AI and the Future of Biomedicine

November 23rd, 2018

81367868 - telemedicine concept with doctor wearing vr glasses

It took a while for me to write a new blog post (six months!), but I think it was worth it since I’ve been reading a lot about new technologies applied to biomedicine. Today my post will focus in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how it could change biomedicine (and several other sectors) as we know today. Everything started back in the 50s, the fathers of the field Minsky and McCarthy, described AI as any task performed by a program or a machine that, if a human carried out the same activity, we would say the human had to apply intelligence to accomplish the task. That obviously is a broad definition, which is why you will sometimes see arguments over whether something is truly AI or not. AI systems will typically demonstrate at least some of the following behaviors associated with human intelligence: planning, learning, reasoning, problem solving, knowledge representation, perception, motion, and manipulation and, also, social intelligence and creativity. Well, tech giants such as Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and others use AI daily to deal with the deluge of data they are acquiring every day. However, the biotechnology and pharma sectors are way behind in using these technologies. This scenario has changed in the last five years or so since pharma companies started looking in to what they call Real World Data (RWD) which is collecting patient data (in a clinical trial, for example) in real time. The way I personally see AI changing the biomedical sector is in five ways that I will describe here. First, I believe Real Time and Real World Data will be crucial to Clinical Trials and this will need a lot of AI technology. Imagine if pharma companies could enroll and collect real-time data on the patients of their trials. In addition, imagine a “situation room” in which the data points could be seen and accessed for each patient in a trial in real-time and the system could be improved by the AI Technologies (Machine Learning, for example). Novartis is already doing this and their new CEO think pharma companies have to become data companies. I totally agree with his statement. Second, we already know that clinical trials are hard on patients suffering from incurable diseases, mainly because the placebo group (they do not know which group is receiving the drug) will probably die or have more suffering. RWD can identify, using AI technology, small groups of patients that are responsive in the treatment group in clinical trials considered as a “failure” by the FDA standards. In addition, depending on the trial, if the treatment groups are having amazing responses, AI systems can be fast in detecting it. So, the trial can be stopped and both placebo and treatment groups will receive the drug that could save their lives. Third, speech recognition and Machine Learning (ML) are becoming usual in our daily lives. In this case, I imagine a future in which patients in trials could “talk” to Alexa from Amazon or other similar devices (such as Apple, Google and Facebook devices) and say how they feel daily (signs and symptoms, specific issues, etc). Data points collected from each patient daily will speed a lot the trials and drug approval will be faster. Fourth, AI is already being used by academic centers and several “start ups” in the biomedical field to do “in silico” drug design using several complex data generated from patients. Big data, in this case, will be able to test millions of complex interactions in seconds to evaluate drug efficacy and for new drug development. This will increase exponentially success in developing or finding drugs for specific complex diseases. Last, but not least, the fifth example is how the academic sector will be impacted. Several groups have already used AI to basically get the data generated in a scientific laboratory and write the scientific article. This is already a reality, meaning that the Ph.D. students and Post Docs will generate the data and input in an AI system to write the article(s) for them in a faster and more accurate way. This could also be applied to write patents. Image a future in which the academic sector is mostly “technical” and the “intellectual” part will be done by a computer using AI scanning all articles in a specific field to write a paper (or a patent…). This is already happening! Even though it is amazing what AI can do and how it could impact biomedicine, the main concern will be the privacy of the data from patients and samples used in trials and studies. Thus, solutions to better encrypt data will be necessary. Patient data privacy is an issue and it should be taken care carefully. The future of biomedicine using AI solutions looks very bright and full of challenges. I am glad to be helping shape this future using AI and several other technologies. That is a dream come true!

