Founder of Biotech Startup iLof Joins Startup Savants

In this episode of Startup Savants, hosts Ethan and Ananka chat with Luis Valente, co-founder and CEO of iLof — Intelligent Lab on Fiber — which is developing an AI platform for personalized medicine. Luis is an award-winning business manager and engineer who founded his first company as a teenager. He has been named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 for Science and Healthcare. 

Luis discusses the events that led to the founding of iLof and offers some tips on getting a startup funded.

Resolving a Flawed Paradigm

iLof, says Luis, was born out of the realization that in the past, medical treatments have been developed based on a false premise — that medications work in the same way for everyone. But, of course, that is not true. Different people react differently to the same drug. 

Accordingly, tailoring medications to specific patient groups improves outcomes, and it is in pursuit of this noble goal that iLof was founded. The company helps researchers, physicians, and pharmaceutical companies better understand the differences in patients and the associated biomarkers in order to create more precise remedies. iLof does not itself engage in drug development. The startup’s technology offers a way to cut development time and costs. 

“Hopefully, this will allow … millions of patients currently living with complex neurological diseases to finally get a treatment that it’s actually useful for them. Starting with neurodegenerative diseases, which unfortunately are one of the biggest epidemics of our times,” says Luis.

Personalizing Medicine

Developing personalized medications relies on integrating data on diseases with patient profiles. This fusion allows the impact of the same pathogen on different biological profiles to be pinpointed. Previous attempts to accomplish this have relied on genomics. But genomics only tells part of the story — the picture at birth. Adult profiles would have been altered by lifestyle choices.

The iLof (Intelligent Lab on Fiber) technology provides a more up-to-date view. It performs optical scans on the body and notes the ways that different frequencies of light interact with patients’ biological fluids. This allows a detailed look at the “ensemble of particles in patients’ biological fluids… the peptides, proteins, exosomes… and very small particles that are in your blood, in your plasma… that really make your biological profile.”

The results of the scans are analyzed using “very advanced machine learning and deep learning methods, what we normally call artificial intelligence, ”says Luis. The data is ‘stacked’ to produce clearer images. Stacking data — a technique used extensively in astronomy — involves amalgamating several exposures to form one image: intensifying light from the target, while lessening light from other sources.

Changing the Life of Millions

Luis came to the life sciences field from a computer science background. His initiation had been the work he did on “tech transfer … taking innovations in the healthcare sector into the market.” There was a lot of great science being done, he said, but researchers were having a hard time “translating it into the market.” 

Although he subsequently left, Luis kept in touch with his tech transfer colleagues and, in late 2018, teamed up with three of them — Mehak Mumtaz, Joana Paiva, and Paula Sampaio — to launch iLof. His co-founders were all biochemistry Ph.D. grads with good jobs. Why would they trade that for the uncertainty of starting a business? 

Luis says the lure was the promise of building something from scratch that had the potential to change the life of millions. “So, when you’re faced with such a big problem and of course there’s also a big market opportunity to match it. Well, I guess if you have that founder … mentality, you just feel like a social responsibility to do something about it, and this is what I guess every one of us felt. So, eventually, we all came together and said, ‘Let’s start this, and let’s create iLof.’ And three years later, here we are.”

Presently, iLof is focused on Alzheimer’s Disease, which, according to CDC data, affects close to 6 million Americans. iLof’s technology is meant to augment the development of disease-modifying treatments, i.e., drugs that modify the pathological steps and thus decelerate the evolution of the disease. Currently approved treatments for Alzheimer’s are “symptomatic” agents that treat the cognitive and behavioral symptoms without altering the underlying course of the disease.

Startup Savants Podcast 

The Startup Savants podcast, created by The Really Useful Information Company (TRUiC), lets listeners to hear the stories behind startups, as told by their founders, as they work to grow their companies.

Ethan, an entrepreneur, and Annaka, a branding expert, host the Startup Savants podcast. They bring disparate skills and life experiences to their interviews, providing listeners with important business insights and a holistic perspective on the startup ecosystem. 

Hear from a variety of real startup founders from around the globe and with varying backgrounds about making their startup ideas a reality. Learn from experts sharing their industry knowledge on venture capital, securing funding, and more on the Startup Savants podcast. 

Final Thoughts

This episode of Startup Savants looked at the complex regulated world of personalized medicine being traversed by biotech startup iLof. The company is focused on developing methodologies to improve the drug development process. Its technology employs photonics and AI to identify and curate an extensive range of biological profiles that can be used to tailor remedies to various diseases. At present, the focus is on disease-modifying treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. iLof was founded by Mehak Mumtaz, Joana Paiva, Paula Sampaio and Luís Valente in late 2018. 

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