Last week FierceBiotech wrote a story about Google Ventures investment in iPierian, a company that is engaged in developing therapeutics for new molecular targets discovered using a cellular reprogramming and differentiation technology. According to iPerian’s CEO Michael Venuti, Google’s interest in iPerian stems from the similarities between the two companies’ fascination with mining huge subsets of data. Consequently, according to Venuti, iPerian is a company where Google can “quickly feel right at home.”
iPerian’s macroscale analytical approach to molecular data mining is an important one that we’ve discussed previously on the American Biotechnologist (see Mapping the Human Brain, The Diseasome, The parallel universes of biotechnology and web 3.0 and out of the box thinking) and will likely have a better chance of success than the single molecule approach. Nonetheless, Google’s decision to invest in iPerian may have more to do with founder Sergey Brin’s personal quest than its strategic corporate fit with iPerian. If you recall, back in 2007 Google invested in Brin’s wife’s company 23&Me and established Google Ventures in 2009 to a invest in abroad range of fields, from search and advertising to mobile computing to medical records and personal genomics.
In a recent article in Wired magazine, it is revealed that Brin’s 23&Me genetic profile uncovered a mutation in LRRK2 which is associated with a 30-75% chance of developing Parkinsons disease. Brin is bent on investing in technology that may help him avoid contracting this terrible disease. That is where iPierian comes in. According to their website, iPierian plans to initially develop a proprietary pipeline focused on three neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, spinal muscular atrophy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Thus, Google’s investment meets Brin’s personal goal of investing in Parkinson’s research.
Nonetheless, Venuti’s explanation for Google’s investment in his company is not without merit. According to Wired, Brin is interested in investing in a research approach that relies on computational muscle and staggeringly large data sets which he hopes will provide a quicker road to results than the traditional scientific methodological approach.
The Wired article is fascinating and it is on my list of recommended reading for all American Biotechnologist fans. One thing that I am a bit puzzled by is the onslaught of statisticians questioning Brin’s mass-computational methodology. I profess that I am an old school molecular biologist with a poor understanding of statistics (t-test, ANOVA, 4PL…if it doesn’t give you a p value of less than 0.05 than try another test!…no…I don’t promote that tactic…go see a statistician). In particular, there are two comments, one by bzdyelnik and another by drHoward that seem to indicate that mass-computational methods will lead to many false positives and false negatives. If you could explain that to me it would really be appreciated. In the mean time, I’m assuming that the rest of us wet bench lab rats will keep our jobs for another day.
Here are two videos from the Parkinson’s Institute featuring Sergey Brin talking about the power of data: