Biotechnology has gained quite a bit of popularity, but even with the attention it’s receiving, a good deal of mystery still surrounds how its products come to market. What’s frustrating for someone like me on the periphery is only being able to see the final release from the press touting biotech’s every advance –
“Doctors perform surgery using 3D printed <outer ear – check, hip joints – check, liver models – check, heart models – check>”
“Scientists attempt CRISPR genome editing on <next most ethically questionable species>”
“DNA Sequencing will let doctors know more about your <genetic conditions, personalized medical care, personal thoughts… (just kidding about the last one, for now at least)>”
But to be curious about how these advances come together is in vain. I have spoken to some privy to knowledge of new technologies for as long as three to five years in advance, but unable to even discuss them due to their Non-Disclosure Agreements. As an outsider learning about what biotechnology companies are doing, it feels like I’m looking up at the Wizard of Oz with smoke, mirrors, and his intimidating projection look down on me. All the while biotech works behind a veil of company secrecy and the media’s use of vague, buzzwords like “big data future.”
Admittedly, there is good reason for this. In biotech, R&D is a lengthy and costly process that, on the rare occasion when it is successful, validates all those late nights and sprints. What I’ve learned over the past few weeks from interning at Sano is that a company protects its technology because its innovation is worth perfecting before bringing to market. Afterall, it’s not smoke, mirrors, and a man behind the curtain that brings a product to market. It’s countless rounds of prototyping, EVTs, and alpha testing.
My work of characterizing raw data to represent body metabolism using signal processing and supervised learning techniques has been one part of the puzzle. The larger picture for Sano is to build a silicon biometric sensor to collect this information and provide continuous, personalized insights into a person’s body chemistry. Using Sano will help regular people have near-instant feedback on how their diet and activities are affecting important metabolic indicators. It’s been a privilege to be a part of the interdisciplinary process required to make a product like this. Each team – the biophysics PhD’s, software and data science teams, and savvy chemE department – relies on each other for their expertise. Only together do they get the innovative process that can create a product like theirs with the potential to help so many people.
There are limitless biotechnologies remaining to be discovered and so many running after them. Biometric applications could be someone tracking their runs and diet, but it could also be rendering genetic profiles for doctors to diagnose and treat disease. We are demystifying health at an astounding rate and perhaps that is our equivalent of finding the little man from Nebraska working all the levers and pulleys behind the curtain. But a lot of responsibility comes with access to a world of data that was for the longest time untouchable. We need to make this knowledge useful by allowing it to help others make informed and meaningful changes to their lifestyles. Getting an inside look at a company addressing these concerns has pulled back the curtain of biotech’s mystique. While other companies will continue to populate the headlines, it has been satisfying to see what goes on behind the scenes before one does.