Every few weeks, we clip our fingernails and consider them redundant, but what if they could hold our health forecast for the next 20 years? The team at Predictiv has built a technology that can process genomic information from a small fingernail clipping to create a first of its kind DNA-based digital twin. The virtual avatar works as a simulation that helps predict and prevent one’s health risks for serious diseases, analyses treatment and drug plans, and even the nutritional supplements one needs.
Solving the Human Body Puzzle
“Physicians currently diagnose conditions based on the patient’s environmental information and available medical history,” notes Dr. Sajung Yun, CEO, Predictiv. “For genetic history, they simply ask a few peripheral questions like what conditions the patients’ parents had. That’s like solving a crossword puzzle with half the clues missing,” quips Dr. Yun.
“Predictiv provides relevant genomic information based on the patient’s current situation in real-time with integrated health records,” he explains. The technology scans 20,000 genes to cross-reference them with 22,000 known diseases and simulates up to 750 drugs. Calling patients “mini clinical trials”, Dr Yun says, “Why should you take the drug and test it on yourself? Instead, we can simulate your digital twin with the drug to analyse side effects and dosage because every human body is different.”
The product began as a personal project for Dr. Yun and his twin brother, Dr. Sajung Yun, who leads bioinformatics and development. A successful trial at a clinic in Virginia, US, encouraged the brothers to co-found Predictiv with Alex Rochegude, COO. The Silicon Valley US-based digital health startup has collected many milestones and witnessed speedy growth in a short time. Soon after its founding, the company received its first institutional funding from Plug and Play Ventures, Draper Associates, and is about to close its first round of funding at USD 1 million. Within a few months of its launch, Predictiv attracted partnerships from 200 hospitals and 3,300 physicians.
Boasting a glamour quotient too, Predictiv features in the fourth season of Meet The Drapers, a popular startup reality show that crowdsources funds from viewers. As a finalist, Predictiv was among the top three companies to raise the most funds. “As of today, we have more than 1,200 investors who believe in our product,” says Dr. Yun. It has caught NASA’s eye as well and is one of the top ten finalists for a HealthTech program by the US space agency. “Nothing is signed yet, but it’s great to have the opportunity to discuss Predictiv as a digital health solution for astronauts,” adds Dr. Yun. The digital health startup has also partnered with Quality of Life, a nutritional supplement company. “We agreed to analyse their customers’ DNA and other health information to provide them with the best personalised precision nutrition supplement solution for their needs,” explains Dr. Yun.
From Studying Literature to Saving Lives
Dr. Yun’s journey to healthtech entrepreneur hasn’t been linear. The CEO has lived experiences of several lifetimes in one. The meandering journey took him from Seoul, South Korea, where he grew up, to the US in his early 20s. The dream to study English Literature took him to Oxford University in England. During the second term, he realised it wasn’t his cup of tea. “I understood what it means to have an ambition and the difference between what one wants to do and what one can do,” recollects Dr. Yun. He decided to pause studying and travel around Europe as he tried to figure out what he wanted to do. “I realised I wanted to help people and save lives, so I decided to go to medical school,” he says.
He turned his travels around Europe into a book in Korean, which became a travel essay bestseller. Meanwhile, Dr. Yun returned to the US to study medicine, where he earned a PhD in biomedical sciences then attended an M.D. program to become a trauma surgeon. However, a dead-end awaited Dr. Yun on this path. “During my third-year clerkship in my M.D. program, I found out I had an essential tremor which became a problem in surgery,” he says. Finally, he turned to entrepreneurship because he realised creating a new healthcare system could save many more lives than he does by himself.
Before Predictiv, the Yun brothers co-founded two HealthTech startups while simultaneously working on the project for their parents. Unable to raise funds for his first two ventures, Dr. Yun decided he needed to study business to get it right with Predictiv. After completing the MBA program with a double concentration in healthcare management and entrepreneurship at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Yun says, “My conclusion was that I could not do it myself and need to find a professional entrepreneur.” Their search for a co-founder with business experience led them to Alex Rochegude, who had already grown and exited two companies successfully as the founder. “For one of them, he grew the users from zero to 160,000 and scaled the business to nine different countries within two years,” says Dr. Yun.
Despite its twists and turns, Dr. Yun wouldn’t change anything about his journey. “I believe it’s there for a reason,” he reflects. Experiences from the first two startups turned into learnings that have shaped Predictiv. “Through the experience with my second startup, we came up with the idea that we should not just deliver an isolated report but explain it,” says Dr. Yun. “We have partnered with telemedicine companies to provide preventive screening and consultation plans for 20 years based on the DNA. We want to give the patients coordinated care,” he adds.
Learning People Management From Music
From his experience of managing startups, Dr. Yun believes motivating teams is the most challenging. “In a startup, 100 per cent is not enough. You have to give 200 per cent of your time and effort,” he says. “Of course, I can encourage, but motivation and passion also have to come organically from each individual. It’s not something I can demand out of them,” he notes.
Casually adding yet another feather to his cap, he references his 12-year background conducting orchestras and choirs to illustrate. “My teacher told me how the conductor uses his baton to conduct, not demand. It’s an exaggerated gesture that’s asking for a favour,” explains Dr. Yun. “I follow the same philosophy as a CEO. I’m not demanding my employees to do something. Rather I’m asking their favour of their free will.” He extends the same analogy to harmonious teamwork. “Each instrument may sound perfectly good on its own, but together they have to be in harmony to make music,” he explains. “The CEO needs to orchestrate. At times certain parts need to be quietened, and others need a boost. Some parts need backup helps from other instruments or voices & there are some solo parts as well.”
As for motivating himself, Dr. Yun believes saving lives is his life’s mission, and that itself is the motivation. “My nickname is Hope because my father wanted to bring hope to humanity. It’s my life mantra to do something good for humanity,” says Dr. Yun. In fact, he believes sleeping is a luxury when you’ve taken on the mission to save lives. His first-hand experience with regret made him realise predicting and preventing serious diseases is the best way to save lives. “Wouldn’t you regret if someone close to you is diagnosed with a serious disease that is predictable and preventable and you didn’t do all you could? I’ve been in those shoes,” says Dr Yun. “We’ve made it so simple that just fingernail clippings could make all the difference.” “We will continue our efforts until there is no death or no significant health damage to anyone in the world from predictable/preventable diseases.”
The Galen Growth HealthTech Cohort is enabling Predictiv to partner with startups from around the world. “Thanks to a Galen Growth conference, we met a Singapore-based telemedicine company who have now turned into strong partners,” says Dr. Yun. “Given the geographical distance, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet them if not for Galen Growth,” he adds. The CEO believes that networking and partnering can help startups add value to each other. “One of the advantages of partnering with a startup is you become more like a friend, sharing information and providing relevant feedback,” notes Dr. Yun.
About Galen Growth’s 2021 HealthTech Cohort
Vault Dragon is part of the Galen Growth 2021 HealthTech Cohort, the only acceleration programme built to scale digital health startups to be the next generation powering healthcare innovation across the globe. For more information, visit Galen Growth’s HealthTech Cohort webpage or read this article on the launch of the Galen Growth’s 2021 HealthTech Cohort.