The Power of Persistence

April 30th, 2018

Persistence Figure

In this blog post I will explore my own experience with persistence in the Academic Sector. I was thinking about this history that went on for more than a decade and came up with some closure based on real facts. As a start, I will write about something that happened to me in the Academic arena that I’ve named “the power of persistence” and how it can affect young scientists. This history started almost 15 years ago, when I was doing my Ph.D. thesis studying cancer when I stumbled with some DNA regions that were transcribed even though there were no indications that these regions were translated into proteins. At that time, they called these regions “junk DNA” and they make up to 98% of our genome. I was excited but at the same time confused when discussing this with my Ph.D. advisor at that time. She told me that it was just something the method caught by error and to throw it away. She said: “keep working and looking for regions that are differentially expressed.” Well, even though I did what she said, I started digging the literature about regions of the DNA that are transcribed but not translated (now you can see how curious I am…). Some literature here and there but nothing very exciting. I’ve collected mostly everything published about these “junk DNA” regions that were transcribed and started seeing that several of them have some function and are more expressed in tumors or even less expressed when comparing with normal cells. However, lots of literature discussing that these regions could be artifacts like my advisor told me. Contrary to everything that was told me and that I’ve read, I had a gut feeling and thought: “There is something here. I am going to read everything about it and come up with a hypothesis”. Of course there were microRNAs and other “small” RNAs being studied and published but these guys were different. One year before finishing my Ph.D. thesis with what was “presentable” under the scientific “status quo” I came to my Ph.D. advisor and said: “ I have all this growing evidence about these RNAs that do no code for proteins and want to write a review about it. What do you think?”. Her response was blunt: “You won’t be able to because reviews are just for well-known and established researchers. You are a mere Ph.D. Student” (she did not want to tell me: you are a nobody; but that is how I felt). Hesitant, I started writing by myself a review article and started writing letters to Editors of Scientific Journals explaining the importance of this growing evidence. Of course, I staterd from top to bottom regarding the scientific journals. As I remind correctly, I’ve got at least twenty “Nos” (or more…). In the meantime, I’ve finished my Ph.D. thesis with something that my Ph.D. advisor was happy about and moved to the United States (I did my Ph.D. in Brazil) to do a Post-Doctoral Degree at Harvard University. With 90% of the review article already written, as soon as I’ve got to Harvard University in Boston, I showed the article to my new Advisor there. Guess what? Same answers: “this is nonsense and reviews are just for stars in Science” and “You are a nobody”. Interestingly, after sending numerous letters to the Editors, one of them, a japonese Editor at the Gene Journal replied and told me to send what I had until then. After a week that I’ve sent the piece, he replied: “I like it. Finish it and we will send it for revision”. This was 2005 and against all odds somebody at least gave me a chance. I was ecstactic! After 2-3 weeks more I got a positive response and the review article was accepted by the Gene jornal. Remember that I was told more than once that I was a nobody in Science and that review articles were for the “Stars”. More than a decade forward, the first review article about non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) is one of the most cited articles from Gene (PMID:16111837) and after this one I wrote several more; two others for Gene – the “ncRNA Trilogy” as I classify it today (PMID:17113247; PMID:18226475) and other Reviews for different journals that include Drug Discovery Today (PMID:19429503), Bioessays (my review was in the Cover of Bioessays in 2010 – PMID:20544733). In addition, I edited and wrote a Book Chapter (for more information on the book click here) about this subject that was featured in several scientific journals and News outlets around the world. Today the Gene trilogy sum around 1,200 citations and all articles that I’ve wrote about non-coding RNAs approximatelly 1,600 citations. It might not sound like a lot; however, for journals that have a low to medium Impact Factor (IF), it is indeed a lot. In the meantime, there was an explosion of articles (experimental and reviews) discussing the importance of non-coding RNAs, especially the so-called long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) in several aspects of eukaryotic cells and the importance of those in complex and rare diseases. All of this story (I tried to make a long story very short for this post) is to show how powerfull persistence can be even if everybody around you tell you that you are wrong, or tell you not to do something. Even discourajing you saying that you are not capable or “famous” enough. Sorry for the word, but I think of it today as total “bullshit”. If you have an idea, identify or discover something interesting that has potential to become of importante not just in science but even to start a company go ahead. The sky is the limit. The take home message from this post is: believe in your “gut feeling” and go forward. Show them they are wrong! So wrong…

