Calico has lured Daphne Koller away from Coursera to serve as its chief computing officer. The hire marks the start of the Alphabet ($GOOG)-owned, Art Levinson-helmed biotech’s drive to build out a computational biology and machine learning team.
Koller joins Calico from Coursera, an online education site she cofounded after making her name as a machine learning expert during her time at Stanford University. Calico will tap into that expertise--and that of the machine learning team it has tasked Koller with building--to advance its drive to understand aging and, in doing so, enable people to live longer, healthier lives.
“We have always believed that understanding how we age and developing therapeutics to address aging and age-related diseases would require a coming together of the research from great biologists and geneticists with the incredible advances that are being made in computational biology and machine learning,” Levinson said in a statement.
Koller and her team will shoulder the responsibility of providing the computing capabilities Calico thinks it needs to better understand the biology of aging. But, as part of the Alphabet conglomerate, they will enjoy the support of an organization that is getting deep into machine learning: Google.
“Daphne and her team will work in close collaboration with the basic and translational scientists at Calico and partner with other machine learning experts, including the team at Google, to derive novel insights and effective interventions,” Calico R&D President Hal Barron said.
Calico has expressed an interest in computational biology throughout its three-year history, but it has taken time to build out its team. The startup posted an advert for a head of bioinformatics late in 2014, only to subsequently put hiring for the post on hold. As it stands, no head of bioinformatics is listed among Calico’s computational scientists, although Koller is far from the only member of the team.
Most notably, Ben Passarelli, the former director of computing at Stanford Medicine, joined Calico a little more than one year ago. Calico also employs several other bioinformaticians. The plan now is to add more staff to work with Koller, including a machine learning engineer and someone capable of developing algorithms to analyze biological images and videos.
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