Nano Vision Chairman and CEO Steve Papermaster and TechCrunch Editor-at-Large Mike Butcher recently sat down together in London to discuss Nano Vision’s mission, platform development and initial cure acceleration targets. View the video or read the full transcript below.
Mike Butcher, TechCrunch: Steve, you’ve had a very illustrious career. You’ve done several technology companies, Moxy Software, Powershift, Vignette, Appconomy. You worked with George W. Bush at the White House. You’ve had an illustrious career in technology, but why are you addressing health now?
Steve Papermaster, Nano Vision: I’m addressing health now and building Nano Vision because healthcare overall, to me, means one thing mainly, which is keeping people healthy – and that moves into the very definition of cures. What is a cure? Cure is the ability to just monitor, detect, and maintain ways to keep people healthy. Well, in a lot of ways, that can drive back to technology.
Mike: But you have a bit of a background in the health and the pharmaceutical industry, don’t you? Is that right?
Steve: I do. That’s right.
Mike: Well, tell us a little bit more about that? Because you’re not just coming at this, at this cold, are you?
Steve: No. No. This this has been really a lifetime of development for myself and a large part of our team.
Mike: Was your father involved in healthcare?
Steve: Absolutely. Yeah. So I grew up in a scientific environment. My father was a pioneer in the field of immunology and biochemistry and genetics and moved around quite a bit. He was a early faculty and R&D at Stanford and many other institutions. So yes. I literally grew up in laboratories, where I learned software and technology was in laboratories.
Mike: Why do you think is that the software industry seemed to sort of accelerate ahead and seemed to become so different from the – shall we call it for want of a better phrase – “the science industry.”
Steve: Well, I think, a couple of reasons. One is the software industry and the tech industry has followed a path that has kind of modeled off of Moore’s law, and in some cases, Metcalfe’s law, which gave over the last 40 plus years, a constant on-ramp into new levels of performance, and new stages on a progressive basis for how to develop solutions to a vast range of business and vertical or horizontal problems. So the ability to do that has advanced science itself. The basic model for theorizing new programs, if you will, hasn’t really changed that much. Now, there’s brilliant people, there’s some fantastic companies. Governments are involved of course. And it’s not that there hasn’t been some huge advancements. I referenced the Human Genome Project – that’s a massive advancement. And yet, as a field in total, the way that cures, the therapeutics, and analytics are developed, it’s still much, much, much slower than ever before.
Mike: You say that though, but we’ve got, well, let’s be honest at this point, thousands of years of the concept of peer review of the scientific methodology that’s come down for many generations that is now effectively the established way of doing science. Why is it that you think an approach like yours or approach like the technology industry can bring to this space can have such a transformative effect, when you still do need, let’s be honest, you still do need those checks and balances?
Steve: You absolutely need checks and balances. Because you don’t want to sacrifice health, you don’t have to sacrifice the safety of people, and the very basic concept even of medicine: “do no harm.” But at the same time we need to advance that into “do some good,” and do some good as fast as you can while not sacrificing safety. If software was following the same rules, the equivalent of “peer review,” which is like “code review,” would still be people gathering in rooms together in individual readings instead of having automated testing. And we would not have today’s modern technology industry or software industry.
Mike: One of the points you seem to be making is that science or that the healthcare industry has become too tactical. So, it’s developing technologies to go after one particular health issue and seems to be removing itself from R&D I suppose? Is that what you’re saying?
Steve: Yeah, the broader healthcare industry you want to divide it up into a few pieces. There’s those that deliver care and and there’s those that develop completely novel new innovations that provide care and cures. And the ability to provide healthcare is only as good as the cures available to you. And so, if we don’t go back and completely change the way that you develop cures to have them advance at a much more rapid rate and a much more scalable model than you have, we can only continue to provide the cures that are available. And that’s the Achilles heel here.
Mike: The video that you showed of computer vision being able to recognize people’s faces and then translating that into recognizing pathogens going through the bloodstream and things like that – surely that’s a bit fanciful, isn’t it?
