Relay: An App for Finding the Next Top Scientists and Discoveries
[Clarification. 11:07 AM Eastern time. 01/04/11. See editor's note.] For every superstar scientist like MIT professor Bob Langer or his colleague and Nobel laureate Phillip Sharp, there are many lab researchers who are seeking their first big commercial success with their work. Three former Tufts University researchers have created a search and analytics engine that could level the playing field a bit.
Dave Greenwald says he was working on his doctorate in genetics at Tufts University about three years ago when he and his friend, Brigham Hyde, decided it was time to bridge the gap between industry and scientific discoveries. “We were two basic science researchers who had been in the lab at the bench and were frustrated with the translatability of early stage biomedical discoveries to biotech and biopharma [companies],” Greenwald says.
Greenwald and Hyde formed Relay Technology Management in 2008, and the following year they added Tufts-trained computer scientist Rachel Lomasky as the startup’s chief technology officer. (Lomasky has since finished her doctorate and has lots of expertise in machine learning). The startup is poised to launch its first application for biotech business development groups early this year, says Greenwald, the firm’s CEO. He recently met with me at the Boston office of the business plan competition Mass Challenge, where his firm has received donated working space along with a bunch of other hungry startups. [Editor's note: The original version of this story said that Hyde "has done work toward a doctorate in pharmacology" at Tufts. To be clear, he has in fact completed his Ph.D.]
Take notice of Relay’s technology if you spend lots of time searching through government databases and academic journals for a scientist to lead your firm’s research or a compound to license. I know I’ve spent some hours checking on some of the sources that Relay automatically monitors such as ClinicalTrials.gov and PubMed. (I tried to finagle free access to the software, purely for reporting this story, but what I got instead from Greenwald was this YouTube video.)
“What we can do is say, “Yeah, you know about the Bob Langers of the world, but who’s at the university right outside of Boston, who’s on the upswing, just got a grant, and had a patent issued. Who are the hidden gems in the field?” Greenwald says.
Relay has proprietary algorithms that rate scientific discoveries based on multiple measurements. An anti-cancer molecule, for example, can score highly if it has strong patent protections, has been published in a renowned academic journal, has been validated through various pre-clinical tests, and even human studies. Also, the scientist who discovered the molecule can raise his or her profile on the firm’s system if he or she has built a portfolio of key discoveries and has other credentials such as a doctorate from a respected school.
So your last name doesn’t have to be Baltimore, Langer, or Sharp for someone to take notice of you with this software. (Yet given all those three guys have published and patented during their careers, their names and are prominent in the firm’s system. Langer, for example, is highly rated under searches for experts in drug delivery and nanotechnology, Greenwald says. He adds that the firm isn’t yet releasing numeric scores on individual scientists, however.)
The startup is already generating revenue from a beta version of its software, which has been used for a select number of biopharma clients. Greenwald says that one of his early clients, who he declined to name, has used the technology to search for a specific type of compound, and the group ended up finding and licensing one with the results of their search. Indeed, the firm’s “BD Live!” application for business development outfits automates much of the search and analyses that can take PhDs and MDs weeks if not months to accomplish, Greenwald says.
Relay plans to make money from its business development application with a subscription model. The idea of giving each compound or scientific discovery a numeric score certainly differentiates it from search engines for scientific literature such as Cambridge, MA-based Pubget’s website and Google Scholar. Yet a question will be how many business development groups will be willing to pay for that extra analysis that Relay offers.
Still, Relay isn’t banking solely on the business development market. Greenwald and his colleagues are also planning applications of their technology for human resources recruitment, intellectual property professionals, and technology licensing offices in biotech. The firm also believes that its technology could be engineered to perform analyses for other customers in science-oriented fields outside of biotech like chemicals and medical devices.
Relay, which has been bootstrapped, is now searching for investors to help fund the launch and sales of BD Live.
Larry Miller, the CEO and co-founder of Newton, MA-based health IT startup MedNetworks, and a board member at Relay, said in an e-mail that Relay has a good chance of being successful.
“There is no ‘clearinghouse’ for life science technology to connect universities and biotechs with pharmaceuticals and other later stage development companies,” Miller wrote. “It still runs like a cottage industry, relying on a combination of business development professionals with a nose for good technology, and serendipity. Relay can fill this gap.”