The New Shared Economy and Scientific Research

March 20th, 2018


The outlook for research science isn’t pretty. During the current explosion of technology innovation, a near instinctual collaborative environment, and an unparalleled time of data housing and processing being a scientist and asking daring questions should be the norm. But it isn’t. Instead, being a research scientist is extremely hard. And according to a recently poll of 270 leading scientists, the chief problem facing research is funding (See The 7 biggest problems facing science). For the last 15 years, the funding for basic scientific research has decreased to ~22% (See NIH Research Funding Trends). During the same timespan, the cost for doing experiments has increased about 20% (See NIH BRDPI). So, if you’re a faculty member running a lab over the last decade, you have experienced a +40% resource gap. In fact, Dr. Francis Collins (NIH Director), recently stated: “Medical research right now is not limited by ideals. It’s not limited by research potential. It’s not limited by talent. It’s limited by resources”. Something has to change with how research is done and there are good models to think through what scientists can do to save research. The most apparent answer: build a shared economy. The central purpose of a share economy is to use technology to empower individuals, businesses, and government to think differently about resource sharing and reusing. If successful, shared economies provide new opportunities for growth and productivity while reducing composition and waste by increasing the repurposing and conversation of resources. Shared economies force all participants to look at resources differently and use them more efficiently in order to ensure their preservation. In fact, there has been published accounts of the need for an overarching shared economy in research (See “The sharing economy comes to scientific research“). But until we launched Rheaply, there wasn’t a marketplace or similar platform that created a shared economy for scientific research resources. Given this obvious need, we decided to build one. Our guiding principles for developing the first version of Rheaply’s marketplace were simple, make it: (1) easy to use, (2) accessible on every type of computing device, and (3) compatible with research organization’s IT infrastructure enabling easy on-boarding. By all accounts, we have accomplished these goals and more, and we are proud to be the only marketplace and shared economy for research that connects research organizations and scientists. Rheaply is bringing the shared economy to scientific research, one research organization at a time. Shared economies can be natural circular economies  - sustainability pays for itself. Rheaply’s efforts in creating a shared economy around scientific research resources was recently featured in Nature, in an article entitled, “How going green can raise cash for your lab”. This article highlights the power of sharing surplus scientific supplies and resources with your colleagues, and how doing so can bring extra cash into the lab. In fact, going green through use of Rheaply is both a cost efficient and sustainable practice. Recycling leftover chemicals and equipment slashes energy bills and boosts research budgets. We like to think that the shared economy we are building for research is actually a circular economy. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (a leader in circular economy construction), a circular economy is one that goes beyond “take, make, and dispose” (a linear economy) and is restorative and regenerative by aiming to redefine products and services to design waste out while minimizing negative impacts on productivity (See What is a Circular Economy?). At Rheaply, we like to call our marriage of the shared economy + circular economy “circular discovery” where we connect scientists to better share resources enabling more breakthroughs and developments without the need of more funding. One key principle to shared economies, and is especially true as it pertains to scientific research, is participation. Every research institution, organization, and outlet face the same resource gap realities as well as have the same sustainability goals. In fact, the US Federal Government has now mandated a system like Rheaply at every organization that’s takes >$1 of Federal grant money, (See the link here). Now is the right time that world-class research organizations lead the movement to a more shared and circular economy around research resources, and we are poised to help them do so. Words are nice and promote solidarity on this issue, but action is required. If not, the structural problems facing scientific research  – larger resource gaps, greater talent/skill churn, and uncertainty  –  will grow. It’s time to do something to save scientific research for the next generation, and our hope is that all scientists feel obligated to be a apart of that fight.

This Blog Post was adapted from the Medium Post by Rheaply’s CEO Garry Cooper (check the link here). I personally thank Dr Garry for sharing this amazing post (and Ideas) with our readers.

Figure Source: Nature Article cited in this blog post.

Rare Diseases: a parent’s journey

February 2nd, 2018

Journey is really the best word.  Thirty years of researching, detoxifying the home environment, creating an organic, colorful and nutrient rich diet, increasing the oxygen infusion in the blood and to the brain, employing creative hands-on learning techniques, and working through day long sessions of physical therapy and yet there was always that feeling that we were riding a roller coaster. The neurologist had told us to expect that wild ride when they attached the diagnosis of Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (LGS) to my daughter. “There will be bad periods of seizures and then things might get better, just for a while. Keep in mind, LGS is just a description of a group of signs and symptoms often found together in patients, it is not the organic cause for her symptoms,” he explained. For us as parents, it was a holding pattern or a waiting room, until someday we might know the real cause. That cause was to remain a mystery until just after her 30th birthday. The wait came with a good deal of wondering.  Could we have…What if… Should I be doing this or that…? Most of these questions had to do with whether we were doing our best for our precious daughter.  She was ten when a sense of peace came over me, not based on my understanding of the problem but based on faith.  This was not about whether I could solve the medical mystery; that was not going to be my discovery to claim.  Instead it was about being faithful to the care and love for my daughter.  And so we kept current on the science and dove even more deeply into the care and relied on physicians and therapists who stood beside us steadfastly. And the doctors were right about the roller coaster. There were real victories for her: she went from an ataxic awkward walk to a 12 minute mile run, single words changed to complete sentences, unable to get free from gravity to 500 jumps in a row, holding her breath in the pool to a water worm, and not recognizing letters and numbers to reading and understanding at the 5th grade level! But there were low points too, countless medication changes, daily shots for growth and allergies, loss of her front teeth as her cerebellar atrophy progressed, and most significantly, the ruptured appendix and unrelenting seizures that necessitated four successive hospitals over three months, and an induced coma resulting in paralysis. She is wheelchair bound now but still wakes every morning with joy on her face ready to take on her job, a full day of therapy, she is determined to  make more progress.  Her indomitable optimism, faith and humor have enriched all of our lives. There have been sacrifices.  Her dad has been her fearless hero with his tickles and his nicknames, her sisters have fed, slept with, and helped her with therapy when they could have been with their friends, family members have cared for those precious sisters in our absence when she was hospitalized, a law career was shelved, ball games were missed and vacations cancelled. But she has been as inspiration to all of us and has had an adhesive affect that has joined our extended family at the hip. She is our hero. We felt that someday we would know the cause of her problem and that day finally came on August 16, 2017 in the form of a genetic test and report showing a de novo mutation in the KCNA2 gene, a gain of function mutation that interferes with her brain. As far as I can tell there are seven other people in the world with the R297Q mutation.  Because of privacy rules, I have not found them, yet, but while I search, I am researching tirelessly. And when I find them (and will!) I will be armed with information to share as we march to finding a treatment together.  We are not going to ride the roller coaster anymore, we are going to put on our running shoes, find our team mates and jump the hurdles until we find hope help for my beloved daughter and for the young children whose full and happy lives will be ahead of them.

