Ambitious Ideas: Open Sourced Drug Discovery

Paul Graham penned a wonderfully inspirational post recently in which he discussed a number of ‘frighteningly ambitious startup ideas’. Given his proclivity for software and the Internet it is not surprising that the ideas he raises were things like replacing Google’s search engine dominance and delivering us from inbox evil.

Quite separately, a colleague at The University of Sydney, Matthew Todd,  forwarded me an article overnight that he co-authored in Nature on “open science as a research accelerator’.

In the article Matthew and two others discuss how open source-inspired thinking led him on a journey to produce an off-patent drug that could help millions of people around the world deal with bilharzia, a silent pandemic.

From their perspective the key benefit of their open approach was the acceleration of the research:

Experts identified themselves, and spontaneously contributed based on what was being posted online. The research therefore inevitably proceeded faster than if we had attempted to contact people in our limited professional circle individually, in series.

While Matthew was working on open sourcing process chemistry, he posits the question whether a similar approach could be applied to drug discovery.

The pharmaceutical industry is currently undergoing somewhat of a pipeline-related crisis and so the timing could not be better for such an approach to work.

In line with Paul’s thinking this is one of those frighteningly ambitious ideas. As Matthew points out, “There has been discussion of open-source drug discovery, but no coordinated efforts at compound discovery.”

This seems to me to be an area ripe for investigation. One that could herald a new age of abundance (read Peter Diamindis’s new book on this) in health and wellness.

I hope this is a topic that will be covered at the upcoming Founders Fund future conference!


Australia’s Technology Prowess: The Internet and Beyond


Asher Moses has written a wonderfully inspirational piece in the Sydney Morning Herald regarding the rise and rise of Australian entrepreneurial talent. In it he explores how well some of the Internet-focused startups born in Australia are doing in sourcing Silicon Valley venture capital.

It is a great story and touches on much of my experience over the past 15 years. Australia and, closer to home – Sydney, has an incredible wealth of entrepreneurs. But in Asher’s story there is also a hint at the dark side. Let me paint the picture in three ways:

1. Financial arrogance

While I was living in Silicon Valley I assisted a startup to raise its first round of funding from a tier one VC firm, in two weeks and right in the middle of the GFC. Fast forward to today and as Asher has eruditely pointed out, tier one VC’s from Sandhill Road are currently falling over themselves to get the attention of Australia web startups.

Against this backdrop, picture me meeting with a senior executive at one of Australia’s most successful investment banks in the past fortnight. In that meeting I was told how incredibly hard it is to find funding for technology businesses, how no-one is investing in this space in Australia and blah blah. Can you see the disconnect here?

I personally believe Australian ‘investors’ have a heightened level of financial arrogance driven by an absolute ignorance of technology and also tainted in their financial risk profiling by resource-based investing (mining etc).

As long as this position remains I can fully understand why Australian entrepreneurs are US-centric. For Australia though this amounts to a major loss as we are not only losing talent in droves, but also access to ROI as our entrepreneurs grow great businesses with other people’s money!

2. Technological bias

For as long as I can remember Australian government granting schemes and venture firms have had a bias against Internet-related companies. They have preferred to back biotech businesses and other science-heavy companies that are notoriously hard to scale globally and which usually have a hard time getting international attention due to the tyranny of distance.

It is heartening to see this position starting to shift and that web-focused ventures are in fact now getting more access to schemes like Commercialisation Australia.

3. Web-centrism

While I am ecstatic about Australia’s well deserved recognition (finally) for great entrepreneurial talent, I am somewhat concerned that we get seen as only producing web-centric talent and intellectual property.

The Australian Federal government pours some $9.8 billion into public research and there is incredible technology floating around within the countries 43 universities and even more public research institutes (by contrast the US only has 41 universities). However, most of this never sees the light of day. It gets locked up in over-protective tech transfer quagmires and/or stuck in the valley of death between research proof of principle and commercial proof of concept due to a massive lack of funding for this gap.

In contrast, in the UK companies like Imperial Innovations and the IP Group, and Allied Minds in the US, are absolutely going gangbusters building businesses around research intensive technologies and assisting IP through the valley of death.

Australia desperately needs a similar business and it is on my to do list for 2012 to see that one forms. We need to not only continue to support our web-centric entrepreneurs, but also inspire generations of Australians to become tech entrepreneurs in areas that can have major global impact such as energy and health!


Lumigenix, Personal Genomics And Me

I first became interested in personal genomics and DNA profiling over a decade ago when conducting due diligence on a potential investee company. We did invest and I was Chairman of Genetraks during their early years. Sadly the company didn’t make it beyond its first few rounds of venture capital and it’s worth reading the fascinating account by their CEO, Roz Brandon on what transpired.

Fast forward twelve years – this morning I opened up my pack from Lumigenix, aptly labelled “discover yourself in a new light”, and took out their DNA Collection Kit. Thanks to Romain Bonjean, CEO at Lumigenix, genomics was about to get personal for me.

The entire process was simple, fast and intuitive and kudos to the team for focusing on getting this right. I activated my account, collected my DNA sample and wrapped it up in its packaging. Next stop – the Lumigenix labs…stay tuned for another post when I get my results back!

Mobile GPS as standard – privacy versus safety

Your choice – lose your loved one or your privacy.

South Korea is looking into equipping new mobile phones with a chip that will allow users to be located via satellite-based positioning technology.

The argument being put forward in a bill before their National Assembly is that this move will assist in reducing kidnapping and other increasingly violent crimes against women and children.

I know there is the slippery slope argument of benevolent versus big brother government and in no other region of the world is this better illustrated – South Korea doing this versus North Korea ….shudder.

However, where we have the technology to eradicate location-based crimes this, to me, far outweighs privacy issues.

DNA tracking would be optimal – this is not that far off.

[via China View]

Magnetism Used To Target Cells


A new method to deliver cells and genes to repair diseased or injured organs in humans in one step closer to reality.

Scientists from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have used magnetic fields and  iron-bearing nanoparticles to drive healthy cells to targeted sites in animal blood vessels.

This post marks the first real widening of our focus here at Metarand in 2008 to cover biotechnology and the life sciences. Along with our previous focus on social media, the Internet and virtual worlds we’re bundling them into a new category – “life media”.

The team leader of this study, Dr Robert J. Levy commented that others researchers have pursued less successful approaches to this novel strategy for delivering cells to targets in the body.

One goal of this cell therapy will be to introduce new cells to recoat the metal stents of heart patients. Many such stents fail over time as smooth muscle cells accumulate excessively on their surfaces and create new blockages.

Dr Levy believes, “This method could become a powerful medical tool.”