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BioCommunique Article

Claire Weston, CEO of Reveal Biosciences, opens up about how the company is using machine learning in pathology to inform patient treatment strategies.

Biocom Member Spotlight: Interview with Claire Weston, CEO of Reveal Biosciences

  • 2019-06-07T18:51:00.000+0000
  • San Diego
  • Author: Matt D’Angelo

Next up in our Biocom Member Spotlight series is a company on a mission to use their cloud-based AI technology to improve research and inform patient treatment strategies around the world—particularly in areas where this is unmet medical need. Claire Weston, CEO of the computational pathology company, Reveal Biosciences, joined Matt D’Angelo and Harry Chang from Biocom to talk about how their cutting-edge technology is helping change the life science industry. Reveal recently received Series A funding from Intel Capital, one of the top investors in AI. Claire shares with Biocom her company’s journey and how the technology they’re using is helping to make a difference in the industry and the world.

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Reveal Bioscience is located in the Sorrento Valley area of San Diego, where their team of 25 is focused on developing advanced computing tools to improve pathology research and diagnostics.

Matt D’Angelo: We are honored to be here with our second member company in the Biocom Member Spotlight series, Reveal Biosciences, joined today by Claire Weston, CEO. Claire, how are you today?

Claire Weston: I’m good, thanks. How are you?

MD: Great. We’ll start with a question a lot of people are curious about when it comes to CEOs. How do you start your day?

CW: I grew up in England, so I usually start my day with a nice cup of tea. After that, I spend time with my family before I head to work.

MD: Sounds like a solid start to any day. Speaking of work, can you explain for our readers a little bit about Reveal’s mission and goals?

CW: Yes, we are creating a new generation of AI-powered pathology to improve research and global healthcare. Our cloud-based platform, ImageDx, generates very accurate and quantitative data to benefit pre-clinical research, clinical trials, and decision support tools to assist pathologists diagnosing patients.

MD: We are so intrigued by the Artificial Intelligence movement here at Biocom. We’ve even formed our first AI Committee in Los Angeles to brainstorm more ways with our members to integrate it into life science solutions. Would you mind expanding on Reveal’s technology, especially as it pertains to AI?

CW: Pathology is a subjective discipline, where highly qualified pathologists look down a microscope at a patient sample to detect disease. Multiple studies have shown that there is often variation between pathology scoring in a way that can impact experimental results or patient treatment strategies. Our goal is to use AI to help make this process more objective, reproducible and scalable ultimately increasing accuracy and lowering costs.

Reveal includes a full service histopathology lab generating microscope slides and whole slide images to quantify tissue features including protein or mRNA biomarkers. The rest of the company is developing AI-based tools to detect and quantify disease, and our software platform to visualize the data. Our data provides quantitative outputs from slides that can be used in research and to support pathologists making disease diagnosis, but it is also helpful for patient stratification in clinical trials. We are also developing a series of prognostic tests to inform the best treatment strategy for patients.

MD: Out of curiosity, what percentage of your employees are Data Scientists/Software Engineers vs. Lab-based Scientists?

CW: It’s about 50/50 at the moment.

MD: We’d love to hear your take on why Reveal chose San Diego as its headquarters.

CW: San Diego is an awesome place for Reveal. It’s such a great biotech hub. We have a lot of clients here, and have found that it’s a great collaborative community for growing businesses and collaborating to develop technology.

MD: We would have to agree with you. “Collaboration” and “community” are words we hear often when describing San Diego. At Biocom, we do a lot of work developing mentorship programs to help those looking to break into the industry, or further tune their skills. Who would you say you turn to as a mentor or a role model in this industry?

CW: I’ve been really lucky throughout my career to have some great mentors. Many of them are also Biocom members, like Richard Lin, from Explora BioLabs, and Scott Struthers, from Crinetics Pharmaceuticals. I think the whole Biocom community has been great in terms of helping start and grow our business at every stage. It’s really nice to find such an active and collaborative community of life science professionals in San Diego.

HC: I can imagine for a newer space like AI, there isn’t a blueprint on how to build a company or where to go…

CW: Absolutely! When you start a company with a handful of people in a room, your questions and needs are very different, compared to when you are fundraising or scaling with rapid growth. It’s really good to have a range of people to draw on at each stage of the company’s growth.

