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It started last year when COVID-19 shut down classroom learning at Cal.
"We were very disappointed by the results of online school. It was very disengaging," said 23-year-old Alfredo Andere from Mexico.
Andere and fellow Berkeley undergrads Kenny Workman and Kyle Giffin dropped out to start up Latch Bio in San Francisco. After working at Facebook, Google and at research labs, they recognized a need to accelerate the groundbreaking genetic research for which Jennifer Doudna received the Nobel Prize last year.
"We went for months on end just talking to scientists and just figuring out their problems and seeing where we could apply our technological savviness to give them solutions," explained Andere.
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They're addressing a shortage of bioinformaticians, specialists who analyze data generated by biologists as they manipulate genes in search of which ones might cause cancer, heart disease, aging or other conditions.
"The pace of biological data generation for the first time is starting to outpace our software's ability to comprehend and understand it," said Seth Bannon, founding director of 50 Years, a San Francisco venture capital firm. 50 Years is one of five investors that include Lux Capital, General Catalyst, the House Fund and Haystack. They've provided $5 million in seed funding.
The shortage of analysts can lead to delays of weeks to months, impacting the ability of biologists to design the next stage of research. So the three co-founders of Latch Bio are developing-browser based code so biologists can work faster.
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"The biologist can do their own computational analysis, and they can run their own computational experiments," said Andere.
The three dropouts are working with leading research institutions, including Stanford, UCSF, Cal, Harvard and MIT. Their tools should be released in a matter of months. There is great promise what Latch Bio is doing will yield both improved health outcomes and commercial success.
"These secrets can help us combat the climate crisis, defeat disease and malnutrition while generating massive financial returns," said Five Years' Bannon.
This is an example of how the Nobel can be a springboard for new ventures.