Steve: It’s just as fanciful as imagining ride-sharing services and self-driving cures. Meaning, it is and it isn’t. Is it the way things are done today? Absolutely not. Is it the way we will be able to do those in a relatively short period of time, if we actually use the integration of multiple technologies and develop some novel capabilities like we’re doing with our Nano Cure platform? Absolutely, it’s doable then. The fact that it hasn’t been done doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done, or that it can’t be done.
Mike: What do you actually mean by the phrase self-driving cures? Because that sounds a little bit gimmicky, doesn’t it? But what’s the underlying meaning of that? Is it the sense that I’m monitoring my own health or that you’re taking big data out of other senses and you’re applying it in the health scenario?
Steve: Self-driving cures is just thinking of it as the basic processes of monitoring health conditions. Whether it’s our own health, the conditions around us, or the advancement of certain disease states or conditions, monitoring it, having the analytics, having diagnostic capabilities and having cure capabilities that are a continuous process. That is self-driving cures. Why is it that we can drive our car and know when we’re low on fuel, that one of our tires or another is losing air and at what rate and what’s going on and some basic processes of intervention. And we have no ability to do that for ourselves, individually or collectively. So, you begin by adding the technology to connect and monitor health conditions on an ongoing basis, as well as monitoring the things around us that connecting health information.
Mike: So, you get this continuous virtual loop – in the car scenario it manages to drive itself and in the health scenario you manage to keep yourself healthy.
Steve: That’s right.
Mike: So, it’s about keeping yourself healthy. Well, let’s also get down to the sort of nitty-gritty of it. Is Nano Vision, uh, putting sensors on the body? Is it a lab solution? Is it purely aimed at the pharmaceutical industry? Tell us a little bit more exactly what it is.
Steve: Nano Vision and our Nano Cures platform will go from the chip all the way up to the data level.
Mike: So, you’re going to make chips?
Steve: We’re designing a generation of chips with Arm, which is our partner on this who has a 99% market share of all mobile devices in the world.
Mike: Arm, the huge, vast chip maker, yes.
Steve: Arm the chip design company, which is owned by SoftBank and SoftBank Vision Find.
Mike: So, they’re a big partner of yours?
Steve: They’re a huge partner of ours, a very important partner. And what we’re doing there is we’ve developed a set of designs to bring AI and sensory capability down to the chip level. Bring the cost and the form factor to where we can drive it out the marketplace on a very ubiquitous basis from smartphone technology to the ability to attach those levels of chips onto and into everyday devices that are going from hospitals to homes.
Mike: So, there are companies out there already putting AI on chips, supposedly. What is going to be different about Nano Vision’s design?
Steve: The difference is that we’re focused on health and starting with the molecular data level.
Steve: And that’s the fundamental difference. So, the thing about molecular data and what that is made of, is that it’s literally the building blocks of life that we deal with. It’s cells, it’s microbes, it’s genetic markers, it’s chemical markers, it’s biomarkers, it’s ambient conditions. And we talk about these things in an abstract way, but in a very practical way. It’s literally just measuring and monitoring and capturing data that we are surrounded by or made of 24 hours a day. And right now, we just don’t have access to.
Mike: But we’ve been capturing data for20, 30, 40, 50 years using computers without the need for the blockchain. What’s different now about using the blockchain in this scenario though? And are you just jumping on the blockchain bandwagon?
Steve: Well, blockchain is an architecture and, I equate it to a fundamental architecture of next-generation internet, in the same way that TCP/IP was a fundamental architectural driver from a communication structure stand point of first-generation internet. Now TCP/IP was, especially early on, was pretty ugly. It was not perfectly defined, there were many different versions of that.
There’s a lot of ways to define how you use that and how you integrate that. But it was common enough and it evolved very rapidly to form a connectivity base, that drove the internet, in terms of mass adoption. To me, blockchain is in the same place that TCP/IP was for early internet. It is early. It is going to evolve.
