usage. NIH is also planning to make an extensive database of old drugs available, to enable scientists to look for new indications.

Ken Phelps, CEO of Camargo Pharmaceutical Services, talked about the regulatory pathway in repurposing of drugs. Camargo specializes in FDA’s 505(b)(2) drug approval process. In 2011, more 505(b)(2) NDAs were approved than 505(b)(1) compounds, said Phelps. Sharing the history of 505(b)(2), Phelps emphasized that currently over 3000 drugs are still on the market that were introduced prior to 1962, when they were not required to be shown to be efficacious, and they are for taking. There are also compounds with new chemical entities and new indications that are available. He observed that it is important to identify compelling commercial differentiation and then take the knowledge available in the public domain, think outside the box, and use it effectively.

Warren Cooper, President at Coalescence was CEO of Prism Pharmaceuticals, a venture backed company that he led from inception to sale of the company to Baxter in 2011. According to Cooper, in repurposing a drug, same criteria should be used as NCE; identification of well defined clinical need, market value, and willingness to adopt and obtain reimbursement, technical feasibility, ability to protect from generics for meaningful period of time, and positive financial justification. What is different from NCE is that compound has a history and sometimes that is helpful and sometimes a hindrance. The deeper the history, the higher the challenge it may cause in the regulatory pathway of repurposing. Cooper discussed the example of injectable amiodarone that was originally developed for use in cardiac arrhythmias and was transferred at Prism Phrama, into NEXTERONE, from IV to ready to use pre-mixed product. The regulatory challenges required rewriting of the label and negotiations with FDA on labeling.

Jaisim Shah, Board Director at Igdrasol, discussed the key drivers for drug repurposing that include, reduction in cycle time, lower cost, better success rate, and quicker ROI for investors. Drug repurposing sales are up, to $20 B this year, said Shah. In 2012, as Chief Business Officer of Elevation Pharma, Shah led the sale of the company to Sunovian for upto $430 million, contingency based deal. The company took glycoyrrolate, a generic drug, approved decades ago by the FDA, and reformulated the compound for use with a nebulizer for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It is found to be a well tolerated, tasteless, and stable formulation.

Panel on Technology Innovations that Shorten Therapeutic Product Development Life-Cycles

Moderated by Mohan Srinivasan, Director at Bristol-Myers Squibb, the panel discussed diverse and new technology adaptations aimed at compressing lifecycle and boosting success rates for drug development. Currently, for each new therapeutic, the product life-cycle ranges between 9 to 15 years and costs over a billion dollars. Can this be significantly shortened by adapting technology advancements in other sectors?

Chunlin Wang is Senior Scientist & Director of Informatics at Stanford Genome Technology Center. In last several years, Wang has been analyzing sequencing data generated by 454 FLX, I1-lumina GAIIx, HiSeq, MiSq, Ion Torrent and Pacific Bioscience platforms for various projects including drug-resistant mutation detection, whole genome sequencing, immune repertoire sequencing, high resolution high-throughput HLA genotyping and new virus discoveries. Using novel sequencing approaches to speed up drug development is one of the best ways to reduce costs, said Wang.

Scott Turner is EVP of R&D at Kinemed Inc. focused on the field of stable isotope research. Turner is leading the research into novel in vivo applications of stable isotopes in diseases. With its patented isotopic tracer technology, Kinemed enables its clients to track key chemical pathways within living systems and look at bio-chemical processes that are targets of drugs. Focusing on study in intact organism provides integrated systems biology information underlying the root causes of disease, said Turner.

Nikesh Kotecha is CEO of Cytobank Inc., a company focused on providing scientific, informatics and software solutions for cytometry. Cytobank focuses on analyzing single cell technologies and has created Cytobank, a cloud-computing platform for flow cytometry data. The Cytobank project grew out of Kotecha’s focus in Dr. Garry Nolan’s lab at Stanford University in developing a diagnostic for juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia and on analysis methods for single cell assays. Thus they take an interdisciplinary approach to address biological and clinical problems to help companies bring together their laboratory bench work and informatics needs. Cytobank is taking this beyond flow cytometry to mass cytometry, for identifying biomarkers, useful in personalized medicine, said Kotecha.

Pradeep Fernandes, co-founder and President of Cellworks Group, was most recently VP and GM of Synthesis Solutions at Cadence Design Systems, following its very successful $120M acquisition of Get2Chip in 2003.  Currently, a great deal of data is being generated.  Software is a tool that can be leveraged to manage and visualize large data, extract trends, generate insightful data and eventually predict information from large data sets, said Fernandes.  CellWorks takes in vivo and in vitro data and clinical trends and tries to build dynamic models that simulate disease phenotypes in computers and can be used to perform mechanistic studies.  This information is used to predict effects of new therapy and gain new biological insights regarding toxicity and biological efficacy of drugs.  CellWorks has an internal pipeline of therapies and is in collaboration with Astra Zeneca, Genentech and other companies interested in driving selection of therapies.

Speed Pitch, Accent on Youth, Speed Networking

In Speed Pitch, early stage life sciences companies were given the stage for a quick 5-minute pitch about their idea, technology, or company. The companies presented to the entire audience and obtained quick feedback from the distinguished VC panel and gained exposure to showcase to various potential collaborators, partners, and investors. Selected presentations are highlighted on the EPPIC website and other promotional material.

The Youth Panel was An Eppic Annual Conference First. This panel gave an opportunity to budding high school and college age scientists to showcase their outstanding research and later ask questions of each other’s research and future goals etc. The purpose of this panel was to inspire excellence among young people but these exceptionally bright, charming youngsters inspired the audience and left everyone spell bound.

Finally the Speed Networking event gave an opportunity to meet conference attendees in quick three-minute introduction and card exchange rounds.

This was a great conference that provided wonderful networking opportunity and was followed by more relaxed networking and wine reception.

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