Noam Solomon of Immunai: “Be conscious of your time”

Immunai has a technology to fully measure the peripheral immune system. We’re using these capabilities to build the human meta-immune profile — the largest immune cell atlas in the world — and we’re using machine learning and artificial intelligence to mine this database and decode the immune system. As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change […]

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Immunai has a technology to fully measure the peripheral immune system. We’re using these capabilities to build the human meta-immune profile — the largest immune cell atlas in the world — and we’re using machine learning and artificial intelligence to mine this database and decode the immune system.

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Noam Solomon.

Noam Solomon is the CEO and co-founder at Immunai, the first and only company to map the entire immune system for better detection, diagnosis, and treatment of disease. Leveraging single-cell technologies and machine learning algorithms, Immunai has mapped out thousands of immune cells and their functions, building the largest proprietary data set in the world for clinical immunological data. A year prior to co-founding the company, Noam served as a post-doctoral researcher in the Mathematics department at MIT, hosted by Professor Larry Guth and in the center of mathematical sciences and applications at Harvard University. In his research, he developed and applied tools from algebra and Algebraic Geometry in the study of classical problems in combinatorics. Noam is a double Ph.D., with degrees from the School of Computer Science at Tel-Aviv University and from Pure Mathematics at Ben-Gurion University.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When we started the company, I was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard and MIT. Prior to that I completed two PhDs in Math and Computer Science and have been working in the Israeli startup industry, holding various positions in machine learning and data science.

The idea to start Immunai came through many long discussions with my co-founder and CTO, Luis Voloch, who was working in computational biology at the time. We were both fascinated how transformative machine learning and artificial intelligence is and we wanted to bring cutting-edge artificial intelligence methods, e.g., transfer and multi-task learning from computer vision and natural language processing into genomics. Our scientific founders, Ansu Satpathy, Danny Wells and Dan Littman helped us shape our scientific vision and structure our mission to decode the immune system and measure the immune system as a foundational component of measuring disease and improving health.

Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Two weeks after Luis and I started Immunai, we traveled from Cambridge to the Bay Area to meet some of our friends and to spend some quality time with our scientific founders. One of the people in our network suggested we meet for coffee with someone we didn’t know. A few hours into the meeting, he said that the founder of the VC he worked for wanted to meet us the very next day. Of course we said yes. It never hurts to tell your story to strangers because you never know if you happen to be speaking with one of the most influential investors in the world. He gave us an offer on the spot, pending some short due diligence process, but we didn’t end up taking this investment because we had another pre-seed offer that we chose a few weeks later.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

I like to solve hard problems. I was always drawn to difficult puzzles with problems that seemed intractable. The curiosity to study what I don’t immediately understand is highly motivating for me, so I chose math and computer science as an occupation when I was around 10 years old. These subjects are so deep and offer infinitely many questions and directions for research. But over the years, I started to feel more and more that the time I spent working to solve a problem needed to matter and impact the world for the better.

So, I would say that my guiding principles is the pursuit of knowledge, making an impact, and bringing positive value to the world.

Ok thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

Immunai has a technology to fully measure the peripheral immune system. We’re using these capabilities to build the human meta-immune profile — the largest immune cell atlas in the world — and we’re using machine learning and artificial intelligence to mine this database and decode the immune system.

How do you think this will change the world?

Every disease and physiological process has an immune component. Our technology enables us to identify and describe the immune component of our disease and health, and this enables pharma companies an accelerated path to discover and develop better, and safer drugs.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

In our leadership meetings we discuss the business strategy of the company in a year, 3 years and even 10 years from now. We ask all the hard questions, including ethical questions. When companies grow, they should bring on people who worry about these questions full-time.

We don’t want governments or huge conglomerates to own sensitive information about us that can be used in the wrong way. Medical information especially should be kept safe and secured.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

There were two stories that merged into one. On the one side, Luis and I were trying to create a transfer-learning AI technology that can transfer insights across indications and therapies, so that we can learn from certain drugs that work well for one disease how to improve therapies for other, similar, diseases. On the other side, Ansu and Danny have been working on the application of single-cell technologies to better understand the response and resistance to cancer immunotherapies.

Together, we understood that by combining the power of AI and single-cell technologies we will be able to decode the immune system and transfer immunological and clinical insights across indications and therapies.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

At Immunai, we want to drive research for top pharmaceutical companies, academic institutions and hospitals. We hope to build long-lasting partnerships to help them accelerate their drug discovery and development pipeline. We mine increasingly better immunological and clinical insights as our machine intelligence grows, and for that we need more capital to grow our team, lab, and equipment.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Be conscious of your time. Your time is the most important resource you have, and whatever you can cut out of your schedule that’s not a must, do it.
  2. Be yourself, don’t try to be someone else. In the startup industry, big, costly decisions are made instantly. They have to judge a book by its cover. People scan and evaluate you in a split second. If you’re tall, you may be too tall, if you’re short, they’ll say you’re too short. If you have a Ph.D, you’re too sciency. If you’re business-heavy, maybe you don’t understand tech well enough. But that’s ok! Not everybody will get you right away. Own who you are, and bring others to the team that together form a unity of skills, experience, and know-how to score a touchdown as a team.
  3. There’s no playbook for success. In your path, you will meet people who will tell you “how it’s done.” Facing a big decision, they will tell you there are three paths forward and that one of them is the highway for success. Maybe it’s true, but remember that the biggest success stories happened when founders paved a new path, one that didn’t exist before, and they wrote their own playbook. It’s always important to study in detail everything possible there is to know about a problem, but many times there is no solution ready and you have to be ready to pave your own way and write your own playbook.
  4. Work less, it’s okay. Be disconnected from electronics a few hours a day, especially on the weekends.
  5. You’re only as good as your team is. Have a “stars-only” policy — talented professionals that are also team players, positive thinkers, people that make their colleagues better and empower them to succeed — for every position in the company.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

  1. Work hard, take responsibility, and set an example.
  2. Read, study, and challenge yourself always. Don’t assume you know the answer, assume the question is harder than you think it is.
  3. Surround yourself with A plus players and delegate responsibilities and authority.
  4. Planning is key for success. If you spend your time firefighting, you didn’t spend enough time planning.
  5. Make sure life can carry on without you. In your family, in your company, in life. If you’re really needed for making day to day decisions, it means you’re not bringing the right people, or you don’t empower them to take responsibility and ownership.
  6. Be generous and try to pay it forward. Success is a token that is passed to you, try to pay it forward for others to grow and succeed.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

We’re building AI-first biotechnology to measure, interpret and later decode our immune system. Our immune system is probably our most important biological system, determining whether we’re healthy or unhealthy. Identifying the immune component of disease is critical for healthy life, to treat disease and support longevity. We have a unique multidisciplinary team that came from immunology, pathology, single-cell technology, engineering and AI that can solve this problem, and we have over ten partnerships with the leading pharmaceutical companies and research institutions to start. To build this company, an infusion of capital will be needed, and when the right partners come, sharing our grand vision, with a deep understanding of the different aspects of the life sciences industry, we will be happy to give them a sit at the table and join forces.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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