There will be many versions of it and yet there is enough commonality that the basic tenants of blockchain, where you have immutable data, which drives trust on decentralized ledgers, which capture immutable data around where content was captured, who captured it, who touched it, what the chain of activity was from inception into continuous use. And that is a fundamental change in the model of sharing data.
Mike: Walk me through the lifecycle of this. You’ve got some sensors, eventually you got this whole thing up and running. Some sensors just tracking somebody’s body, the sensor picks up astrange antibody movement or something. Is that a scenario? And then suddenly it’s registered on your blockchain and, bang, [snaps fingers] all the sensors start firing [snaps fingers] and the lights go off. Is that right? Now obviously that is a simplistic idea.
Steve: Well, I mean, it gets down to capture that kind of a data. It’s also capturing environmental data. So, moving from hospitals to entertainment environments. I mean, things like cruise lines are floating petri dishes, right?
Mike: Thank you for that vision.
Steve: Yes, I’m sure we’re going to get a call from Carnival today offering some free cruises. But, I mean, the bottom line is, you know, we halfway joke about it, right? “Oh my God, I was on a flight, somebody is coughing a couple rows behind me.”
Mike: Don’t go to the breakfast buffet.
Steve: Yeah, it is what it is, and we just need to make the invisible visible and known, but actually moving to where we’re capturing and making it available, so then we can at least do something about that.
Mike: So just for those people in the room who aren’t familiar, the whole blockchain movement came originally out of Bitcoin and then Ethereum was invented. Both are mined blockchains. Is your blockchain sitting on an Ethereum blockchain? Is it sitting in a private chain? Just give us a little bit technical background on that.
Steve: So design of our Cure Chain is more of a private chain.
Mike: Your Cure Chain as you call it. Yeah, it’s a private chain.
Steve: It’s a private chain.
Steve: And part of the reason for that is the design right down to the chip level of actually authenticating the data and capturing the data is something that doesn’t need to go through a mining process which is energy intensive. And that’s the downside of structures like blockchain when you’re doing things like mining currencies like Bitcoin itself. So, this is all about the data. It’s about capturing and authenticating the data. It’s about aligning that with incentives and value structures.
Mike: I see. So, putting the data on blockchain you’re not actually needing to do any mining as it were?
Steve: That’s right.
Mike: They’re usually the distributed ledger technology aspect?
Steve: That’s right.
Mike: It sounds like it’s a lot of work. You’re doing chips. You’re doing blockchain. You’re applying AI. You’re doing cloud. You’re spinning a lot of plates here. I mean, how on earth can you really concentrate and produce something that has a real effect?
Steve: We are focused on a stack of technology. Some that we’re inventing. Other is technology being invented and developed in the world and we’re integrating that in. It’s very similar to developing a new platform like an iPhone or a Tesla. We’re in the combination of those technologies, several which we’re originating ourselves and others we’re integrating in result in a platform change and the ability to bring to market something that didn’t exist previously and that becomes a game changer.
And the game changer for us in this platform is to enable thousands, hundreds of thousands of other healthcare developers, scientists, researchers, biotech companies, pharma companies to use the services, which is the data itself powered from the chip up and the gathering capability on to the level of simplified services, so that those smart, talented teams can actually go develop their own versions of cures to tens of thousands of disease states and sickness and even general wellness capability that don’t exist today.
Mike: So really you’re trying to create a platform which other people can innovate, lets thousands of flowers bloom as it were?
Steve: Totally agree. From a standpoint of what do you want a platform to do, you want it to enable many others to do things that they either could not do before, or they had to do custom from scratch each. Like Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Services, many of the ranges of services are today providing that ability to do what just a few years ago, you would have to completely build from scratch, own and manage yourself.
Mike: Now you use your platform and then you can innovate.
Steve: That’s right.
Mike: Are you going to be trying B2B or enterprise-focused only, or will there be Nano Vision services inside my home or wearables? Will there be consumer aspect to this, what is that?
