#64: Vijay Pande | Pod Of Jake

Key Takeaways

  • Biology is the science we need today: the trend is moving from physics to biology
  • Machine learning is going to have a strong impression on pharmaceuticals, computer diagnostic tools, and healthcare as a whole
  • Education, as it stands, is not scalable – if we can get the right structure and balance between absorbing information and network, education as we know it will change
  • Two possible directions of San Francisco tech: (1) Scale the Bay – mix in-person and virtual work which will allow for collaboration and creativity but ease traffic; (2) Remain virtual and create distributed companies in the future but work to harness the spirit of San Francisco culture and big thinking
  • “There’s more to life than being efficient…working from home sounds good but too often I think you’re really living at work.” – Vijay Pande
  • Transitioning to remote work and lifestyle is a matter of “when” not “if”
  • The cost of healthcare in the U.S. is rising to unsustainable levels and becoming a crisis
  • Important to study older people and understand elements of what allows people to live longer and age slower versus contract disease
  • Thinking about reversing aging, longevity, and healthspan is now part of basic science

Introduction

Vijay Pande, Ph.D. (@vijaypande) is a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz and founding investor of a16z’s Bio Fund. Vijay focuses on investments in biopharma and healthcare including machine learning, artificial intelligence in healthcare, digital therapeutics, and other scientific advances to take bio to the next level. He also holds a position at Stanford University as Adjunct Professor of Bioengineering and is cofounder of [email protected], a distributed computing project for simulating protein dynamics.

In this episode of Pod of Jake, Jake and Vijay discuss the intersection of biology and technology, the rising cost of healthcare, finding solutions to harmful diseases by targeting longevity, and predictions for the future of healthcare.

Host: Jake (@blogofjake)

Why Is Biology The Next Big Thing?

  • The trend in scientific interest is moving from physics to biology
  • Computer science is probably the most relevant degree at the moment but in ten years will probably move toward bioengineering
  • Biology is really the study of the future as we shift to making it quantitative and predictive
  • Machine learning is going to have a strong impression on pharmaceuticals, computer diagnostic tools, healthcare as a whole
  • You can quantitatively measure things in biology and make predictions accordingly (e.g., human genome project)
  • Biology is all around us – human health, food, global warming
  • “Biology feels like the science we need for today.” – Vijay Pande

Limitations Of Current Academic Setting

  • Access to information has changed so much over time, you can go to the computer and learn anything
  • Scaling is a limiting factor for current education models
  • The things we really need from our current education structure are the social networks and people you meet – if we can extract that and scale it, the model of education will shift
  • Education requires a structured balance of network and motivation
  • We see now more than ever that the computer and other tools can be used to leverage knowledge but getting the right balance and structure to absorb information and network is difficult

The Future Of The Bay Area

  • The reality is you don’t need to be in San Francisco to start a tech company anymore
  • Thesis 1: Scale the Bay Area – the network that is the Bay Area is still critical
    • There will probably be a balance of remote work and in-person work  
    • More work from home will help ease traffic and congestion
    • In-person work time is more conducive to creativity and collaboration
  • Thesis 2: People won’t go back to in-person. People will choose to remain remote and companies will be built completely distributed
    • Remote work allows for efficiency
    • The spirit of San Francisco start-up culture will be key
    • Spread and distribute culture of big thinking, big goals, fundraising
  • In reality, some companies will need to be in person but it’s likely that the future is more remote
  • It’s a “when” not “if” transition to the switch to remote life for almost everything but it will be interesting to see how physical social networks adapt
  • We have the tools to work remotely but long term effects are unknown
  • “There’s more to life than being efficient…working from home sounds good but too often I think you’re really living at work.” – Vijay Pande
  • The future could require people to refine how they work from home – houses aren’t designed for remote work but they could be in the future (e.g., pods in the backyard, certain rooms dedicated to only work)

[email protected]

  • [email protected]: distributed computing project for simulating protein dynamics which develops a complete picture of all the different states of the protein, co-founded by Vijay
  • Started in 2017 running on PS3s
  • The original goal was to understand how proteins assemble themselves and from there identify places for therapeutics to attack to stop damage
  • Many diseases (e.g., Alzheimer’s) are caused by misfolding of proteins so understanding folding can hold the key to understanding disease
  • [email protected] has been looking for advances in COVID therapeutics since the start of the pandemic and been successful in harnessing immense computer power
  • Testing the waters of open source biotech: everything done collaboratively and findings shared
  • “The challenge is finding solutions to problems worth solving.” – Vijay Pande

Bitcoin

  • The idea of bitcoin was to create a distributed ledger for something that could be used as currency
  • In general, proof of work is hard to solve, but easy to verify
  • Simplicity in proof of work for bitcoin is key to its success – you can run the inverse hash to produce origin data

Healthcare Expenses, Regulatory Procedures & Progress

  • Healthcare in the U.S. started in the 1950s as a perk given to workers by companies to encourage them to stay – prior to that it was out of pocket
  • The cost of healthcare is increasing rapidly and growing exponentially and a looming crisis
  • Industrialization of biology and healthcare is really what it means to bring technology in
  • Need to shift healthcare to technology mindset: make something better year over year
  • More controversial topic: the role of the FDA
    • Remove unnecessary regulations
    • We should test efficacy and toxicity but can address some things with real-world evidence instead of lengthy trials to speed up the rollout
    • FDA tends to shift pendulum one way to the other either overregulating or loosening up
  • Moderna’s design of antiviral was done in two days then took months to test and go through proper FDA channels
  • We should shift to extending healthspan by prevention instead of reaction
    • How can we use tech to change behavior? Exercise instead of watching TV, select better food, etc.
    • Sometimes just having the data is enough – i.e., wearables

Longevity & Aging Market

  • The rate of onset of cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s rapidly increases with age
  • Bringing in the biology of aging will help people increase healthspan
  • Important to study older people and understand elements of what allows people to live longer and age slower versus contract disease
  • Using machine learning to connect some dots can lead to novel targets, new therapeutic interventions, drugs
  • Future could be combining prevention and aging: take a supplement to slow down aging
    • Some attempt to do this now with metformin or NAD
  • The idea of living longer and even reversing aging has gone from science fiction to basic science reality
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