FPA Category Winner Spotlight: An Interview with Sophia Yen, MD, MPH

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(L-R) Tal Badt, Director of Business Development, Tsinghua x-lab, Patrick Chung, Founding Partner, Xfund, Lord Norman Foster, President, Norman Foster Foundation, Sophia Yen, CEO & Co-Founder Pandia Health, Douglas Hansen-Luke, Executive Chairman and Founder of Future Planet Capital and Lilly Bussman, Principal, Oxford Sciences Innovation.

Sophia Yen, CEO & Co-Founder of Pandia Health - Special Category Winner

Future Planet Capital is the world's first global innovation investment platform. Through a unique series of relationships and partnerships with top-tier university funds in Asia, Europe and the US, the firm possesses an unrivalled level of access to technology and life science companies from academic institutions and the "clusters of innovation" that surround them. The Future Planet Awards raises the profile of new and growing firms that will profitably impact global challenges. In partnership with Global University Venturing, The Future Planet Awards provide a platform for growth companies to engage with leaders and influencers.

Sophia Yen, MD, MPH, is the Founder and CEO of Pandia Health, the world's only female founded birth control delivery service, which offers care, convenience and confidentiality. Pandia Health offers the easiest way to receive birth control with free delivery, online prescriptions and automatic refills. As the winner of the UC Entrepreneur Pitch Competition at this year’s Global Corporate Venturing and Innovation Summit, her initiatives to make the process of receiving birth control as simple as possible have also been recognised at this years Future Planet Awards as the winner of the special category award.

Here is an exclusive interview with Dr. Sophia about how she is changing the way birth control is received and understood.

First and foremost, please tell us a bit about your background and expertise:

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Thanks for having me! To start, I have 20 years of experience in medicine. I serve as a clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Stanford Medical School and graduated from MIT, UCSF Medical School, and UC Berkeley with a MPH in Maternal Child Health. I am the Co-Founder and CEO of  Pandia Health and enjoy educating the public and other physicians about birth control, acne, weight management, and other adolescent health issues. I believe that birth control and women's reproductive health is so important, especially in the formative years. I hope to be a pioneer in this industry and start a genuine conversation to become a resource for women and young girls all around the world. I’ve had incredible opportunities, such as hosting a TedX Talk, to create awareness - I truly think this is something special.

What do you think is lacking in birth control education and how is Pandia Health changing the conversation?

We are trying to de-stigmatize birth control. Birth control pills and rings and IUD with hormone, implant, and shot can be used for more than just birth control. We can use birth control to treat painful periods, heavy periods, periods that cause anemia, periods that make women who have anemia worse, to prevent endometrial and ovarian cancer. There are about 5 different progesterones and 3 different levels of estrogens that can be in the birth control pill. so if you don’t like the pill you are on, there are LOTS of others to try.  

Did you know that the top cause of missed school/work in women under the age of 25 is their periods?

We have launched #PeriodsOptional. We have a blog, a YouTube channel, and a dedicated website which we will be launching soon. A research study with 1000 women showing that FEW of their doctors have discussed #PeriodsOptional.

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We are approaching this from parents of adolescents to adolescent women to perimenopausal women. I had the honor of speaking at my MIT 25th reunion during the TIM talks about #PeriodsOptional and we had women who were interested for themselves as well as fathers who had questions for their daughters and wives. We’re going to make women’s lives better by decreasing the number of periods, decreasing landfill via fewer tampons/pads, increasing school and work attendance.

Pandia Health is educating women through media, blogs, Quora, in person talks at schools, workplaces, sororities, online, youtube videos, interviews on blogs.

We are also collaborating on an academic paper to change the name from OCP to EPP. Oral Contraceptive Pill to Estrogen Progesterone Pills) to take away the stigma of it being for birth control. To take away this political football that they have made of women’s health.  We already have POP - progestin only pills, so EPPs would be more clear and less stigmatized.

Women’s health is more than just birth control, it’s about being educated on every step of taking care of your body. Curious about the Morning After Pill, EC, Emergency Contraception, Plan B? Here’s What You Need To Know.

Are there any misconceptions about birth control and women’s health you would like to address?