This Blog Post was written by a Mom and her journey with a daughter diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder. I will not disclose the name of both the mother and daughter for their privacy. If there are other parents, relatives and/or patients with this disease and this specific genetic mutation described here please “Contact Usat Genome For more information on rare disorders please check my last article entitled “Rare Genetic Diseases: Update on Diagnosis, Treatment and Online Resources”.

 Image Source: Global Genes – a Rare Disease Initiative

Is a Nobel Prize really worth it?

November 7th, 2017

Glamorous. Your name will never be forgotten. You are in the “Hall of Fame”. Plus Money (well, not really a lot; approximately U$ 350K when you divide with two others and U$ 1.1 Million when you get it solo). Yes, winning a Nobel Proze gives you all of that. Everybody working in areas that are contemplated with a Nobel Prize, especially Scientists have as a Career goal to get this Prize. That is the “Oscars” of Research. Even I, a mere mortal though about it when I started my Career. How pretentious! My question now is: is it worth it? Just a little bit of history: since 1901, the Nobel Prize has been honoring men and women from all the globe for outstanding achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and for work in peace. The Foundations for the Prize were laid in 1895 when Alfred Nobel wrote his last Will, leaving much of his wealth to the establishment of the Nobel Prize. Alfred Nobel was himself a scientist that has developed a “safer” explosive: the dynamite. Nobel was the holder of 355 patents and used his vast fortune to establish all the Nobel Prizes we see today. Since the Invention of the Prize, it became the main goal of Scientists, Economists, Mathematicians and other specialists. This year’s (2017) Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology was awarded jointly to Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young “for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm”. Interestingly, I was reading about the winners and one of them got my attention: Jeffrey C. Hall. He is a retired Professor at Brandeis University (see that this is not Harvard, Stanford or any other top 10 Universities in the United States). Hall said in an interview from his home in rural Maine that he collaborated with Roshbash because they shared common interests in “sports, rock and roll, beautiful substances and other stuff.” (check the article entitled “A 2017 Nobel laureate says he left science because he ran out of money and was fed up with Academia”). About half of Hall’s professional career, starting in the 1980s, was spent trying to unravel the mysteries of the biological clock. Then he left Science 10 years ago in 2007 angry and in a very bad mood. In a lengthy 2008 interview with the journal “Current Biology” (see the complete Interview here), he brought up some serious issues with how research Funding is allocated and how biases creep into Scientific Publications and in the Publishing System. He complained that some of the “Stars” in Science “have not really earned their status” yet they continued to receive massive amounts of Funding. He also said that these Stars have boasted to him that they almost never send their articles to “anywhere but Nature, Cell, or Science“ – among the three most prestigious scientific journals. “And they are nearly always published in one of those magazines – where, when you see something you know about, you realize that it’s not always so great…” Everything he said in the Interview is true  (check my previous post “Science is Broken: how, why and when?”) and the publishing System is biased and wrong. He also worries about young Scientists as he quotes: “one component of my last-gasp disquiet stems from pompously worrying about biologists who are starting out or are in mid-career.” He should be worried, and all of us should be too! Everything he said is true and nothing seems to be changing. Young scientists have difficulty to get a Job, to start establishing his/her own Laboratory and getting grants since the “Stars”, as he quotes, get it all. There are exceptions, obviously, and politics matters too. The bottom line is that he got fed up with this Broken System and left Science. Ten years after that, he is awarded with a Nobel Prize. He was surprised and with his reasons. After all the frustration he described in his piece about his Career of 3 decades and how the system not giving him more money for his research expelled him from what he liked to do most. The lesson here is that we need disruptions and disruptors to change the Scientific System right now! I talk to a lot of Entrepreneurs and one of these days I met a very interesting Start Up with some Ideas to disrupt parts of this broken Scientific System. I cannot disclose here about the Idea but I think we need more people to disrupt this Scientific System that is outdated and slow. Winning a Nobel Prize is important, no doubt, but the issues raised by this Scientist (now a Nobel Prize winner) reflect a System needing a 360 degrees change. We hope that happens soon! And my question is open to discussion: is it Worth it to win a Nobel Prize after decades dedicated to work with lots of frustration and disappointment with the current System?

