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  • Vijay Chandru

From Data Science to Precision Medicine

January 15th 2020

Bangalore, India

In the mid-90s it was clear that computer science would be less about computers and more about data. The Human Genome Project had put out the first complete map of a human reference genome. Genomics had arrived. High throughput proteomics, cellomics, metabolomics, ... were just around the corner and the first signs of what is now called the "Fourth Paradigm or Data-Intensive Science" was already evident in research biology.

Founders: V Vinay, S Manohar, V Chandru, R Hariharan

A translational program was initiated in the Perceptual Computing Lab (PerCoLat) in CSA at IISc that focused on computational biology which organically led to the launch in 2000 of Strand Genomics, India’s first instance of faculty entrepreneurship from a research institution. Using the best in class methodologies of data science (machine learning, data visualization, clustering methods, NLP).

AVADIS® Access Visualize Analyze Discover

Strand built the platform (AVADIS®: Access, Visualize, Analyze to DIScover) that would enable life scientists to build a quantitative science, much in the same way as MatLab has empowered physicists and electrical engineers in their respective disciplines. To date, the bioinformatics software tools powered by AVADIS® have close to 25,000 citations in the research and clinical literature.

Strand Ramanujan: Augmented Intelligence for Genomic Medicine

Strand Ramanujan is representative of India’s ability to produce world-class AI platforms to aid in disease prevention, diagnostics, and treatment, and capable of competing with the likes of IBM (Watson®) and GE (Predix®). At the core of Ramanujan, is Strand’s proprietary natural language processing (NLP) platform Grammatica® that powers Strand’s products, including the market-leading gene expression analysis software GeneSpring® (marketed by Agilent Technologies, Inc.), Strand NGS, the powerful NGS data analysis and visualization platform, and StrandOmics, enabling fast and accurate clinical variant interpretation and reporting.

Genomic Quirks (IISc Press) by Prof Ramesh Hariharan (co-Founder and CEO of Strand) is a popular book describing the intricacies of genomic diagnoses has been well received in the media. Listen to this interview in Mendelspod, a well-known silicon valley podcast channel focussed on genomics.

From Population Medicine to Precision Medicine

The paradigm in modern healthcare is changing from "Population Medicine" to "Precision medicine". Population health assumes that the exact same solution will apply, without discrimination to all people. We now know for sure that this isn't true. While the medical community has accepted precision in more complex diseases like cancer - individual variations can alter treatment course in even much simpler conditions. People differ from each other due to a whole host of reasons - they could be genetic, lifestyle or environmental. It is therefore important for all these to be considered while making a treatment choice.

The decision process in precision medicine has 3 steps: (i) understanding the healthcare risks of the individual, (ii) measuring and monitoring the risk, and (iii) taking the right clinical and non-clinical decisions to help reduce the risk. By virtue of Strand’s diverse capabilities and experience, it is better placed than any other company in India to help in the precision medicine decision making process. The experience in diagnostics with genomics, the comprehensive range of tests, lab operating skills and quality mindset are important to measure and monitor individual risks accurately. Finally, expertise in data analytics, technology and AI allows Strand to detect patterns and incorporate them into decision making paradigms.

The Strand Story (so far) in three easy pieces:

Strand is 20 years old today - we actually moved into our first office on January 15th 2001.

A little note co-authored with Prof Venkat Chandrasekar that was published in the Indian Institute of Management (Bangalore) Journal in 2002 about the starting up of Strand by the four founders who were academic entrepreneurs.

Strand stays close to its knitting for a decade as an exquisite tools maker for research biologists everywhere. In September 2012, on a request from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in India, I authored this essay that describes the bioinformatics epoch of Strand.

The description of the deliberate change in direction by Strand in 2011 narrated as a journey that is work-in-progress. The Pivot is a move from being a narrow technology provider to a fully vertically integrated health diagnostics company in 2018.

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