A for augmented: Cambridge AI company out to capture biomedical knowledge gets $60M from Mayo, Silicon Valley VC
The Mayo Clinic is joining hands with a Silicon Valley VC firm to inject $60 million into nference, a Cambridge, MA-based player in the gold rush to capitalize on biopharma’s growing interest — and urge — to accelerate drug discovery and development using the latest machine learning tools.
While nference ostensibly belongs to a generation of software startups that cropped up around 2013, it doesn’t see itself as part of the AI mainstream, founder and CSO Venky Soundararajan tells Endpoints News. That’s why the A in their AI stands for augmented, not artificial.
“To put it bluntly, we are not in the business of replacing human experts,” he said.
Rather, nference is interested in teaching software to comb through unstructured biomedical information — clinical notes, case reports, scientific literature, pathology images, ECG waveforms and genomic sequences — and render them computable. By capturing and synthesizing different bodies of knowledge, the goal is to offer a one-stop shop that researchers can consult at any point of the R&D process, whether they are trying to make new compounds or designing a clinical trial.
Soundararajan suggested that’s the type of AI company that Bill Gates said he would build if he were to start a new venture in this age, one “whose goal would be to teach computers how to read, so that they can absorb and understand all the written knowledge of the world,” in the Microsoft founder’s words.
Two of the top 10 biopharma companies are already on board as partners, according to Soundararajan. With the Series B, he hopes to add a new service around “context rich phenotypes,” which would enable the mapping of genomic data to phenotypes.
“Our strategic investment in nference is a reflection of our confidence that a holistic knowledge synthesis platform, that puts patient privacy first, is the solution for effectively leveraging real world evidence to spur innovation to benefit patient care,” Andrew Danielsen, chair of Mayo Clinic Ventures, said in a statement.
In fact, the research center has been so confident in the tech that it’s set up a joint venture with nference –dubbed Qrativ — to repurpose therapies for rare diseases.
NTT Venture Capital joined Mayo for the round, which also included existing investors Matrix Partners and Matrix Capital Management.
Outside their headquarters in Cambridge, nference’s 150-strong staff is spread between Bangalore, Toronto and Minnesota, Soundararajan added, and he’s exploring an expansion to Europe.