Yes. This incessant menstruation is a modern construct. If we compare ourselves to women in Mali, Africa per Dr. Beverly Straussman’s research, we have 350-400 periods in our lives, they only have 100. They start their periods at 16, have 3 periods a year, 8 children, breastfeed for 15-18 months. We start at 12, have 13 periods/year, have 1-2 children, breastfeed for 3-6 months. It’s hard to get it into people’s minds that if you are NOT on medicines, then you should have a period every day (otherwise, we need to figure out why you aren’t such as thyroid, malnutrition, stress, etc)  However, we have medications that can turn off periods safely.

Where do you see Pandia Health going and why do you think this new way of service is going to work?

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We are building the Brand that Women Trust with Their Health. We are the ONLY women-founded, woman led, practicing reproductive health doctor-, 20+ yrs of reproductive health advocacy-  founded/led company in this space. It took a woman to realize that we have #BetterThingsToDo than run to the pharmacy each month and that if women can’t get to their ob/gyn’s office for a prescription, then they should still have easy access to birth control. It’s going to work because we have made it work and because women want/need this service. Ask any woman on the pill, patch, ring if she is tired of going to the pharmacy and would like it delivered. I’m willing to bet she will say YES!

Congratulations again and thank you, Dr. Sophia, and your team at Pandia Health, for your achievements and exemplifying our mission to proliferate change!

 

For more information, watch Pandia Health’s YouTube Channel and visit pandiahealth.com to learn how to start accessing free birth control today.

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How Congenica Became a Poster Child for Research Commercialisation

When Genome Research Limited agreed to license the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute technology and back the spin-out of Congenica in 2014, the Wellcome Trust was laying the foundations for a new cohort of biodata driven companies to grow and flourish on the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus in Cambridge, UK. Today, Congenica is a trailblazing success story that Sanger seniors are keen to replicate.

  Congenica’s new CEO, Dr David Atkins and Chief Scientific Officer, Nick Lench.

Congenica’s new CEO, Dr David Atkins and Chief Scientific Officer, Nick Lench.

Dr. David Atkins, Congenica’s new CEO, and Dr. Nick Lench, Founder and Chief Scientific Officer, sat down with The Future Planet Blog to share their insights following both firm’s success in securing MOU’s during Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox’s recent delegation to China and discuss Congenica’s current plans for global commercial expansion.

In the winter of 2013, a new start-up entered into a partnership with Genomics England for the UK 100,000 Genomes Project – an initiative to sequence the genomes of 100,000 UK National Health Service (NHS) patients with rare disease or cancer. The genome annotation assessment challenge was known as the “Genome Bake Off,” in a nod to the much-loved British television show where amateur chefs vie to make the tastiest dessert treats.

The team gathered their seed funding and set up base camp in a portacabin on the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus, in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire, only big enough for a handful of people.  

“Each company in the bake-off was sent 16 genomes to analyse,” says Lench. “We had a core team of 3-4 people and drew on expertise from Great Ormond Street Hospital in the form of myself and Professor Phil Beales, and from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, with key inputs from Dr Richard Durbin and Dr Matthew Hurles. All of us, co-founders of Congenica.”

“What was different about Congenica was that our team combined the bioinformatics and analytical capabilities from the Sanger with clinical expertise from Great Ormond Street,” says Dr Lench. “We were able to identify rare mutations that someone from a pure software background wouldn’t have easily spotted, and produce a clinical report.”

Their Bake-Off victory, announced in October 2014, helped to precipitate the launch of Congenica as an independent commercial entity. In November of that year, Congenica – now firmly focused on developing tools to support clinicians in diagnosing rare diseases, a platform called SapientiaTM – picked up its first VC investment from Cambridge Innovation Capital, rapidly followed by another from Amadeus Capital Partners.

Changing attitudes

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute is a genomics research centre of global repute. It bears the name of Frederick Sanger, the British double Nobel Prize winning scientist who developed the initial paradigm shifting method of DNA sequencing that was used in the original Human Genome Project in the 90s.

“The Sanger Institute is a name that opens doors and minds,” says Atkins, “it's great to be around this free flow of innovative ideas and extensive network of deeply talented and inquisitive people. It’s an exciting place to work and we are very happy being here.”

