German start-up BioVariance specialise in bioinformatics in a number of fields including drug discovery, biomarker and target identification and translational and precision medicine. PMF Editor Mark Glover speaks to its Director and Founder Joseph Scheiber about the origins of the fledgling company and how the PERMIDES programme encourages innovation by harnessing the entrepreneurial spirit.
What inspired you to set-up BioVariance?
I had previously been working in big pharma before and I saw that biomedical data became less and less expensive. At the time we were facing the issue of how to use this data in a useful manner both for drug discovery and also in the longer term for personalised medicine, at the same time I was keen to start my own company which could focus on the use of analytics for the benefit of patients.
BioVariance began as a start-up company with just yourself and has now grown to twenty-six staff. What was the biggest challenge for you when you first began?
Finding the right focus and finding the right people to approach customers was challenging. Now we are working mostly on data analytics for pharma and bio-tech and I think we are now ready for the next step. Now we have products in place that are delivering analytics for patients directly.
Given your experience, having worked in Germany, America, Switzerland, do you think that people should be worried about sharing their data?
One always has to distinguish between security and data-privacy. In order to understand connections in genetic variations, we do need individual information. So this is always a bit of a tricky one, of course I totally understand that people don’t want to have their name and genetic background available, so you do need security measures to ensure that this does not go wrong. But in enabling bio-medical analytics we need a lot of data.
How important is collaboration in precision medicine?
Collaboration is key because everyone is bringing different pieces of expertise to the project. There is no precision medicine without collaboration because there are so many areas of expertise required that it is impossible for just one single person or company to cover everything.
What benefits have you seen from your involvement with the PERMIDES programme?
The PERMIDES programme was an excellent base in which to initiate extra collaboration for us. We were able to get in contact with companies that we didn’t even know that existed. We put in a handful of proposals of which several were successful proposals. We are now working with three very interesting companies that we had never worked with before and we would not be in contact with them without PERMIDES, enabling us to produce very innovative work.
What inspires you?
In the long-term, to develop methods that help patients to have a healthy, longer life. Also, it’s about gaining a better understanding of biology because the more you understand biology the better treatment you can develop. By helping patients, we generate knowledge that can be used for developing further treatment.
BioVariance is one of the chosen case studies being presented at the PERMIDES conference: Empowering Personalized Medicine through Digital Solutions, which forms part of the Benelux Precision Medicine Forum, taking place from 12 to 13 June in Utrecht. You can register for the event here.