Code for Cures: Life Sciences Thrives on San Francisco’s Software Heritage

Xconomy San Francisco — 

A growing population of people with software experience plus an interest in life sciences is boosting drug development in the San Francisco Bay Area, according to panelists at an Xcelerating event.

Innovation in the San Francisco Bay Area may first bring to mind tech behemoths like Facebook and Google. But some drug development companies in the region say its openness to new ideas and the combination of software experience and life sciences expertise are boosting their prospects.

“For us inside the company, having that kind of ‘wet’ and ‘dry’—what Daphne Koller, our founder and CEO, calls that ‘bilingual’—perspective is critically important,” said Mary Rozenman, chief financial officer and chief business officer at South San Francisco drug discovery and development company Insitro.

“We find that many people who are attracted to the company, if they’re on the computational side, they’re really excited to learn about biology. They don’t want to code for clicks, they want to code for cures, as we sometimes say.”

Rozenman was among the executives who shared their insights during an Xconomy panel held online June 25 as part of the Xcelerating Life Sciences San Francisco event.

Andrew Radin, co-founder and CEO of TwoXAR Pharmaceuticals, which deploys artificial intelligence tools to speed up the discovery and development of small molecules, said finding those “bilingual” people is essential during fundraising as well as hiring.

“When we were starting the company, in the very early days, before we had clinical evidence and certainly before we had the therapeutic programs we have today, what we had was computational methods and computational evidence we were on to something,” he said.

“Part, I think, of getting momentum started behind the company was finding people who understood that and understood it well. … We’ve got these tech crossover [venture capitalists] who have deep expertise in computational methodologies and can sort of understand some of the rationale behind the methodologies that can lead to advancements, in our case, in drug discovery and development.”

Radin also suggested that cultural acceptance of out-of-the-box ideas, compared to some other cities with big life sciences communities, made TwoXAR’s launch more likely to find success in the Bay Area than elsewhere.

“I think here in the Valley crazy ideas are kind of romanticized … and because of that you have a better opportunity for trying out very unique approaches that in other locations is more of a challenge to get some momentum behind,” he said.

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