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Enlight Bio’s Knode Advances Social Network for Pharma

Xconomy Boston — 

Enlight Biosciences, a pharma industry-backed entrepreneurial venture, unveiled its newest portfolio company today, Knode. The Cambridge, MA-based startup, which is developing a LinkedIn-like social networking tool for drug companies, has formed strategic partnerships with AstraZeneca and other industry and academic partners, says David Steinberg, founding CEO of both Enlight and Knode.

Enlight was co-founded in 2008 by PureTech Ventures and a group of academics with the intention of developing technologies to solve common problems in the pharmaceutical industry. Its partners include AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN), along with a half-dozen other Big Pharma companies, such as New York area giants Merck (NYSE: MRK), Pfizer (NYSE: PFE), and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ). Previous companies to emerge from Enlight include Entrega, which is developing a drug-delivery technology, and Endra, which makes imaging technologies for animal studies.

Knode is designed to help pharma professionals locate the right experts for particular projects, such as drug-development efforts. Although many companies have implemented social networking tools in-house, those types of “Facebook for the enterprise” services, Steinberg says, just don’t cut it. “When you’re trying to undertake a specific project, it’s not just about who you already know, it’s about who you should know,” he says.

For example, say a pharmaceutical executive is putting together a new research team for an experimental drug and needs to identify scientists and development staff within his company who have experience working on the disease the drug targets. But through a series of mergers, the company has grown to 100,000 employees, including 10,000 R&D folks spread over a dozen research sites. Instead of asking around to identify the most qualified people, or using Google or some other imprecise search tool, that executive can type the name of the drug target into Knode, pull up a list of experts within the company, then instantly link through to those people’s patents, grant awards, and published journal articles. “Then you reach out to them and pull them into the project team,” Steinberg says.

In essence, Knode is a big-data play for the drug industry. To develop the algorithms behind the search engine, Knode’s staff of eight pulled in publicly available data from across the Internet. They also worked inside companies to tailor the platform to their needs, incorporating their proprietary information about employees and their work experience. Knode is currently in beta testing and the company hopes to roll out a version for the public in the fall, Steinberg says.

Drug executives can use Knode to find not just internal resources, but external ones, as well. “Maybe you’re looking for partners for a collaborative research project in China, and you want to find every biology expert who was trained in the U.S.,” Steinberg says. “You can get a list of those people, connect through and read their [research] papers, and then reach out to them.”

One advantage that Knode offers over other social networks, Steinberg says, is that employees don’t have to opt into it, nor do they have to constantly check their profiles to make sure they’re up-to-date. All that is automated and synched with other internal sites the company might be using, he says. He believes that will result in a much richer database of expertise than what companies get when they use standard social-networking platforms. “When you try to introduce a type of Facebook for enterprise, you get this rabid fan base of 10 percent of the company joining,” he says. “What you miss out on is the other 90 percent—the quiet, super-smart, super-capable scientists who are just not into that stuff.” Those people will automatically appear on Knode.

AstraZeneca’s input was key to designing Knode’s functionality, Steinberg says. He declines to reveal the financial specifics of the deal, or Knode’s overall financial status, except to say the company got its initial product off the ground “through a combination of seed funding from PureTech and Enlight and from strategic partnering.” The company plans to raise a funding round later this year or early next year, he says.

Knode is working on enhancing its product with features similar to what’s offered in the premium version of LinkedIn, Steinberg says, such as the ability to save profiles, track them over time, and share them with colleagues. It’s all designed to make finding the right experts easy and fast. “You go from a process that takes months,” Steinberg says, “to one that takes minutes.”