Notes on Engineering Health, October 2021: Nucleate: Empowering Biotech Founders

The Digitalis Team

The Digitalis Team

October 31, 2021

We sat down with Michael Retchin, a graduate student in New York and the co-founder of the Nucleate program. Digitalis is an early partner of Nucleate, dedicating time and resources to the program and its students.

Digitalis: Michael, tell us a bit about you and your research and how you became involved with Nucleate.

Michael Retchin: I'm so delighted to be sharing our story with your readers! I am a second-year PhD student in John Chodera's Lab at MSKCC; for my work in the lab, I am trying to automate and improve small molecule therapeutic development with machine learning. I had always been a builder and organizer throughout undergrad, so when I got to graduate school, it felt inevitable that one day I would attempt to build a biotech startup accelerator. Not long after this thought occurred to me, I received an email from one Soufiane Aboulhouda, who had been organizing what was then called Activate Bio. We quickly put our heads together and realized the potential to scale the program and network to New York -- and beyond.

DV: What is Nucleate and why did you feel it was needed where you were?

MR: Nucleate is a student-led, entirely nonprofit educational organization that helps academic trainees start companies without ever needing to give up equity or to pay any fee. It breaks down barriers across the biotech ecosystem, across campuses, geographies, and disciplines. Typically, a scientist with a great idea or a business-minded student (could be MBA, MA/MS, PhD, or postdocs) meet each other through Nucleate and then gain a playbook, resources, network, legal advice, and non-dilutive funded fellowships. Then, they're off to the races, as a new startup is born.

New York is particularly siloed, because each university administrator mostly has a mandate to open opportunities within their own campus, rather than between them. We believe that Nucleate is on the cusp of unlocking the next great biotech hub, New York.

DV: You had a regional ambition for the program when you started thinking about it, why the national expansion?

MR: We're also excited to see the results of pooling mentors, resources, and know-how across our nationwide network. Already, the capabilities and benefits of Nucleate's national scale are astonishing, to an extent that is hard to express. Ultimately, we are running a grand experiment, and our hope is that the new ties we are bridging across the ecosystem will uncover a new, viable path for students to make practical venture progress on their most promising ideas, without compromising their academic plans.

DV: How can people get involved with the program? If you are a student? An advisor? A VC? A large Biotech?

MR: If you're a student, please apply - or nominate a friend! If you would like to advise or otherwise help out with Nucleate, please fill out this form. If you're a larger biotech company, you should email so that we quickly get back to you with a proposal for partnership. Thank you very much for your interest!

First Five
First Five is our list of essential media for the month which spans a range of content including scientific papers, books, podcasts, and videos. For our full list of interesting media in health, science, and technology, updated regularly, follow us on Twitter or Instagram.

1/ Are We Too Clean?
A prevalent theory is that modern society is too clean, leading to defective immune systems in children contributing to the rise of allergic diseases. A recent paper from researchers at University College London entitled “Microbial exposures that establish immunoregulation are compatible with targeted hygiene” suggests, however, that sticking to our hygiene habits is a good idea.

2/ Darkness Visible
Global light pollution has increased by at least 49% over the past 25 years!

3/ Sweating Fat
Treating obese mice with the cytokine known as TSLP led to significant abdominal fat and weight loss compared to controls, according to new research published in Science from researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Unexpectedly, the fat loss was not associated with decreased food intake or faster metabolism. Instead, the researchers demonstrated that fat loss can be achieved by secreting calories from the skin in the form of energy-rich sebum.

4/ Eat Your Amino Acids
Protein intake has been shown to be important for maintaining brain function in older individuals. Researchers now have evidence that the intake of a specific set of amino acids can inhibit the death of brain cells, protect the connections between them, and reduce inflammation, preserving brain function. The research using a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease suggests that a combination of seven selected essential amino acids can hinder the development of dementia.

5/ State of AI 2021
AI investors Nathan Benaich and Ian Hogarth have released their annual report on the state of AI. Amongst the things they highlight is “a watershed moment in the field of biology, where AI-first approaches continue to show their potential to entirely transform drug discovery and healthcare.”

Digitalis Commons
Public-Interest Technologies for Better Health

Digitalis Commons is a non-profit that partners with groups and individuals striving to address complex health problems by building public-interest technology solutions that are frontier-advancing, open-access, and scalable.

While the news is awash in stories about artificial intelligence making inroads in any number of fields, this recent Nature Perspective piece entitled “Measuring algorithmically infused societies” calls out the need to reassess how the social sciences investigate human societies in light of “the emergence of ‘algorithmically infused societies’—societies whose very fabric is co-shaped by algorithmic and human behaviour.” The authors note three key challenges facing our understanding of this new hybrid: the insufficient quality of measurements, the complex consequences of (mis)measurements, and the limits of existing social theories. These are important considerations in the development of any public-interest technology.

The General Index, a giant, free index to the world’s research papers, has recently been release and is a fascinating example of a public-interest technology at massive scale. Nature has a good write up about the project here.

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