Danger, Disruption, Cancer and AI

3 minute read

15 June 2018

By Insights Team

Innovation Reporter, Upstart

Want to know what the face of disruptive tech looks like? Take a look at Stefan Roever.  Libertarian, rule-breaker, and currently on a mission to use AI to give cancer patients a better shot at living.  If you have 20 minutes to spare, drop into the recording of his interview with Dr Jack Kreindler here. If not, get Upstart’s TL:DR below.

It’s easy to imagine disruption as an unseen, uncontrollable force like weather. In reality it happens because individual people with a vision, mission and an appetite for danger make it happen.

At CogX in London on 11 June, Stefan Roever spoke to Dr Jack Kreindler about beating the odds, creating startups in Starbucks, building a DNA sequencing company from his garage and the mission to use AI to shorten feedback loops for cancer patients.

So ?

Who is this guy? Stefan Roever co-founded Brokat, a German company which successfully bypassed US export restrictions on encryption technology in the 90s. In March 2009 he founded gene sequencing company Genia from his garage, which then exited to Roche in 2017 for $125 million.

After a cycling accident which left Stefan with a tumour, he’s designed a device which uses electromagnetic field therapy to prevent tumour growth. AI is rapidly changing the prognosis for cancer patients allowing them to find the right drug in a crucially shorter time frame.

“The problem is that you don’t know what works, you don’t know if you’re treating it whether you’re making progress or not.” Says Roever.

The Circulating tumour DNA testing technology uses tech acquired from Stamford originally designed for Non Small-Cell Lung Cancer. Currently there are now 10 patients trialling the therapy and implementing AI technology in cancer treatment.

So What ?

What’s clear is that this is frontier research, taking place outside of traditional clinical environments.  Behind the science is a deliberate approach driven by libertarian views, and determined to put technology beyond the control of governments, agencies or monopolists, similar to his approach with delivering encryption technology outside of the US.

This approach is also collapsing timelines - using monitors, feedback loops and AI to determine in the shortest time whether a therapy is working, and to pivot to a new combination if it’s not - a great example of acting on rapid feedback to see what’s working.

“A patient normally has or or two shots on goal for a tumour. This way you have 10-20 shots. You can constantly tweak the approach. 

Attitudes count - in this and other ventures Roevner has shown perseverance,

“There are so many times when I could have legitimately given up.” he says.  “The trick is not to die."

The libertarian views and using technologies such as blockchain to distribute the learning help us understand how such tech spreads “Blockchain will make it impossible for governments to intervene in our lives” he says

So Now What ?

For any traditional player in oncology or related research, this should be a wake-up call.  

It’s operating outside of the establishment. The team admits that they’ve had to smuggle things in to the country to bypass the FDA

The speed of change is breathtaking. These are treatments for tumours which have largely been regarded as untreatable. Conventional wisdom is being made obsolete in months.

It’s being driven by mavericks whose appetite for risk is high.  The approach they take can be summed up by Dr Jack Kreindler:

“Be dangerous -because the world is a very careful place.”

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