The advent of machine learning has provided the healthcare industry with an unprecedented increase in knowledge. Data-driven databases now enable doctors to give patients accurate diagnosis earlier on that ever before. OWKIN is a machine learning platform for medical research. The company hopes that its predictive analysis platform will enable doctors to effectively understand patient and tumor heterogeneity.
AlleyWatch spoke with Cofounder and CEO Thomas Clozel to learn about the company’s latest technological advancements in medical research and its latest round of funding, which brings the total funding raised to $18M over two funding rounds for the startup founded in the fall of 2016.
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
We are very excited to have received an additional Series A investment from GV, now raising a total of $18M in funding!
Tell us about the services that OWKIN provides.
OWKIN Socrates is the first data-driven machine learning platform for medical research. It is designed to augment medical researchers’ skills and recapture the excitement of research and exploration.
Socrates will help researchers in academia, hospitals and the pharmaceutical industry. The platform is smart and will allow researchers to become machine teachers, without needing to understand the mathematics behind the scene. The platform learns while the researchers discover, improving its global, collective intelligence.
The underlying machine learning technology is a unique integration of models built upon medical images, genomics and clinical data, allowing for the discovery of biomarkers and mechanisms associated with diseases and treatment outcomes. Our proprietary federated learning technology that will enable collaboration among researchers and centers without sharing data or uploading it to the cloud.
As an assistant professor in oncology, I was struggling to accelerate my medical knowledge even though I witnessed the acceleration of data creation thanks to new medical imaging and omics technology. In cancer, I believe that there are currently two major barriers to cures: no understanding of patient and tumor heterogeneity and no understanding of mechanisms of resistance to treatments.
I discovered the power of machine learning to augment research and accomplish things humans can’t: seeing a prognosis in a pathology slide, predicting mutations based on images, discovering a prognosis from a phenotype using genomics data and so much more.
For the first time, it seemed possible to give super powers to doctors and researchers. I had to be a part of it and was lucky enough to meet a cofounder who is both a genius in machine learning and a fantastic human being. Gilles genuinely cares about patients and understands, better than anyone else, the biology and physiology of disease. I knew we were going to create a new type of AI, that doctors and researchers will use, understand, and know how to teach.
How is OWKIN different?
OWKIN Socrates is different in that it leverages the power of our partnerships with leading hospitals and pharmaceuticals to increase its ability to augment medical discovery. We do this through both our transfer learning and our federated learning technologies.
Transfer learning makes our collective intelligence grow with each model created, making each model better than its predecessor. Federated learning allows for complete data security and privacy, as the platform keeps data off the cloud, even when collaborating. Our intelligence respects data privacy and allows us to target the biggest problem in medicinal discoveries: patient heterogeneity.
What market are you targeting and how big is it?
We are targeting the pharmaceutical industry. Our partnerships in academia and hospitals improve our platform and make medical discoveries. We then partner with pharma researchers to use the platform’s knowledge to answer questions that will help cure diseases, without sharing any data from our hospital partners.
What’s your business model?
The OWKIN Socrates platform is a free service for hospitals. We are working in tandem with them to make models and discoveries, improving our platform in the process. Our vendor-client relationship is with the pharmaceutical industry. As I mentioned, we partner with them by licensing predictive algorithms for drugs on the market or on research and development.
The company just announced your Series A round in January. Why the extension?
To be able to recruit more world-class talent for OWKIN. Demand for the OWKIN Socrates platform has grown to the point where we’re having to be super selective with regards to partnerships. Also, because it is GV: they are the perfect fund to help us iterate and refine our business model at the intersection of technology and medicine.
What was the funding process like?
It all started with the GV partner, who met most of the team. He understood that we are more than just our proprietary technology, we are a team of researchers, doctors, engineers and managers who are driven and determined to make an impact: pushing medical research forward through machine learning based discoveries.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
Finding funds that understand both the technology and our long-term mission, as well as finding funds that want to explore where the right place of AI in healthcare is with us.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
The team, first. The vision, and our honesty while trying to reach it, with constant critical thinking and a driving research spirit. We don’t talk about our company in a year. We present it as it is now, with our challenges, questions, but also defending our vision for AI in healthcare and the actions we take to realize it. We have strong opinions!
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
We have a wide range of goals for our brand over the next six months, but the top milestones we hope to achieve are building our internal team, expanding our platform’s validation with clinicians, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, as well as building upon our reputation throughout the industry creating successful partnerships.
What advice can you offer companies in New York that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?
Be honest and don’t oversell, especially in AI. Talk about the challenges you are facing, as well as the vision. If you are using buzzwords, make sure you have defined them for yourself and your customer.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
The launch of the OWKIN Socrates platform, and then the validation of our first amazing medical discovery in cancer.
What’s your favorite restaurant in the city?
Sweetgreen: great salads. However, I am not losing any grams despite eating there daily.