drug discovery

Hundreds of Thousands of Biological Molecules Undiscovered in Plant Chemical Space Says Founder of New Drug Discovery Company

“Why do plants make a host of chemicals they don’t use? One answer that has always intrigued me is that, unlike us, they can’t walk up and walk away from an environment they don’t like. Evolution has honed this space for over 400 million years.”

That’s today’s guest, Viswa Colluru, Founder and CEO of Enveda Biosciences. Enveda is a drug discovery company with an innovative approach to a very old idea. The company is applying cutting-edge machine learning and metabolomics to a 50,000-year-old human practice—extracting medicinal value from plants. And they’ve just raised $50 million.

Viswa says that in spite of years of research, only about 5 to 10% of drugs advanced to clinical trials end up working in people. So he has returned to first principles. This and some early formative experiences in his home country of India have led him back to plants.

Viswa says there are hundreds of thousands of undiscovered biological molecules in plants. What?! How could that be? What have been biologists been up to all these years?

Pioneering Use of the Microbiome: Colleen Cutcliffe, Whole Biome


Colleen Cutcliffe, CEO, Whole Biome
Bio and Contact Info

Listen (2:32) Do we know enough about the microbiome yet to commercialize it?

Listen (5:58) The Complete Biome Test

Listen (6:50) A higher resolution platform for developing new diagnostics and therapeutics

Listen (3:12) What are the low hanging fruit?

Listen (2:25) Going forward what is the biggest unknown for you?

There is an intense research effort underway to find out more about the human microbiome. But do we know enough yet to commercialize it?

Whole Biome is one of a handful of new startups in the microbiome space. It was founded by three former employees of PacBio who decided, yes, they knew enough to begin offering a product, the Complete Biome Test.

One of those founders, and the CEO of Whole Biome, Colleen Cutcliffe, joins us to tell their story.

As entrepreneur trainer Steve Blank said here in a recent interview, startup phase is that time period where a company searches for a successful business model. That certainly applies to Whole Biome. Colleen says that early on, the team saw that there was a gap in bacterial strain resolution that they could fill with a tool, meaning they could offer a much clearer picture of a person’s microbial community than what has been available to researchers.

“Before we even began developing that tool,” Colleen says, "we went out and we talked to people who were key opinion leaders in the field and had been thinking about the microbiome and different diseases for a long time. And we said, hey we feel this is a gap. Do you think this is a tool that would be useful? And they all said, that would be a great tool. And if you start a company around that, we’d love to work with you. And we started the company and went back to them and asked would you like to work with us now. And every single one of them is partnered with us.”

Just what will be their business model? And what are the low hanging fruit Colleen and her team are pursuing? She answers these questions and more in today’s interview.

Life Scientist Goes Indie

Guest: Ethan Perlstein, Independent Scientist

Bio and Contact Info

Chapters (Move marker to advance)

0:55 A declaration of independence

8:14 Setting up an indie lab to do evolutionary pharmacology

19:07 What are you doing for funding?

28:21 Darwin would be tweeting beak sizes

Ethan Perlstein has a message for his fellow scientists: declare independence. Giving up for now on the traditional career path of seeking positions at research institutions around the country, Ethan has gone rogue. What does this mean? How does one become independent? And the $64 million question: how does an independent scientist get funding? These are the questions this young scientist tackles in his own "declaration of independence."

Podcast brought to you by: Assay Depot - the world's largest cloud-based marketplace for research services. With Assay Depot, you can easily find the perfect research service provider and manage your project from anywhere in the world.

Improving the Playing Field for Biotech Startups: Melinda Richter, Prescience

Podcast brought to you by: Chempetitive Group - Who for more than a decade has helped science-based companies build and execute innovative marketing campaigns. "We love science. We love marketing. We love the idea of combining the two to make great things happen for your marketing communications."


Melinda Richter, Founder, Prescience Bio and Contact Info

Listen (10:28) How are you accelerating the commercialization of life science technology?

Listen (7:47) Innovation centers helping out startups

Listen (2:55) Educating entrepreneurs

Listen (8:27) Jumping the financial hurdle

Lying in a Beijing hospital bed waiting and waiting for a diagnosis, Melinda Richter, a telecom executive on assignment in Asia, had one of those look-death-in-the-face experiences. "We're here once only, and we have to live our time well," she says in today's interview.

This brush with her mortality propelled Ms. Richter to do something that made a difference to others. This led her to the life science industry, where she found much greater hurdles to entrepreneurship than she had seen in high tech. Asking herself what she could do to help startups and speed up the time for commercializing what is some great technologies led her to found Prescience International. Prescience runs two 'innovation centers', San Jose Biocenter and Janssen Labs in San Diego. In today's show, Melinda describes what these incubator spaces are doing to help lower the barriers for life science startups to get off their feet. Prescience also offers courses for entrepreneurs to get hands on training industry leaders.

"There's Nothing Like Helping Patients," Susan Molineaux, Calithera

Podcast Sponsor: Addgene - Today’s Podcast is sponsored by Addgene, a non-profit organization facilitating biomedical research by operating a library for published and useful plasmids. Find out more at www.addgene.org


Susan Molineaux, CEO, Calithera Bio and Contact Info

Chapters: (Advance the marker)

1:17 Is Calithera the ideal model for drug discovery and development?

2:09 With virtual model, "scientists have no skin in the game"

12:29 $40 million the right number

14:38 Success at Proteolix - "there's nothing like helping patients"

19:45 What is "negative persistence?"

23:27 "I grew up thinking math and science were great. There was no gender barrier."

29:16 "I didn't raise my hand and say I just need to manage."

33:40 When did you say I'm going to found a biotech company?

38:39 Why is mentorship important?

41:40 Thoughts on Affordable Care Act

Susan Molineaux thrives on the knowledge that what she does each day is making a difference in the lives of patients. CEO and founder of Calithera BioSciences, a start-up biotech housed in the same building with Crescendo Biosciences in South San Francisco, Molineaux knows the taste of success. Previously she led Proteolix in the development of cafilzomib, a therapeutic for multiple myeloma patients. Proteolix was bought out by Onyx Pharmaceuticals during late stage trials for a hefty sum. The purchase is paying off for Onyx as they just received FDA approval for the drug and saw their stock take a big jump.

Susan says her success comes from an early grounding in science that was free from gender barriers. She's a speaker at many conferences around the Bay Area and mentors for local entrepreneurs and students. Susan talks about what she's doing at Calithera and weighs in on what could be a better model for drug development.

Drug Repositioning: Joel Dudley of NuMedii

Podcast Sponsor: Ingenuity - The fastest way to get biological meaning from your expression data. Get a free iReport

Guest: Joel Dudley, Ph D, Co-founder, NuMedii Bio and Contact Info

(Place marker at the following time markers.)


1:12 - What is drug repositioning?

4:51 - A few guys and a computer can be a pharma company

8:00 - Model of service

13:25- First company set up to do this

20:25- Spin-off from Stanford

27:24- Personal journey to Silicon Valley

33:24- 'Open science'

40:04- Exploring Personal Genomics

41:54- How far can computers take us?

Joel Dudley is a co-founder of NuMedii, a spin-off from Atul Butte's lab at Stanford. The new bioinformatics company has developed proprietary software to find new uses for existing or retired drugs. The company accesses a great amount of public and private data on both drug compounds and disease targets to come up with a Network of Efficacy.

Joel is from a small town in Wisconsin. He talks about his journey to Silicon Valley.