The Healthtech VC: Duleek Ranatunga, Founder of Pear Bio.

Listen to the full episode of The Healthtech VC podcast on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.

Oncological (cancer) treatment regimens are often multiple drugs, used in various combination therapies. Selecting the right drug combination for the right patient, at the right time, with the fewest side-effects, is a real therapeutic challenge for oncologists and patients. Getting effective oncological treatments with the fewest side effects to cancer patients is the problem that Pear Bio are trying to solve. It is important to remember that not all cancers are the same and patient X with breast cancer A might respond very differently to patient Y with breast cancer A.  

Pear Bio obtain tumour samples and recreate the complex tumour environment in an ‘organ-on-a-chip’. An organ-on-a-chip is a way of taking a tumour sample and recreating these features outside the patient, mechanically and biologically. Various chemotherapy regimens are then tested on the specimens. Microscopic tumour responses are mapped using computer vision technology to gain a deep understanding of which drugs work on which types of tumour. 

“Proper computational biology is a combination of wet lab and software. It relies on collecting biological data in a certain way that’s well-controlled so that it’s there for proper analysis by machine learning, computer vision and other tools”

Pear Bio selects which tumours to build organs on chips with, based on the balance between unmet clinical need and technical feasibility. Today, they have tested 7 different types of cancers. Duleek touches on who is going to be buying the Pear Bio solution and the go-to-market strategy. He also talks us through his approach to hiring. There are 3 key groups of hires within the very multidisciplinary Pear Bio team – software engineers, scientists and business. The lab staff needed to be in the lab during the pandemic which brought its own challenges. Working with human tissue samples is high risk and this is where computational biology differs from pure digital health. There is a wet lab component attached to the deep learning aspect. Regulations required for handling patient tissue samples including adherence to the UK Human Tissue Act and employees training.

Molecular Landscapes

Pear Bio’s work relies on relationships with clinicians. Duleek discusses his approach to building trans-Atlantic relationships with clinicians and researchers in the UK and US and how he maintained these through the pandemic. Pear Bio has taken a lot of time to truly understand the oncology patient journey from the perspective of patients, doctors and researchers. 

We discuss the funding environment in the UK and the US and the ensuing differences. Early stage investing in computational biology is essentially investing in translational research stage in a specific scientific niche. Traditionally, investors might have shied away from the wet lab plus software model of computational biology but this is slowly changing, with Silicon Valley leading the way. Whilst the UK might have traditionally been behind their American counterparts, there are now more UK and European startups and investors focusing in this space. Additionally, the talent pool in biotech and software is very deep in the UK, with many great founders and operators coming from top universities. 

Duleek has developed deep relationships with a wide variety of global investors who really believe his mission. This has helped him when building a strong investor funnel segmented across various specialties and geographies. He provides tips for early stage founders on building an investor funnel and touches on the fact that computational biology attracts a great skillset mix of deep science investors, software investors and more generalist investors.

Find out more about Pear Bio  https://www.pearbio.com/