We live in such an amazing world with so much more opportunity than that of earlier generations. Despite what some people like to say, the rise of technology has allowed for innovation that’s changing our lives for the better. Technology does remove the need for some career, but is actually a shift that creates new ones.
Recently, I got to travel up to Boston for HUBweek, a conference geared towards innovation and new technology. The name of the Hub was something that I did not quite understand, but it seems that in early America, Boston was a hub for much of what was happening in the young nation. Now, it’s once again becoming a hub of technology and biotech, creating disruption among the entire industry. The event was graced by world changers such as NY Times best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell and former New York City Mayor and Boston native, Michael Bloomberg.
The original human genome took 13 years and over $3-Billion Dollars to decode. Now, a company called Veritas Genetics is able to sequence 48 individual genomes over a period of 3 days, at a cost of only about $1,000 each. The massive cost reduction and speed can only mean one thing for entrepreneurs: a vast amount of opportunities in the biotech, app, machine learning and data storage spaces.
I got to sit down with Veritas Genetics CEO and co-founder, Mirza Cifric, in a shipping container of all places, to learn about the industry disruption that’s occurring in the bio tech space.
Q: What does genome sequencing mean for big data?
The thing that was mind blowing to me… I’ve never heard of a petabyte before. I’ve heard of terabyte and I was like, oh that’s pretty big. Like I remember back in the day having a 486 computer if you had like a gigabyte it was incredible. Now, to think of like that level of data, to actually have on the human genome is incredible.
It’s fascinating. You know every time you look at your phone and we go back in time and we are just fascinated by the computing power we have. You know you put yourself at any position in time and it would be impossible to say, oh come on, in five years? I mean, I Put myself in that position and if you asked me 10 years ago if we’re going to have self-driving cars, I’d say come on. Really? Maybe. And now it’s eminently possible so we keep on surprising ourselves with how fast we could push the pace of technology. I think it’s all a game; exabytes, zettabytes are all game. I think as we start generating millions of genomes, we will be in exabytes and zettabytes. You know. Soon enough, people will say: giga-what? You know? Just like kilobytes we talked about have been long forgotten.
Q: What does genome sequencing mean for diet and treatment of disease?
Jeremy Slate :
Well correct me if I’m wrong on this then, because I guess the direction that what you guys are doing with Veritas will actually, you know, gathering the human genome, each person, the things you can do, in the future maybe you could treat cancer in a certain way based on somebody’s predisposition or things like that. Is that kind of vision of what you can be doing with gathering all this data basically helping people to tackle disease and things and self-care that they really could before.
Yeah, absolutely. I think there’s sort of two levels to it, individual level and an aggregate level. On an individual level, If you think about it you know we don’t know how healthy we truly are. You know everybody thinks they’re healthier than the person next to them. You exercise and eat well and take decent care of yourself. You think you’re healthy and you go to your physician once a year if you’re in your 20s probably once every five years or when you’re having a fever and it doesn’t go away or a problem persists. So we don’t really have yet the tools in our hands to truly understand: where are we on the scale? Okay. I’m doing all the right stuff, I’m doing especially cycle, I’m eating kale and quinoa.
You mentioned in your presentation, which I found very interesting, should I even be eating kale? Your genome could give you that sort of information. Which is incredible.
We have these diet fads of various sorts. And frankly, some of them might be just fine. They might actually extend your life, you might improve quality of life, but we don’t know it on an individual level, and we need to. Our genetics are extremely different from a brother and sister, let alone, two unrelated individuals. So we really need to understand a baseline so we can optimize how we eat and what medicines do we take. Now, that information is in our hands. It’s possible. We’re at that tipping point, that’s on the individual level. Now the more people do this the same way that more people started using the Internet and things get cheaper better faster and more data was generated.
With the exception of this is actually quite valuable data. You know not selfies which are helpful, individually valuable. We get to a point where we’re generating huge amounts of aggregate information that’s how we learned best by comparing people with understanding you know what you know, people say, oh you know I have good genes my family has and my grandmother lived to 95; so forth. We need to understand what’s in those you know those individual’s genetics at least in those families so you can translate that information to others and say Okay this is a way you can optimize your environment. What do you eat and how you do to get to the similar outcomes. That’s on the aggregate.
Q: What does genome sequencing mean for machine learning and devices such as Alexa?
You showed integration with Alexa in your presentation, in which it could read and interpret your results. You mentioned there may be Siri integration, or things like that in the future. That’s incredible.
We got to be agnostic to these things. Who are we to decide if this is the right interface for you to interact with the genome. It’s a matter of fact, thank God these things exist because you know this is why people don’t log back in, even to their 23andMe results which they couldn’t fully understand in the first place. They don’t go back to it because it’s not incorporated into their lives.
It’s just the simplicity, though. If I go to the supermarket and I need to know can I eat this product I haven’t seen before. I need to be able to have somebody look at that for me, and to have artificial intelligence do that would be incredible.
That’s right. In the interface, really, it goes back to that health baseline. Where am I? Okay, so you told me did I have an increased risk based on my genetics. It’s always genes plus the environment, equals traits or outcomes. Okay. You told me I have a predisposition to this autoimmune disease. A.I. went out and looked at the type of food that is better, that you should and shouldn’t eat because of this autoimmune disease. All right. So I now have been eating quinoa for the last little while, am I better? That’s where things get really interesting where that feedback loop is incorporated when you don’t feel like you have to have another app, another thing. It’s just seamlessly integrated into your life, not just into your personal life but also in your doctor’s office. It’s just as important.
The sequencing of the genome on an individual level is going to create a world of opportunity. There’s also going to be huge disruptions in places like pharmaceuticals and nutrition. They will have to evolve or cease to exist as we know them now. This means that entrepreneurs in the machine learning space will now have to make apps and devices that can connect with our individual genomes. However, this then creates a new issue for big data, and that is the amount of storage that smartphone of your actually has, that industry too will have to evolve.
Some jobs are disappearing, but as industries change it creates new and unthought of opportunities. At the same time it does create risk: what can a genome in the wrong hands mean for the individual? These are issues that the next generation of entrepreneur will have to tackle sooner rather than later. The future is coming, will you reach for it and innovate?