StartUp Incubators x Accelerators: What is the Difference?

September 11th, 2017

In my last Blog Post I wrote about “The Art of Learning by Doing” in Entrepreneurship. Of course, nobody does things alone. We need support. From people, connections, spaces, schools, mentoring, investors and so on. One thing that I’ve always hear when Mentoring or even Lecturing about Entrepreneurship is the question: should I apply for a StartUp Incubator or a StartUp Accelerator? What is the difference between both? Of course there are several different Models, but in my conception the truth is that nobody really knows their differences. But they are different. And the difference in Definition varies from Country to Country. An incubator in the United States is physically locating your business in one central workspace (generally a co-working space) with many other StartUp companies. In many cases, the StartUps in these incubators can all be Venture funded by the same investor group or early stage. You can stay in the space as long as you need to, or until your business has grown to the scale it needs to relocate to its own space. The mentorship is typically provided by proven serial entrepreneurial, investors, and by shared Knowledge of your StartUp CEO peers. For the Incubator Model, you or your Startup pays a Monthly or sometimes Yearly fee to use it. So, Incubators are a Real State Rental Business basically. A Startup Accelerator in the United States has some distinct differences. Your time in the space is typically limited to a 3-4 month period (when they have an Infrastructure that they run), basically intended to jump start your business and then kick you out of the nest. The cash investment into your business from the Accelerator itself is very minimal (e.g., U$20,000-50,000; with exceptions giving up to U$200K in exchange for a higher equity of the company), but your time in the Accelerator should largely improve your chances of raising Venture Capital from a third party entity on the back-end, after you graduate from their Program. Most Accelerators take Equity and become shareholders in your Startup with the percentage going from 4-12% depending on the Stage of the Company. Mentorship could be coming from Serial Entrepreneurs that are affiliated with the Accelerator (many of which are proven CEOs, or Investors looking for their next opportunity or simply helping the local StartUp community with a history of exits) – parts of this text were taken and adapted from “Is A Startup Incubator or Accelerator Right For You?” by George Deeb. There are also Accelerators that are Location Agnostic and you can be remotely linked to them. They will not have an Infrastructure for the Companies but they bring a strong network of Mentors and Investors. They also take Equity in the StartUp depending on the Stage of the company. These are more “Global” since StartUps from all over the World could participate. They generally do an Event (or even combine their Event with a Major one) every quarter or once every 2 months. They have a different Model. One interesting thing: both models deal with Quantity versus Quality. Of course there is a Selection but the more StartUps you have in the System or Accelerated the chances of getting an Unicorn (a StartUp that reaches a U$1 Billion Dollar Valuation) out of them are higher. Now, let’s talk about the Brazilian Model. Well, I think the “Copy-Cat” Model that Brazilians use for everything Americans do does not work for this. They have mixed up Incubators with Accelerators, offering terrible Infrastructure (with exceptions, of course) charging a Monthly fee and getting Equity at the same time of the StartUps. Most times they do not even offer a good Network of Entrepreneurs, Mentors and Investors. It is a horrible and confusing Model indeed. Another important thing: the Brazilian Model is “poor”, dealing with a few Ideas and StartUps and not quantity (No Unicorns on the Horizon…). So, what Model(s) and Country have more chances to succeed? I think the reader knows the answer already. And I did not even talk about the “Spin Offs” coming out from Universities in the US and in Brazil. Well, I think that is a subject for another Blog Post…

