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a16z Podcast | When (and How) Biology Becomes Engineering

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💫 Short Summary

Vijay Pandey and Jorge Conde discuss the shift from biology to engineering, emphasizing interdisciplinary principles in healthcare startups. They highlight the importance of modular components for biological applications, genetic engineering as a legitimate discipline, and the use of machine learning in drug design. The concept of engineered biology for sustainable solutions is explored, drawing inspiration from the Apollo mission. Collaboration across academia, startups, and big companies is crucial for innovation. Demonstrating technology reliability and scalability is key for business development and transitioning from pilot projects to successful agreements. The potential for exponential growth in technological advancements is discussed.

✨ Highlights
📊 Transcript
The shift from biology to engineering in healthcare startups.
Applying principles across disciplines and its impact.
Comparison between the scientific method and engineering process.
Importance of finding interchangeable parts for innovation.
Asimov developing modular components for biological applications.
Importance of Engineering in Biology.
Understanding complexity and designing parts for biological processes is crucial.
Emphasis on high throughput biology and the role of experimentation in engineering parts for biology.
Evolution of traditional drug molecules into more complex structures necessitates a new perspective on drug development.
Exploration of the intersection of engineering and biology, applying engineering disciplines to biological processes.
Advancements in biology and industry through integration of electrical engineering, computer science, and material science.
Creation of bioengineering departments accelerating collaboration between engineers and biologists, fostering innovation.
Genetic engineering evolving from trial-and-error to structured discipline with tools like CRISPR and DNA design.
Recent shift towards genetic engineering as a legitimate engineering discipline showing promise for future of biology and technology.
The benefits of using machine learning in the development of biomarkers in science.
Machine learning allows for quicker and more iterative processes compared to traditional bespoke approaches.
In the engineering world, the value of drugs is determined by the order of development, with the second drug often being more valuable due to the learning from the first.
Pharmaceutical companies may shift towards an engineering mindset and view themselves as data-generating and data science companies.
Integrating false positives as important as true positives for learning is emphasized in this approach.
The shift towards more use of machine learning in drug design is highlighted.
Machine learning is becoming competitive and has the potential to reshape the role of medicinal chemists.
The impact of machine learning on drug discovery and development is discussed, leading to potential changes in job roles within the industry.
The concept of platforms in biotech companies is explored, emphasizing their increasing value and potential to create multiple assets.
The conversation touches on the intersection of engineering and biology, showcasing surprising applications of engineering in the field.
Engineered biology for sustainable solutions in combating global issues.
Biological organisms are manipulated to address environmental challenges, such as creating trees to combat global warming.
Biology is utilized as a design medium, unlocking new possibilities and leading to groundbreaking advancements like glowing trees.
Inspiration is drawn from the Apollo mission, emphasizing the importance of breaking down ambitious goals into manageable steps to achieve monumental tasks.
The evolution of rocket engineering through collaboration and innovation.
Incremental advancements and lessons from past missions like Apollo and Gemini drive progress.
Collaboration among academia, research institutions, startups, and big companies is crucial for innovation.
Companies like Google and IBM bring an engineering mindset to different industries, fostering excitement and progress.
The journey from basic rocket building to complex engineering projects demonstrates the growth of human engineering abilities.
Importance of proving technology works for business development in engineering innovation.
Highlighting Asimov as an example of high predictability in design.
Shift towards reproducibility and reliability in synthetic biology.
Demonstrating stepwise improvements to build credibility and trust with potential partners.
Showing consistent success across various contexts to establish universal truths and attract buyers.
Challenges faced by traditional biotech companies in transitioning from pilot projects to actual agreements.
Engineering companies can use key performance indicators (KPIs) to deliver projects quickly and iterate efficiently.
Demonstrating value at a small scale and proving scalability enables the concept of 'land and expand' in the enterprise sector.
Moving from bespoke to standardized processes leads to increased efficiency and effectiveness over time.
Results in better, faster, and cheaper outcomes.
The importance of exponential growth is illustrated through examples such as Illumina's sequencing technology and the story of doubling grains of rice.
Compounding interest is likened to technological advancements, showcasing how minor improvements can lead to substantial progress in the long run.
The narrative emphasizes the significance of consistent growth, even at a slow pace, in achieving exponential outcomes and making the seemingly impossible possible.