  Congenica  and Digital China Health signed a MOU on genomic data analytics research and development to implement a medical big data strategy in China

Congenica and Digital China Health signed a MOU on genomic data analytics research and development to implement a medical big data strategy in China

Today, the Institute has a “BioData Innovation Centre” on campus and is encouraging other start-ups to join Congenica on-site. “We are a trailblazer for them,” says Atkins. “They see us as a poster child for what they want to do more of.”

Global Expansion

It’s now been four years since the UK 100K Genomes Project Bake Off, and a  year since the firm’s Series B financing round, when Future Planet Capital took a stake alongside Parkwalk Advisors, Beijing Genomics Institute and Healthlink Capital, while original investors CIC and Amadeus injected further sums.

Going from start-up poster child to mature profitable genomics business is no easy feat. “We are still early on in our commercialisation path,” says Atkins. Dr Atkins’ own expertise is precisely matched to this challenge. “My time selling diagnostic services to clinicians really woke me up to the challenge of rare diseases in postnatal care,” he says. “The diagnostic odyssey is a difficult, expensive and unsatisfying process. Nearly 7% of all births, or 3.5 million people in the UK alone, are affected by a rare disease.”

Over the past three years, the company has continued to improve and refine their gold-standard clinical decision software for interpreting genomic data, SapientiaTM. Now, they are concentrating on commercialising through a series of specialised partnerships. Congenica is already an interpretation partner in a number of large scale projects around the world, including in the UK, China and Portugal.

The company’s UK National Health Service partnership has also helped them to forge their credibility and prove their integrity, as well as refine its software for clinical use. “Our second set of partners are health delivery networks, including insurers,” Atkins adds, “thanks to our relationship with the Beijing Genomics Institute, we just signed a partnership with Digital Health China,” he says. During the Prime Ministers recent visit to China, Congenica and Future Planet Capital were among the British companies signing £9bn worth of deals with Chinese companies and investors. Congenica also has strategic partnerships in the US, including with the New York Genome Center.

The Chinese partnership is a particularly interesting one for a genomics specialist. “This is an attractive market because China is a key player in the genomics revolution,” Atkins explains. “They don’t have such deeply entrenched clinical methods, so they’re looking to adopt genomics directly into their routine medicine.” This is a significant contrast to the major western markets, where the hurdles to introducing any new medical technology can be very high. “Healthcare is a very difficult area to drive change, and for good reason,” says Atkins. “The barriers are there to protect patients. It’s up to us to explain the economic benefit and demonstrate the value proposition for something that is, on the face of it, quite expensive.”

 

With the time-frame involved, the willingness of Congenica’s investors to take a long-term view has been of critical importance. “CIC and Amadeus are very aligned, very mature and have deep insight on this technology,” says Atkins. “They know that a credible foundation is extremely important, and at Congenica we are continuing to prove that.” Future Planet Capital are firmly committed to a patient, long-horizon strategy.

New Frontiers in University Innovation

“Recent years have seen accelerated and fundamental changes to the ecosystem of university research, commercialization and investment,” says Professor Jerome Engel. In a new article for The Future Planet Blog, below, he explores three of the most intriguing new trends: the rise of ‘university venture funds,’ the changing nature of corporate VC, and a big push from the government funders of university research."

Pollution: The Ignored Impact

A New Year is a time for resolutions. It is also a time of reflection, as we look back on twelve months of highs and lows for environmental policy – a subject closely intertwined with several of Future Planet’s core impact investment themes. We catch up with Nigel Saunders CEO of Sure Chill and Giffen Ott of Synova Power to see the how their technology is making a difference.

When Patient Capital Meets University Venture: OSI Gets Down to Business

When Patient Capital Meets University Venture: OSI Gets Down to Business

“Our shareholders are not like venture capital investors,” says Jim Wilkinson, the veteran CFO now steering the finances of Oxford Sciences Innovation, aka the largest university fund in the world. “This is a very different model which is all about encouraging patient capital.” Last month, FPB sat down with Jim to find out how OSI is putting that capital to work.