Entrepreneurship: The Art of Learning by Doing

July 20th, 2017

Books and Blogs (well not this one…) trying to teach you how to become an Entrepreneur. I’ve been there; it helps but there is no “magic bullet” when building Start Ups. There are a lot of books teaching you how to build a Start Up from an Idea, how to create a Business Model (BM), Business Plans (BPs), get customers and/or users and so on. The truth is that in the art of entrepreneurship you just learn by doing it. It is a “hands on” process. Mentors, Advisors, Board Members, Angels, VCs and Private Equity Groups do not care about your idea that will revolutionize or change the world. They only care about their Return of Investment (ROI). They care about multiplying their Money. If you are an entrepreneur starting a business you are the one that should care and believe in yourself. For example, all histories of successful companies in the technology sector started mostly by serendipity and pivoted somehow at some point. Take Facebook, Twitter and Amazon for example. Facebook started with FaceMash (a “hot or not hot game” to classify girls at Harvard University that Mark Zuckerberg built), Twitter’s original idea was a Podcast Company idealized by Evan Williams and Amazon started selling Books online (now it does almost everything you can imagine in e-commerce and other sectors). Take also Uber as an example. I am Reading a Book about Uber’s history and it is clear that the initial idea was completely different from what the company is now. And I believe all of this happened along the process of building the business. They’ve all changed and pivoted a lot. And still are. There is even scientific evidence that learning by doing works better than just theory and books. For example, a study has challenged the common assumption that methods based on Books are the most effective ways of teaching Entrepreneurship. A study compared more than 500 graduates from Europe who had studied Entrepreneurship as part of business degrees. Some took “traditional” lecture-based courses focused on education about entrepreneurship. Others were taught using more experiential and “hands on” models, which stressed either personality development, triggering entrepreneurial attitudes and making people want to become entrepreneurs or making students become entrepreneurs, either during the course or right after graduation (check the article here). Now, let’s talk about my experience as an Entrepreneur and, more recently, as a teacher. All the experience I’ve got in my entrepreneurial journey was by doing. I read several books. I won’t lie; they help. But, I’ve learned through the process of the Idealization, building an Minimum Viable Product (MVP), getting into Start Up Incubators and Accelerators, searching and getting Investors interested and exiting by selling the Start Up. This process took at least a decade. During my tenure as CEO and then Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) of the Start Up I’ve built with a Co-Founder, I had the chance to be accelerated by the Start Up Health Academy (SUH) and present my Start Up in several events. One event was at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference (check video here) in San Francisco to Health Industry Leaders and Investors and the other one at the Google New York Headquarters (check video here). I was also selected to represent and present the Start Up we’ve built at the White House to the President of the United States and to Congress Members in 2014 (no video here because we could not do it inside the White House). In all presentations I had to give a 1 minute Pitch max, which was the most difficult part. How could I, in just one minute, tell a history of a company and attract investors? Well, I had to and I did it. I believe that here is the biggest challenge that no Book teaches you. In addition, as CEO I had to take care of the Operations, Logistics and Finance with a small team, talk to clients and potential clients and also try to see the whole Picture of the Start Up in a snapshot. For that I had a technique that was to write down in a Diagram all the problems and difficulties every 3-6 months and indicate possible solutions to the problems I could find. Now I teach Entrepreneurship, How to strategically Manage Intellectual Property (IP), the Lean Start Up Model, how to write a Business Plan (BP), how to write Business Models, Canvas, etc using Books and my own experience. In my experience as a Teacher, the books help a lot, BUT experience is more important. So I tell my Students that the classes and the theory is very important, however they are not the key to building a successful Start Up, a Brand or even a Company. It is always a process of Learning by Doing. So, stop bragging about the innumerous possibilities in which your idea(s) will not succeed and start moving the needles to make things work. I can tell you that it will be a very stressful and frustrating path, but all you will get from it is a lot of expertise. Experience we only get by doing and building things. Most importantly, no money can buy experience. Start putting your Idea(s) to work right now. Don’t waste your time reading Manuals and Books on how to build Start Ups and hopefully you will learn things no book could ever teach you during the journey. In the end, it is worth it; I give you my word. I’ve been there… Actually, still are.

