Bringing Your Research to the Market With Tom Miller
By Irene Yeh
December 5, 2023 | When Tom Miller was a professor at the California Institute of Technology, he built a research program centered around developing AI and data-driven algorithms to help solve chemistry and biological challenges with various research focuses. These scientific innovations led to increasingly translational capabilities, and Miller realized he had to bring his research to a bigger platform. So, during his two-year sabbatical, he launched Iambic Therapeutics with his co-founder Fred Manby to see if his interests and research discoveries had any potential to make an impact for patients and researchers.
In the latest episode of Trends from the Trenches, host Stan Gloss speaks with Miller about his journey from academia to CEO of his own start-up—and what exactly inspired him to bring his research to the market.
Curiosity was the trigger for launching his own company, Miller says. “I think it was, first of all, hunger to see the translation of the science from the discovery stage to genuine human impact, as well as the recognition that these tools really did appear to have the ability to make a difference in the way that we were searching chemical space and the way that we were identifying molecules with promising properties.”
Furthermore, there was a drive to deliver molecules to patients with urgent medical needs faster and more successfully. Identifying molecular therapeutics is already a challenging process because it involves a vast search of chemical space and targets various biological profiles. It can be a tedious, time-consuming process. But AI can navigate this wide breadth of data to pinpoint the right molecules and deliver them to patients faster.
“By combining physics and data, we can get vastly improved accuracy in the prediction models with more efficiency in terms of the number of data points that are needed,” says Miller. “And that really matters. That matters because of the fact that we can more effectively drive more deeply into chemical space.”
From Research to Entrepreneurship
Of course, academia and running a company seem like different animals. It can be an overwhelming whirlwind when trying to figure out how to efficiently keep business going, talk with investors, work with partners, and other additional responsibilities. But Miller assures fellow academics and researchers that the process is “very familiar.”
“The part of starting something from scratch, the part of having to recruit and align a team around a vision, the part about having to make sure that you set priorities correctly and that you are able to really secure the funding to continue on that vision,” explains Miller. “That's actually surprisingly aligned with the day-to-day of a university professor at a major research institution.”
Miller compares starting your own company to pre-tenure days when you “can’t think in terms of... lackadaisical timescales.” It requires starting projects from scratch, recruiting a strong team, aligning team members around the same vision and mission, setting priorities, and being able to secure funding. There is an urgency that will allow one to achieve progress at a very fast pace, he says. This means that, despite the hectic and challenging aspects of it all, there is great potential for innovation and discoveries that will make a positive impact in the long run.
For the rest of the conversation, including Miller’s take on the role of physics in model accuracy, how Iambic Therapeutics is combining physics and data, and thoughts on hypothesis-driven research models, listen to the full conversation at Bio-IT World.