As Andreessen Horowitz begins to invest the $450 million the bellwether venture firm recently raised for its second bio fund, general partner Vijay Pande has been talking increasingly about the use of artificial intelligence in the life sciences.
In a presentation a few months ago at the firm’s annual a16z Summit, Pande argued that many aspects of biology (biochemical pathways, for example) have become so big, complicated, and messy that understanding the system is beyond what a human being can comprehend.
But that’s been changing with the help of machines. As Pande explained, what’s different now is that advances in AI technology—along with the ability to generate huge amounts of high-quality biomedical data—are enabling machines to learn without human interaction. Now AI can learn without being “trained” to identify features that humans had already teased out of the data.
In a recent interview with Xconomy, Pande offered San Francisco-based Freenome as an example of a startup that is pioneering the use of AI “to understand aspects of the immune system that traditional biology has not been able to provide.”
Unlike some biomedical diagnostic companies that use technology to directly identify circulating tumor cells or cell-free DNA to detect cancer, Freenome uses what Pande described as “AI-derived biomarkers that are more sophisticated and more accurate” to analyze a patient’s immune response.
Pande joined Freenome’s board last March when Andreessen Horowitz (also known as a16z) led a $65 million Series A round. Since it was founded four years ago, Freenome has raised more than $77 million. Other investors include GV, Verily, Anne Wojcicki (founder of 23andMe), and Bill Maris’s new venture firm, Section 32.