Steve: I think where the market moves in the model these days for services including our Nano Cure platform, we’ve seen it in similar sectors, is there’s not a big difference. So if I’m using Amazon Web Services from my home and/or it’s powering Alexa and/or it’s a corporate environment, or even the government running on it, it’s still using the services.
Steve: Now how much do you consume and where and how do use that certainly varies, but other than that they’re common services.
Mike: What’s the low hanging fruit here? You talk about cures, the Cure Platform. Where’s the prevention?
Mike: Is it prevention and cure, or prevention-oriented.
Steve: Prevention is part of cures. Monitoring, having ongoing diagnostics to know what potential dangers are present, having the information about those. For example, a runaway super bug and understanding more about that basic structure, that goes from the ability to monitor, prevent as well as rapidly develop, things like new vaccines or actual full cures, right. So the same information is needed and you’re going to have to monitor and collect the data on those from vast input sources and move those into a super accelerated lab. Lab becomes from a small number of proprietary labs to the world is our laboratory.
Mike: Assuming all of this comes together, I know that you’re fundraising at the moment, what do you think you could cure first?
Steve: The areas that we’re attacking first are as you described kind of some low hanging. Unfortunately there’s too much low hanging fruit because there’s a lot of very basic conditions. But we are teamed up with scientific development teams using already the early phases of our platform to advance influenza, just the basic flu, and what we’re talking about full therapeutics that will work across influenza A and B in really all forms. A range of cancers…
Mike: That will make you a smash hit in the UK, of course.
Steve: That’s not bad to start. If we are dramatically accelerating the ability to have the prevention and treatment safely of flu, that right there… This year alone we had in this flu season that we’re just coming out and it’s still active, 4,000 deaths a week from the flu. It’s very serious.
Nano Vision and our Cures Platform is a fundamental change in developing and doing the hard work to do everything from develop a new generation of chip technology with AI on the chip, Right on up to through the molecular platform and the packaging up of ranges of cure acceleration services to bring to market.
We’re working with groups of scientists. We’re working with the most successful chip development company in the world, and that’s all transparent in what we’re doing with all those partners. So, there’s really nowhere to hide if you were going to hide anything. If anything, we are making sure that we are availing ourselves of not only our expertise, but some of the greatest partners in the world.
As far as we’re concerned anybody and anything that can help develop this faster, we want to partner with them, because the stakes are very high. 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, we’re suffering from areas that need dramatic advancement, and we just can’t go fast enough.
Mike: Well, I’m going to see if anyone would like to ask some questions in a second, but let me just ask you quickly, where is the company now, what’s the roadmap for the next couple of years, your fundraising what’s going on right now?
Steve: Where we are right now, we’re several years into development and design of the Nano Cure platform.
Mike: How many?
Steve: Four years, four or five years, from from the inception.
Mike: So you’ve been in stealth mode?
Steve: We’ve been in stealth mode. We’ve just been working hard.
We’ve been focused, we’ve been working hard, we’ve been building partnerships. The partnership with ARM for example, several years in the making. Concluded in the last year. We’re into the next phase of design and development and we have a roadmap to bring out a generation of chips, which will never stop. They’ll just keep the generation advancing.
Mike: What are the next couple of years like?
Steve: The next couple of years go from, in 2018 using our chip in simulation mode. Chip simulators actually can do real work. They’re not printed out on silicon, but the basic design lets you advance things already, like a dramatic analytic capability using AI in simulation mode which is for real, meaning you can take real data in it. So we’re doing that this year.
Mike: So you’re sandboxing the trials to begin with?
Steve: Right away. That’s right.
Mike: And then next year?
Steve: In the next two years, we’ll have a generation of chip out in the marketplace, that is actually delivered as an embedded new chip. Along the way, we’ll take our early generation of beta chips moving into devices that we call Nano Bots, which are sensing capabilities that can move down into hospitals and environments over the next year, and begin to collect a whole range of basic germ pathogen information, ambient conditions, which we don’t have today.