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How This Company Uses Artificial Intelligence to Improve Health

And why its founder is optimistic on the future of biotechnology in Southeast Asia

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BY Ezra Ferraz - 04 Apr 2018

How This Company Uses Artificial Intelligence to Improve Health

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

As an entrepreneur in Southeast Asia, you’re probably familiar with artificial intelligence applications that can help businesses improve the customer experience or better manage their data. One company based out of San Francisco and Singapore is leveraging AI to accomplish an even bigger goal: finding cures to diseases.

Engine Biosciences applies AI and “highly scalable genomics tools” to identify new therapies for important diseases and accelerate the drug discovery process through a data-driven approach, explains co-founder and CEO Jeffrey Lu.

Engine Biosciences uses computational tools that take various datasets to model diseased cells and make predictions for better therapies. The technology was developed by the Engine Biosciences team at MIT, Harvard, Mayo Clinic, and UC San Diego, and has been awarded several patents.

“By combining these predictive algorithms with our genomics tools we are able to test, in the laboratory setting, hundreds of thousands of hypotheses in parallel (all at once) as opposed to serial (one by one),” Lu says. “This integrated, high-throughput ‘test and learn’ approach enables us to rapidly develop insights on disease biology, identify more effective drug opportunities, and iteratively train our algorithms to be even more powerful.”

Expanding to Singapore

Lu explains that while they work on important diseases worldwide, they believe that many prevalent diseases among Asians have been under-researched. This is one of the reasons why the company decided to set-up operations in Singapore, in addition to the country’s strong biomedical system, which makes it easy to find and recruit talent and collaborate with relevant research institutions.

Like its counterpart in San Francisco, the Singapore office performs both R&D and business development.

Lu says the biggest challenge in maintaining operations in Singapore is that the ecosystem is still nascent compared to the United States. This can pose difficulties in financing, team building, and business development.  

“By leveraging our pre-existing networks, we have found very little to hold us back by basing ourselves partly in Singapore, and are fortunate to have an international group of investors supporting us in our vision,” says Lu.

In early 2018, the company closed a $10 million seed round from international tech and biotech investors. Engine Biosciences has also been published in leading scientific journals and collaborated with the National Centre of Singapore to apply its technology on the study of liver cancer, according to Lu.

Unsurprisingly, Lu’s outlook for biotechnology in Southeast Asia is bullish.

He says that many high quality scientific developments in Southeast Asia are creating many technology commercialization opportunities. At the same time, demand for products to serve unmet needs in healthcare systems within the region and across the globe will continue to rise.

“Support within the public and private sectors to develop the biotech ecosystem in Southeast Asia is high, as seen by our own success in securing funding and partnerships, and I expect to only see it continue to advance and grow in the coming years,” Lu says.

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