The Nobel Chemistry Prize Winner This Year Co-Founded a Revolutionary Startup with a Filipino Serial Entrepreneur
Last October 5, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded to three individuals whose work is all about making difficult processes easier. According to the Nobel committee, Barry Sharpless and Morten Meldal have laid the foundation for a functional form of chemistry – click chemistry – in which molecular building blocks snap together quickly and efficiently. Meanwhile, Carolyn Bertozzi has taken click chemistry to a new dimension and started utilizing it in living organisms.
Meldal is from Denmark, while Sharpless and Bertozzi are both from the U.S.A.
Bertozzi co-founded medical research and biotechnology startup Intervenn Biosciences with UC Davis Distinguished professor Carlito Lebrilla, Ph.D., and Filipino serial entrepreneur and AI/ML visionary Aldo Carrascoso.
Intervenn Biosciences is a clinical technology company that is working to develop a way to detect and diagnose diseases such as cancer through “biomarkers” called glycoproteins. While glycoproteomics has been known for years, massive amounts of data generated by analyzing strings of these glycoproteins made it extremely difficult, not to mention time-consuming, to glean any actionable insights or solutions. Carrascoso explains that what Intervenn has done is to develop an AI that is able to sift through mountains of data in 12 minutes (“and eventually 12 seconds”) what ordinarily would have taken scientists up to 12 months to decipher.
While there are a lot more details and nuance in the entire process, essentially, with Intervenn’s technology, doctors can now be able to tell with a fair degree of certainty whether a patient has or will develop certain types of cancer. The technology will also help avoid unnecessary and potentially harmful surgical intervention in patients who don’t need it.
In July this year, Intervenn opened an office in Ortigas Center in Pasig City. Although the company’s headquarters is in San Francisco, California U.S.A., about half of its global workers are Filipinos, which explains the company’s decision to open a hub in Manila.
In addition, company officials disclosed then that Intervenn has raised $201 million (about P11.3 billion) in a Series C funding round in 2021, which brings its total funding to over P13 billion since it was founded in 2017.
"Dr. Carolyn Bertozzi's receipt of the Nobel Prize underscores the significant contributions she has made in shaping the future of disease screening, clinical decision-making and therapeutics,” said Carrascoso, who is also CEO of InterVenn Biosciences. “The recognition of her world-class innovations shows the power at the intersection between chemistry and biology which InterVenn has tapped into with our technological advancements for commercial use. We have leveraged Dr. Bertozzi’s breakthroughs to answer the fundamental questions about sugar proteins, and the Nobel Prize that she received today is validation of her important work.”
According to a release by Intervenn, Bertozzi’s work in chemistry intersected with biology “to create the foundation for subsequent advancements, including the application of new techniques to access the untapped, rich layer of biology called the glycoproteome, which is, in simple terms, the entire set of sugars on proteins. Because of the essential roles glycoproteins play in physiological functions, the glycoproteome has the potential to be highly significant for real-time clinical decision-making. As a Nobel Laureate in chemistry, she is making a profound impact on biology as well.”
With Bertozzi’s win, InterVenn now has two Nobel Laureates on its board of advisors. The company also has Dr. James Allison, Regental Professor, MD Anderson, Nobel Laureate as one of its key advisors.