AWS Startups Blog

Lifebit’s Maria Chatzou on knowing ourselves through data

Many people think of genetic or genomic data as just one of many factors that can be used to understand our health. But to Dr. Maria Chatzou, the CEO of Lifebit, it is much more than that. “It’s you. It’s literally the code of you,” she says. She envisions a future in which this data is accessible to everyone, “in their phone, hopefully, or in a cloud system that will be syncing with their phone.”

Chatzou believes that Lifebit, the London, UK-based company that she co-founded with Dr. Pablo Prieto, is on its way to making this future a reality. As “the world’s first intelligent genomic platform,” Lifebit enables people with little or no computational or genomic training to analyze and understand vast quantities of genomic data. Genomic and biomedical research can’t exist today without some sort of genetic data generation involved, and currently, more than 70% of this data is generated by three main sectors—pharma, biotech companies, and research and government organizations—whose research aims to discover and develop new drugs, cures, and therapeutics.

To serve today’s emerging markets of personalized medicine, nutrition, and wellness requires what Chatzou calls “scalable computational power on demand,” or what is more commonly known as cloud. It also requires automation, or some form of AI. This is where Lifebit comes in: “We harness the power of the cloud and the power of AI and we combine them in a way that automates all of the analysis processes of this data,” Chatzou explains. This allows anyone, and especially people without computational training, to deploy and run their analysis over any cloud system, which enables them to analyze more data, faster—leading to new cures, new drugs, and new groundbreaking research.

Of course, the promise of personalized medicine has been around for a long time, and Chatzou says people are right to be skeptical of it. She emphasizes the difference between personalized medicine and precision medicine. Truly personalized medicine, meaning “one drug engineered and tailored to one specific person,” is still a long way off. Precision medicine, on the other hand, is already here. Immuno-oncology therapies, the first generation of precision medicine therapies, are tailored to patient groups with specific cancer genetic profiles, thereby requiring a prior patient stratification process. However, there is not yet enough data to stratify everyone, because “we still haven’t sequenced enough humans nor have we reached yet a point where we can have both affordable sequencing and data analysis in real-time,” Chatzou says. But she believes that as soon as this barrier is overcome, all FDA approved therapies will be precision medicines, instead of just 30% of the new drugs approved in 2017.

“I think it’s prerogative for technology to enable every individual on this planet to understand what their code is, what makes them them, and how they can use that information to better their lives,” Chatzou says. “That is what we ultimately aim to enable here at Lifebit.”

Michelle Kung

Michelle Kung

Michelle Kung currently works in startup content at AWS and was previously the head of content at Index Ventures. Prior to joining the corporate world, Michelle was a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, the founding Business Editor at the Huffington Post, a correspondent for The Boston Globe, a columnist for Publisher’s Weekly and a writer at Entertainment Weekly.