Strata is working with one of the most promising European AI startups to accelerate drug development.
Article and interview by Sara Gavidia with the collaboration of Elsa Granados
December 2019, a strange and highly infectious disease is discovered in China that turns the world upside down.
Hardly anyone will be able to forget this, and we have learnt many lessons from this experience, such as how important the pharmaceutical industry is. Many of us realized this fact when the pandemic started, but some others realized it long before, as it is the case of DataHow, a spin-off company from ETH Zurich.
DataHow was founded in 2017 by Prof. Morbidelli, Dr. Alessandro Butté, Dr Michael Sokolov and Dr Fabian Feidl, with a focus on the biopharmaceutical and chemical area. Their aim is to reduce the effort, risks and costs in (bio)process development and manufacturing.
In a matter of four years and a half, the company has grown from four founders to 40 employees, they started in Zurich, but now have offices in Lisbon, and soon in Milano and Germany, and their goals are also becoming more and more ambitious.
We at Strata have the pleasure to have worked with DataHow and shared some of the steps in their growth journey.
Journey, foundation and objectives
Within the countless fields science has, they decided to bet on pharma from the beginning because, as Dr. Sokolov claims, “digitalization is very immature there, you can improve this industry in many digital ways”.
As a result, they started doing research to create new technology in order to improve the digital impact on pharma. “Based on this, we then could actually create numerous very promising tools allowing us to go commercial because we saw direct customer interest”, as stated by Dr. Sokolov.
“We really try to change how pharma manufacturing is working based on creating smart predictor digital technology, so we are trying to implement digital tools into robots so that humans do not have to do a lot of manoeuvre in the pharma plans. Many operations can be automated”. This is one of their visionary objectives that could help pharma companies take much better decisions, as he summarized.
“And finally, we try to bring time by telling what the best way to operate is and like this finding a much faster path towards the best recipe for a drug, and the pandemic has showed to us how important it is to actually find the vaccine as quickly as possible, right?”, explained Dr. Sokolov.
Challenges encountered and opportunities
When founding a new company, one may wonder what the most interesting opportunities are in a certain industry, and DataHow’s founders also had to think about that question. As Dr. Sokolov claimed, pharma is not very far in digitalization, which means it is full of opportunities, but which of them are more interesting? As he told us, “the ones where you can make the largest change in a very small amount of time”.
Regarding the challenges they have had to face so far, one of the most important ones is the acquisition of new customers to fund their growth and hire more people, together with cash. “Initially, it’s also about trust. If you are a newcomer, why should people buy your technology? Why should people start using it and investing their time? So it’s always about solving a market need and ensuring that people believe that what you have is valuable. And initially you sell a vision”, stated Dr. Sokolov.
He highlighted the fact that it’s important that people buy into your vision, and, after that, you start generating partners, customers and references. “This overall path from making people believe to delivering takes time, I think, this overall transition for us was a challenge, and the next challenge we foresee is to launch our products, to really be even closer to the customer and to hammer all the infrastructure around that”.
DataHow and its collaboration with Strata
DataHow met Strata in a digital healthcare event. They were looking out for grants, but they didn’t have time to write themselves, so they started working together and applied for different grants in Europe.
“We had worked with two Strata members in particular, and it was always a very positive environment to collaborate, it was very well-structured, but still despite sometimes we had very urgent deadlines, it was a very positive atmosphere. Sometimes we were successful, sometimes we were not, but we were never blaming it on one of the other parties, so it was always a strong collaboration and the effort to look forward to moving on to collaborate with your team”, he commented about his experience with Strata.
“We believe companies like Strata are important. As a startup, our main goal is to grow, and on the growth path we face, as I said before, many challenges, and big rule about startups is cash is king, so you need to ensure that you are liquid so that you can initiate and sustain your growth, which is particularly difficult at the start”, Dr. Sokolov added at the end of the interview.
He specially highlighted that companies which support startups in the early years help companies like DataHow survive initially. “Because the more you grow, the easier it is to self-sustain yourself, but initially, as I said before, you sell a vision, and it’s very difficult to generate cash out of these efforts. Securing grants by professional support ensures that visionary companies without yet something to show have a strong ability to keep on dreaming, to keep on being visionary and to have a solid start, and I think in one way or another also Strata contributed to this, let’s say, stability between hand and image”, concluded Dr. Sokolov.