Insitro has snagged a new chief data officer: Serafim Batzoglou, Ph.D., who led Illumina’s applied and computational biology team, co-founded the bioinformatics and data management company DNAnexus and worked alongside insitro founder and CEO Daphne Koller in Stanford University’s computer science department.
“I view Daphne extremely highly on every level and I’m really excited to work with her in particular. Insitro was so compelling, I couldn’t say no to such an opportunity,” Batzoglou told FierceBiotech.
He brings more than two decades of experience across academia and industry. During his 15 years at Stanford, he focused on the applications of algorithms and machine learning, the study of large-scale genomic and biomedical data and the development of tools for genomics. As vice president of applied and computational biology at Illumina, he led R&D of artificial intelligence and molecular assays to make genomic data more easily understood in human health.
When asked what drew him to make the leap from academia to industry, Batzoglou said there was no clear divide.
“Throughout my time at Stanford, I was always connected with industry to some extent: I was on some scientific advisory boards and I cofounded a company myself, DNAnexus, and I was involved in it quite a bit the first few years,” he said.
He made the jump to Illumina when the company’s chief technology officer Mostafa Ronaghi, Ph.D., another Stanford colleague, recruited him. He spent some time at Illumina while on a leave of absence from Stanford, realized he’d been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and bade the university adieu in 2017.
As for his newest role, insitro’s “holistic” approach to drug development was the hook.
“There are types of biological data generated to inform the machine learning methods and there are machine learning methods being developed to gain the best insights from the biological data. We combine them in a holistic approach that I believe is compelling and will be highly impactful in improving drug development over the next five to 10 years,” he said.
And it’s not just the approach that’s holistic—Koller has been building a “bilingual” team at insitro to surmount a hurdle in the drug development space.
“A big obstacle of machine learning techniques [in drug discovery and development] has been the lack of people who are conversant in both machine learning and drug development languages,” she told FierceBiotech in a previous interview. “What we’ve seen here at insitro, even in less than a year of operating, we’ve put together a group of people who are at least somewhat bilingual, who are committed to working together in a single team rather than in a siloed approach typical in other companies.”
Batzoglou is one of those people. His appointment comes four months after insitro hired Aimmune alum Mary Rozenman, Ph.D., as its chief financial and business officer and Pfizer veteran Keith James, Ph.D., as its senior vice president of drug discovery.
“Insitro is leveraging predictive models to advance better therapies through a combination of cutting-edge machine learning, cohort-level human genetics and biological data generation at scale,” Koller said in a statement. “Serafim is one of the few individuals who has done leading work in all of these areas. He has demonstrated the ability to do novel research while also bringing research insights into practice within an industry setting. As our first Chief Data Officer, he brings to insitro a unique combination of expertise that will considerably accelerate our efforts to transform drug discovery and bring new medicines to patients who need them.”