Private Equity For Public Impact

Few people are more familiar with the intricate and complex realities of “double bottom-line” investing than Elias Masilela. In his almost-four-year tenure as CEO of the US$140 billion South African Public Investment Corporation (PIC), the asset manager for Africa’s largest pension fund (GEPF), he not only grappled with the integration of investment goals and socioeconomic influence: he championed it on the global stage.

Patience is a Virtue

This week, we discuss our submission to the Government's recent consultation 'Financing Growth in Innovative Firms'. Published last month as part of the 'Patient Capital Review', the consultation sets out research and proposals for how Britain can provide the long-term capital required to scale and grow innovative companies. The results of the review are set to inform part of Phillips Hammond's Autumn Budget on 22 November.

All Work and All Play for Imperial-backed SAM Labs

All Work and All Play for Imperial-backed SAM Labs

On the back of a $4.5 million Seed financing round in 2015, SAM Labs – dubbed “the Lego of the internet generation” – has ramped up its mission to take its child-friendly electronic engineering toys from the playroom to the classroom. The three-year-old start-up is now winning recognition for its educational impact, including a 2017 Future Planet Award. FPB recently caught up with CEO Joachim Horn. 

Refrigeration Revolution

Refrigeration Revolution

Today, the winner of the 2017 Future Planet Award for Healthcare is diversifying beyond its undoubtedly successful roots – keeping life-saving vaccines cold “off the grid” in some of the world’s poorest countries – and looking to take on the $90 billion* global refrigeration industry. This means new partnerships, new prototypes and, importantly, new potential investors. FPB went to find out more.

Taking Flight: Inside a Drone Insurance Innovation

Taking Flight: Inside a Drone Insurance Innovation

Since launching in 2016, Flock has raised half a million pounds from a combination of VC, angel and corporate investors. Pioneering a smarter drone insurance model based on Big Data analytics for quantifying drone flight risk in real time, the start-up has garnered interest from insurers, drone users and tech experts alike…and the first product hasn’t even been launched yet. In this week’s Future Planet Blog, CEO Ed Klinger tells us how they got started and explains why his investors have been “transformative” for the business.

The Education Entrepreneur

The Education Entrepreneur

Rajeeb Dey MBE, the youngest member of Future Planet’s advisory committee at the age of 31, has been founding and leading organisations since he was just 17. From entrepreneurial internship platform “Enternships.com” to professional learning services provider “Learnerbly,” Raj’s businesses have channelled his passion for reshaping the landscape of work and education in the 21st century. This week in the Future Planet Blog we pick his brains on start-ups, social impact and the “series A crunch.”

The Future Planet Blog: The Rise of British University Venture Funds (Part Two)

Last week, The Rise of British University Venture Funds - Part One explored the emergence of a new generation of UK institutions focused on innovation investing. When it comes to funding for university spin-outs, the country has progressed from being one of the world's laggards to one of its front-runners in just two years. It is now home to the world's largest university venture investor, Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI), and an expanding roster of similar entities. 

In Part Two, we take a closer look at OSI and its Cambridge counterpart, Cambridge Innovation Capital (CIC). Founded in 2015 and 2013 respectively, these two entities are now setting the tone for investment in the country's university clusters. They are also attracting the attention of sophisticated investors worldwide. With an evergreen structure enabling a more long-term horizon than conventional venture capital funds, their recent fundraising rounds have brought leading sovereign wealth funds and investment managers knocking alongside the more familiar UK university investors.

The Future Planet Blog: The Rise of British University Venture Funds (Part One)

British venture: immature or ahead of the curve?

The road from laboratory to industry is a time consuming and long one, but the rise of a raft of new University Venture Funds (UVFs) in Britain is helping to transform the innovation landscape. The country is now home to an increasing number of firms committed to turning innovative ideas from academic organisations and associated clusters into world class companies.

 

The Future Planet Blog: Best Minds, Brilliant Ideas - Scott White

In January 2017, the recently incarnated British Innovation Fund (sub-advised by Future Planet Capital and Milltrust Agricultural Investments) executed its first direct investment in a growth-stage technology business. PragmatIC Printing made waves in its early years, winning multiple start-up awards. Yet, as CEO and co-founder Scott White tells Future Planet, fostering serious innovation can be a slow-burn.