Reflections on turning 40 – Chapter Two: Life

May 23rd, 2017

Since I was little, my parents made a lot of sacrifice to keep my brother and I in private schools in Brazil since we were not rich. I was always one of the best in the classroom and I was able to get into one of the best Universities in Brazil when I was only 17 years old. After completing my Bachelor’s in Science with a Major in Biochemistry, I lived alone since I was 21 years old when I went to the biggest city in Brazil, Sao Paulo, where I did my Ph.D. I have always been a perfectionist by nature and I like things to be the way I plan. Unfortunately, life has taught me that it is never like this and this still bothers me. Life is supposed to be imperfect, I’ve learned. I am full of “to do lists” both professionally and personally and I try to follow everything. I always have several goals and most of the time I can’t do everything in the long run. BUT, planning is very important to me. I’ve learned this from my father since he is always planning everything. However, I’ve learned that my best experiences in life just happened without a “plan”. I am a person who has become frustrated by the circumstances of life. Many things have happened in my life in the last years, many good, but many bad. I have learned a lot with all this, but some things I do not accept until today, because I want to be in control, and most times we have partial or no control at all of the situations. I still can’t accept death mainly from loved ones, but I see that it is necessary to renew – to remove the old ones of the world and to put new minds / people in it. I have always been very truthful, aggressive. But I’m learning to defend my position in a more peaceful way. I have learned to be more humble, but sometimes I have my slips. I’ve always dedicated myself to my Professional life and forgot my Personal one. I did this for a while until it was unbearable. I’ve burned out several times. I had goals set for me since 17 years, I knew very well what I wanted. I forgot that I am a human being and that neither of us is an island. We need each other, especially when we get older. I’ve learned these values ​​after coming to the United States, a closed and cold society most of the time (no offense here, Americans have lots of good things). I’ve always been hard, hard to myself, but the things that life has put in front of me has softened my heart a little. I am a very curious person, I like to understand the world as a whole and I wonder a lot what we are like humans, what is our purpose on earth, and what is the meaning of it all. In the end, we all die, and what matters most is not the money we’ve got, the real state we have, but the image and values we have build and leave behind. This should be our legacy. We are all very insignificant, just another dot (or data point for data scientists reading this post) in the world. The greatness of it all full of inexplicable things makes us small. The human being is very complex psychologically and at the organic and cellular levels. And here I want to make a personal note also: when my mom got diagnosed with breast cancer ten years ago (yes, she is cured now) I felt like crap. I study cancer genetics and knew all the prognosis and possibilities but even then I was scared and did not know what to do. We have no control, no power. Things just happen. In my last post I wrote that as a kid I wanted to be an astronaut and see the world from above hoping that this would answer some of my questions. Well, I became a scientist of the very small (molecular level). And I love what I do. I read a lot, but sometimes I read and I know too much about things like diseases that could affect loved ones. This became part of my frustration. Always in my life I got into conflicts, defended my point of view, always thought that I was right and owned the truth. I’ve got a lot of bullshit because of this, but I’ve tried to change and listen more than talk. There are times I can’t and I talk too much and then I regret it. Today, I am a changed man that takes more risks and spend a lot on things that I do not know if there will be a return. There’s a quote from Albert Einstein that says “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” Try new things, especially in the professional field and take risks. I take a lot more risk and try not to think about the consequences and of the future. I believe this applies to the personal sphere as well. I think many things and decisions that I have made in my life until today were right and others I would do differently. An important thing that I think a lot after turning 40 is  that we are needy beings and although we need “alone moments”, we need loved ones around us in the “long run” and it matters a lot. I’ve changed a lot looking back to my early 20s. So, my advices are: forget trying to control everything, avoid perfectionism, take risks (being rational, of course) and live a happy life. The bottom line is that life is too short. Like the famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer once said: “Life is like a whiff”. So, let’s enjoy life while we can.

Reflections on turning 40 – Chapter One: Trust

May 1st, 2017

For people that does not know me and my history, I was born and raised in Brazil and spend more than 10 years in the United States. Now, I split my time between both countries and also travel all over the world. When I was little, I wanted to be an Astronaut, mainly because I was very curious (I am still curious…). The National Space Agency (NASA) in the Unite States was using the Space Shuttle to send astronauts to space and building the International Space Station (ISS). We are talking about the 1990s. Everything changed when I got from my dad the signature of the Magazine “Scientific American” (the English version) and started reading a lot. Also, I had a Biology teacher in High School that sparked my interest in Genetics and the Human Genome Project that was going on at that time in the United States and in Europe. Over time, I lost interest in space and became interested in the world of the very, very small: molecular biology and genetic engineering. I was curious to know what was inside the cells, and the Human Genome Project caught my eye. That’s how I decided to get into genetics. So I changed my Career Goals, did a B.S. in Science with Majors in Biochemistry and Immunology and moved to a biggest city in Brazil to do my Ph.D. in Genetics (in this case Sao Paulo). I was 21 years old at that time and a very naive person. Intellectually very capable but raised in an Environment of values such as Integrity, Character and Trust. Like they say: “book smart” but not “street smart”. After that, I finished my Ph.D. in a record time of 4 years and with 26 years old I moved to Boston to do a Post-Doctoral Degree at Harvard University. That was a dream coming true! The best University in the world! The first year was all excitement, but in the second year I started getting frustrated since the scientific and academic system seems to be broken all over the world, even at Harvard (check my previous post entitled “Science is Broken: how, why and when?”). That is when I met another Brazilian doing a training in Boston and we started thinking on new ideas that could impact the genetics field and, most importantly, people. This is when one of the first start ups I have build started, just as a concept. After two years in Boston, I decided that it was time to move on and I got an invitation to go to Chicago to work at Northwestern University, full of professional promises. Well, the promises were never fulfilled by my boss there. He lied. This is the first lesson I’ve learned and my Dad always told me this but I never paid attention: pay attention to what people tell you and their actions. If they overlap, good, it is a trustful person. If they don’t, this person is not trustful. Lesson learned right? Nope. Remember the Start Up company with the Brazilian guy? In the meantime, frustrated again, we started building everything. I was working remotely. The company raised capital in a bad way: I was against it, did not like the Angel Investors and the VCs. But it helped us get started. I was the Operations guy in the United States. With my tirelessly work we were able to get into two Co-Working Spaces and and Accelerator. I have even wrote and applied for the Patent we have today. We were also selected to go to the White House in a ceremony with 50 other Start Ups developing solutions in biotechnology and healthcare to discuss the Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act with leaders and the Vice President Joe Biden when Obama was President. It turned out that the people I was building the company with (my co-founder and the investors) basically lied again several times and in the end after several disagreements we sold everything. Second time is a charm they say. Well, no. Second time you lose trust is really a lesson learned. So, the most important thing I’ve learned in my 40 years of personal and professional life is that trust is the most important thing when starting a job, a company, a friendship, you name it. Even in marriage we need to trust our partner, otherwise the relationship starts in a wrong way. Another lesson, trust needs time to build but you can destroy it in seconds. There is a nice definition for trust: it equals consistency over time. I am reading a nice book about this subject since it really affected me and I am quite sure it affects a lot of people in the world (check the book: “The Speed of Trust: the one thing that changes everything” by Stephen Covey). The important take home lesson here is that independent if you are in Academia or becoming an Entrepreneur or Investor, trust is the most important thing to build since the beginning; with your boss, co-workers, investors, clients, etc. Loosing trust can really compromise Life and Professional Projects and impact your experiences and outcomes. There is a lot of “bad” people out there trying to cheat and use you with your intelligence and expertise. Just please learn the art of trust first then move on with your professional and personal life. Trust is the building block for Success. That is my advice.

