Epigene Labs (Founders Program) recently raised a €1.4M seed round led by Daphni to accelerate the development of their platform for genomic data engineering. Their platform combines machine learning with domain expertise to better engineer and enrich genomic data, i.e. data at DNA-level. Their goal is to enable cancer drug hunters to more efficiently pilot R&D programs by leveraging rich and diverse human genomic data, which remains little-exploited. We interview co-founder and CEO Akpeli Nordor, former researcher at Institut Curie and the Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, to learn more.
How do you define Epigene Labs?
Epigene Labs is a company that develops a platform for data aggregation and analysis in the setting of drug discovery projects in oncology. In other words, we use machine learning and domain expertise to better engineer and enrich genomic data.
What does it mean to “better engineer data”?
In the setting of cancer care and research, scientists generate a huge amount of DNA sequencing data, more precisely up to 3GB per patient. Currently, biologists acknowledge that it is important for them to work with this data but they are not sure how to leverage it. And that’s where we come in – first, we want to help them engineer data, which means standardize and pre-process huge data sets. Then, we’re looking to develop analytics that will be able to extract insights from the data.
People say that 80% of a data scientist’s time is spent on cleaning data. We are building a platform to help them minimize these efforts so that they can spend more time on testing ideas for therapies.
You just raised a seed round of €1.4M. What are you planning to do with the funds?
Build a team of very interdisciplinary talent: data scientists with interest in biology and biologists with interest in data science.
We need a core team that will be able to iterate with experts in drug discovery in oncology: biologists in academic labs, cancer centers, and hospitals; as well as researchers in biopharma companies.
I saw that you and your co-founder come from research backgrounds.
I studied Pharmacy in France and started my PhD at Institut Curie in Paris, which is one of the main cancer research hospitals in the world. I got to deal with a lot of data during my research so I trained myself in Data Science as well.
Did you self-train in Data Science?
Yes, partly. I was also coached by an assistant professor at Harvard who invited me to finish my PhD there, which is what I did. I stayed at Harvard for a short postdoc and met my now co-founder Arthur de Garidel. He started his Master’s degree in Public Health at Harvard during my last year there and that’s when we started to brainstorm on creating a company together. We applied to the Harvard Innovation Labs and we have been incubated since the very beginning. We decided to run our business development operations in Boston and to build the core company in France with our R&D team.
Why this divide between Boston and Paris?
Boston because it’s like the Silicon Valley for BioTech. Paris because of the quality of the talent in research and because of the blooming ecosystem; STATION F is a good example of that.
The project that you’re building has the potential to have literally life-changing impact at a very big scale. At which step of that big scale are you at the moment?
At the very beginning, of course. We have hired the first wave of talents. We are going to be 8 soon. We have a first version of our data engineering engine. We’re about to deploy in top research centers in Europe and in the US. We are conducting a proof of concept with a big European biopharma company. We are also actively discussing with high profile, mid-size BioTech companies in Boston to deploy our technologies with them.
The idea is to learn from cancer drug hunters how much we fulfill their needs in terms of data-driven decision making in their R&D programs.
What is the vision of Epigene Labs?
Genomic data is exploding, data science as well. We want each cancer patient to have access to these technologies. It would be huge if each cancer patient were proposed a treatment that relies on genomic data and data science approaches to better tailor their treatments, to have a treatment that is more efficient and less toxic.
Epigene Labs is a startup in Batch 5 of the Founders Program, STATION F’s incubation for early-stage startups across all industries. Applications are currently open until April 5th, 2020* for entry in July. If interested, learn more and apply on stationf.co/apply.
*Given the COVID-19 situation, we will be more flexible with late applications.