Hi-Fi

Y Combinator wants 100 times more MRI scans


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everaging resources such as virtual data rooms and shared labs makes it easier for biotech startups to grow. This is good news: We need more companies attacking cancer from novel angles, including AI-enabled early detection. And who knows, maybe one of these will become a trillion-dollar company? — Anna

Scaling early cancer detection

Y Combinator’s newest request for startups (RFS) is well worth reading, and not just because it’s been a while since the incubator shared the ideas and categories its partners “would like to see more people working on.” As my colleague Sarah Perez noted, YC hadn’t updated its full list since 2018.

Taken as a whole, YC’s RFS is a great way to sense the zeitgeist; the list includes AI of course, as well as climate tech, defense tech and more. But zooming in on individual requests is also a worthwhile exercise.

One of the requests that captured my interest calls for “a way to end cancer.” Written by YC group partner Surbhi Sarna, a former medical device company CEO, it focuses on MRIs. “Since most cancers are now treatable if caught early enough,” she wrote, “this technology would dramatically reduce cancer deaths if rolled out widely and affordably.”

My first thought was that MRI startups already exist. Just a few days earlier, New York–based Ezra raised a fresh round of $21 million — and we are talking about a team that TechCrunch first covered in 2018. It has competitors, too, such as Neko, backed by Spotify’s Daniel Ek, and Prenuvo, which has a $2,500 full-body scan that was promoted by Kim Kardashian.

For Sarna, that price point is part of the problem, as it inherently limits scale, but it’s not the only one. “There is backlash from the medical community as MRIs also create incidental findings (or false positives) that cost our healthcare system valuable time and money to investigate.” The jury is still out on whether they are beneficial or individuals, let alone society. But YC still hopes startups can help.

“For this to work, the world would need to scale up the number of MRI scans it does by at least 100x. Doing that will require innovations in the MRI hardware, the AI algorithms to interpret scans and reduce false positives, and the business models and consumer marketing to make it a viable business.”

Of course, companies like Ezra are also hoping to do some of this in-house. In its latest pitch deck, the startup boasted it “leverages Al at every step of the screening process.” But if others can contribute from other angles, I can see why YC would be interested — I am.

Co-working for biotech

Shared lab spaces have been a game changer for biotech startups, Nature reported. Of course, co-working isn’t new, but co-working labs provide their customers with much more than office space, saving them both time and money.

This reminded me of Startup Battlefield alum Parallel Health — its chief scientist officer Nathan Brown had mentioned shared labs in passing when we chatted at Disrupt. I noticed he had liked a repost of Nature’s article, so I asked him for his thoughts. He confirmed that the skincare startup he co-founded had been using BioLabs‘ shared facilities in Los Angeles, and he highlighted some of the benefits of this concept:

BioLabs has enabled us to cost-effectively build a consumer biotech product. They make the laboratory infrastructure available to us without having to spend our entire seed round on capital expenses like DNA sequencing machines, laminar flow hoods, and lab-grade freezers. We also save immense amounts of time at BioLabs, because they manage all aspects of environmental health and safety as well as infrastructure management. Maybe most importantly, they create a thriving culture of innovation where startups can collaborate easily and learn from each other.

While this may read as a local endorsement, startups don’t have to be based in California to leverage this trend. BioLabs itself is a franchise that has expanded to a dozen locations, and similar things could likely be said of many competing facilities around the world. However, a founder interviewed by Nature, Accure Health CEO Jessica Sang, shared a word of caution: Some labs are better equipped and wider-ranging than others. “If you’re thinking about starting a company, try to visit a few just to see which one is the best.”

Virtual data rooms

Virtual data rooms are another important resource for biotech startups. Calling them “the unsung hero of biotech financing,” and noting that they can also be helpful in business development talks, a16z published a guide on what biotech teams should and shouldn’t put in their data rooms.





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