Bridging Innovation between Academia and the Private Sector

March 30th, 2017

Recent studies of Innovation have pointed to the growing relevance of external sources of innovation. Rather than relying on internal Research & Development (R&D), private companies and organizations are reported to increasingly engage in ‘Open Innovation’, especially with the Academic Sector (check more information in the article “Relationship-based university-industry links and open innovation: towards a research agenda”). This means innovation can be regarded as resulting from distributed inter-organizational networks, rather than single companies. In the same vein, various concepts of ‘interactive’ innovation have been put forward to understand the non-linear, iterative and multi-agent character of innovation processes. But what is the definition of Innovation nowadays? According to different sources, innovation could be defined as the process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay. To be called an innovation, an idea must be replicable at an economical cost and must satisfy a specific need. Innovation involves deliberate application of information, imagination and initiative in deriving greater or different values from resources, and includes all processes by which new ideas are generated and converted into useful products. In business and enterprises, innovation often results when the company uses ideas in order to further satisfy the needs and expectations of the customers. Well, we know that most of the new discoveries occur in the Academic Sector and the Private Sector, even though having R&D, lags behind in some aspects. Depending on the country this will be different too and bridging innovation licensing and technology transfer between both sectors is not trivial. Today we see several Start Up Incubators and Accelerators popping up all over the world, especially in the United States. Each one of these has a different model and duration, however most are not connected directly to Universities. In the last 5-10 years, this is changing. We are starting to see established public companies with big valuations in the technology sector and also pharmaceutical companies opening spaces for Innovation, Incubation of Start Ups and even Start Up Accelerators to foster new Ideas that could be used to create new solutions and/or products for society. These are nice initiatives. For example Johnson & Johnson has the JLABS, with the main vision of empower and enable science to reach people that needs it faster. Will they work bringing more products to the company pipeline? We will see in the near future. However, technology transfer deals between academia and the private sector are not easy. We have a few professionals that are experts in this field, even lawyers that do not understand or are not interested. But, some successful deals happened and are happening. I have been the Director of a TTO in a University for a year and I’ve seen all the problems related to doing these types of deals. TTOs help Universities to commercialize Intellectual Property and Research developed inside their Campus. My take on these problems: mostly lack of efficiency in the processes. Why? What are the main problems in tech transfer and licensing between the Universities and the Private Sector? First, the academic professor and researcher from the University lack business skills, since he was not trained for that. In this case, the University must have a Technology Transfer Office (TTO) or a similar Department that supports the Professor in these cases. Secondly, the University still has some aversion of transfering a product or solution to companies that will bring it to market. I believe this is a cultural problem. When we say University, everybody has in mind a teaching Institution without the objective of having revenue and profit (and this is not the reality, Universities need a source of revenue that is not just Student tuition and private donations). Thirdly, when both sides, the University TTO and the representatives of the private sector seat in a big “marble” Table to discuss Terms and Conditions, the University is always the weaker part even though everything started there with their own resources. That could be justifiable since after the deal most of the risk until the new product goes to market will be from the company licensing it. What the future holds for Licensing and Tech Transfer? Well, I believe that all Universities must have a TTO with well-trained people to get the best deals for the University and the Private Sector needs to change the approach when dealing with an Institution that started the whole development of some product or service of their interest. It needs to be a “win win” situation otherwise it is a waste of time and money from both sides. I believe this a good start and things are changing in Tech Transfer and Licensing. However, both sides, especially the University needs to be more “professional” and business-oriented when closing these types of deal because, in the end, they will get their piece of the money pie if everything works well with no risk in the long term in most cases.