Y Combinator wants 100 times more MRI scans


Access to resources like virtual data rooms and shared labs makes growth easier for biotech startups. This is good news: We need more companies attacking cancer from new angles, including AI-enabled early detection. And who knows, maybe one of these will become a trillion-dollar company? , Anna

early cancer detection

Y Combinator's latest The request for startups (RFS) is worth a read, and not just because it's been a while since the incubator shared ideas and categories, its partners would “like to see more people doing the work.” As my colleague Sara Perez pointed out, YC hasn't updated its full list since 2018.

Taken as a whole, YC's RFS is a great way to understand the zeitgeist; The list undoubtedly includes AI as well as climate tech, defense tech, and much more. But zooming in on individual requests is also a worthwhile exercise.

One of the requests I was interested in was “a way to end cancer.” Written by Surabhi Sarna, YC Group partner and former CEO of a medical device company, it focuses on MRI. They wrote, “Since most cancers are now curable if detected early, this technology would dramatically reduce cancer deaths if implemented widely and cost-effectively.”

My first thought was that MRI startups already existed. Just a few days ago, New York-based Ezra raised a new round of $21 million — and we're talking about the team that TechCrunch first covered in 2018. It also has competitors like Neko, which is backed by Spotify's Daniel Ek, and Prenuvo, which has a $2,500 full-body scan that was promoted by Kim Kardashian.

For Serna, that price point is part of the problem, as it naturally limits scale, but it's not the only one. “There is a backlash from the medical community because MRIs also produce incidental findings (or false positives) that cost our healthcare system valuable time and money to investigate.” The jury is still out on whether they are beneficial or beneficial to the individual, let alone society. But YC is still hopeful that startups can help.

“For this to work, the world will need to increase the number of MRI scans by at least 100 times. Doing this will require innovations in MRI hardware, AI algorithms to interpret scans and reduce false positives, and business models and consumer marketing to make it a viable business.

Of course, companies like Ezra are also hoping to do some of this domestically. In its latest pitch deck, the startup claimed it “leverages AI at every step of the screening process.” But if other people can contribute from other angles, I can see why YC would be interested – I am.

Co-working for biotech

As Nature reports, shared lab space has been a game changer for biotech startups. Of course, co-working is nothing new, but co-working labs offer their clients much more than office space, saving them both time and money.

It reminded me of startup Battlefield alumnus Parallel Health — its chief scientific officer Nathan Brown mentioned shared labs when we chatted at Disrupt. I noticed that she had liked a repost of the Nature article, so I asked her for her thoughts. He confirmed that the skincare startup he co-founded was using BioLabs' shared facilities in Los Angeles, and he highlighted some of the benefits of the concept:

BioLabs enables us to create consumer biotech products cost effectively. They make the lab infrastructure available to us without having to spend our entire seed cycle on capital expenses like DNA sequencing machines, laminar flow hoods, and lab-grade freezers. We also save a lot of time in biolabs, as they manage all aspects of environmental health and safety as well as infrastructure management. Perhaps most importantly, they create a rich culture of innovation where startups can easily collaborate and learn from each other.

While this could be read as local support, startups don't have to be based in California to take advantage of this trend. BioLabs is a franchise in its own right that has expanded to a dozen locations, and similar things can be said about many competing facilities around the world. However, Accur Health CEO Jessica Song, a founder interviewed by Nature, shared a word of caution: Some labs are better equipped and broader-ranging than others. “If you're thinking about starting a company, try visiting a few companies to see which one is the best.”

virtual data room

Virtual data rooms are another important resource for biotech startups. Calling them “the unsung heroes of biotech financing” and noting that they can also be helpful in business development negotiations, a16z published a guide on what biotech teams should and shouldn't have in their data rooms.