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Eran Segal: “In life science you need a scientific breakthrough”

Eran Segal: “In life science you need a scientific breakthrough”

Professor Eran Segal recently joined BII’s Scientific Advisory Board. He is heading the Segal Lab with a team of computational biologists and experimental scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

To learn more about BII’s Scientific Advisory Board, click here

His research focuses on the relationship between nutrition, health, and gut microbes in human individuals and his research group has extensive experience in machine learning, computational biology, probabilistic models, and analysis of heterogeneous high-throughput genomic data from various technologies such as next-generation sequencing.

He aims to develop personalized medicines based on big data from human cohorts, and he is currently two years in with a cohort that has committed to 25 years.

We asked Eran Segal a few questions about his career and the ecosystem in Israel.

What is the current situation for life science entrepreneurship in Israel?
Israel is very strong in high-tech innovation and is often referred to as the second Silicon Valley. However, in life science, it is much less so. We have asked ourselves why that is, and I believe there is limited infrastructure for life science here, and it requires different investors due to the time it takes for life science innovation to reach the market. That is also why I think the offer from BII is unique as it combines an academic environment with commercialization. In traditional incubators, there is often much less freedom, less funding and a very limited timeframe.

How far have we come in your field of personalized medicines?
We are just scratching the surface, but it looks very promising. We are seeing it used in cancer treatments, but only five to ten percent of patients can benefit from personalized medicines at the moment. We must further develop technologies and make measurements cheaper, more accurate, and more accessible, and we need more options in general. Not all lies in our genetics, so we investigate many different layers of information in patients. And although we talk a lot about big data, the actual data we have is not very big in most cases as it takes decades to gather.

Why did you choose to go in this direction?
I have been working in this for over a decade, and I was drawn to it because I wanted to do good science that could benefit people and make an impact. This opportunity to make scientific discoveries based on AI and data science did not exists 10-20 years ago, so for me, it was also a matter of the right timing.

What would you pass on to young entrepreneurs?
Focus on your technology and find the right environment. That is key. In areas such as tech, much can come from marketing, but in life science you need a scientific breakthrough.

Want to learn more about BII’s Scientific Advisory Board? Check out these interviews:
Dr. Langer: “Companies are like children growing up”
Dr. Smolke: “The three things to keep in mind as an entrepreneur”
Dr. Uhlen: “I see Denmark and Sweden form a little Silicon Valley in Europe”
CRISPR pioneer Dr. Feng Zhang on making scientific break throughs

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