MD: Last September, you partnered with Certis Oncology, another Biocom member, to characterize tumors and provide high quality quantitative data to pharmaceutical clients. How did that partnership form?

CW: That’s a good question—I was actually introduced to Certis Oncology by Richard Lin, another tenured Biocom member. Richard introduced me to Peter Ellman, their CEO, and the partnership started through that introduction. Three Biocom companies working together!

MD: What would you say Reveal is doing differently to stand out from your competitors?

CW: First, we have a really strong and talented team. Application of AI in pathology is accelerating rapidly at the moment and this is definitely the direction the industry is moving. We have a unique advantage in that we combine an active histopathology lab with a strong data component. We also have access to very large and unique data sets that we are using as training data for our AI-based models. Together, these bring benefits to pharmaceutical and biotech companies with applications in the research space, but they also enable us to generate accurate and scalable biomarker-based training data in our lab.

MD: And what are the major challenges Reveal faces in today’s life science ecosystem?

CW: As you know, data scientists are in high demand, with a lot of interest coming from the Bay Area from companies like Google. One advantage for data scientists in the pathology space is the ability to have societal impact. We are also lucky to have a good relationship with UCSD where we routinely get very talented interns, particularly in Bioengineering and Computer Science. We have ended up hiring many of these interns, which has been a phenomenal experience for us.

MD: We love hearing about your relationship with academia—we oversee a few internship programs with various partners across the state as well, and we’re always looking to do more. Which leads me to my next question: How can Biocom further assist you in your path to accelerate life science success?

CW: I think Biocom already does a great job, so that’s a challenging question. There are a lot of interesting events, plenty of opportunities to meet other members, and mentorships. Opportunities such as this interview are actually really helpful to us, too; raising our profile and that of other of member companies. I’ve seen you do a lot with fundraising as well—introducing people to investors, which is very helpful. I think you guys are doing a good job.

MD: Speaking of fundraising, Reveal recently received a Series A funding. Could you tell us a little about that process?

CW: It was a really interesting process that I honestly enjoyed. We met some very interesting people and I learned a lot along the way. Our round was led by Intel Capital, which brings good credibility to us in terms of technology, but also access to resources that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. In April, we went to the Intel Capital Global Summit where we met many leaders in the healthcare and pharmaceutical space. It was a great opportunity for us and we got a lot of exposure there.

MD: Another huge congratulations from Biocom on a major accomplishment. I’d love to ask a somewhat personal question next, as Biocom has increased our programming over the past few years in the area of “Women in STEM”. Could you tell us what it means to you to be a female CEO in the life science industry?

CW: There aren’t enough of us! I would like to be judged as being a good CEO, not just by being a female CEO. In some ways being a female CEO is great as it can help you stand out from the crowd. San Diego has some excellent female networking groups, like Athena for example, which is focused on women in STEM. There are a lot of opportunities to network with other women in similar positions.

HC: We couldn’t agree more, and consider ourselves lucky to have you in our backyard. You mentioned Google earlier, and their work with machine learning/big data in Silicon Valley. Does that inspire you and push you to be better and more innovative?

CW: Absolutely. Google is also here in San Diego and it’s good to see what they’re doing in this space. There are a huge variety of applications for AI within healthcare and the life sciences industry, so being exposed to that level of innovation really does make a difference.

MD: What excites you most about what Reveal is doing right now?

CW: Honestly everything—using AI to diagnose disease in pathology is a really fast-moving space. We’ve been using machine learning to generate quantitative data in pathology for a while, but we are beginning to reach the point where this technology can outperform humans for some applications. Personally I am excited by some of our predictive models where we are integrating different types of data including pathology, clinical outcomes, and genomic data, to build prognostic models that will be able to help inform patient treatment strategies in ways we haven’t seen before.

Another exciting aspect of this cloud-based technology is the potential to expand globally, particularly to areas where there is unmet medical need. In Kenya for example, there is a huge shortage of pathologists—only about 120 in the whole country. This means that many patients don’t have access to advanced pathology diagnostics. I can see that this technology has the potential to benefit patients throughout the world.