November 30, 2023
How AI is shaping the future of genetics

How AI is shaping the future of genetics

Slovenian biotechnology company GenePlanet is a leading European provider of innovative healthcare and lifestyle solutions based on preventative genetic testing.

GenePlanet CEO Marko Bitenc is an experienced founder with a history of working in the biotechnology industry and a master’s degree in the field from Wageningen University & Research. He also co-founded Spain-based Universal Diagnostics, an in vitro diagnostics company developing a platform of minimally invasive blood-based solutions for the early detection of cancer.

In an interview with The Recursive, Bitenc discusses the main reasons for founding GenePlanet, the health challenges it aims to address, innovations in AI and biotechnology, the role of large language models in genetics, and much more.

The following interview was conducted as part of The Recursive’s “State of AI in CEE” report. Download the full report with insights from 40+ experts and analysis from 900 CEE AI product companies here.

The Recursive: What are the main reasons you decided to start GenePlanet?

Marko Bitenc: I founded GenePlanet with a clear vision: to empower individuals to protect themselves from preventable health risks and make lifelong lifestyle changes for better, healthier lives.

I firmly believe that new genetic-based information and personalized preventative guidance can unlock a world of possibilities for everyone’s well-being.

It is the driving force behind our mission to provide innovative health and lifestyle solutions based on preventative genetic testing.

What health challenges are you facing?

Our portfolio covers a wide range of products that address different health challenges:

  • Lifestyle DNA tests to optimize daily habits for health and well-being
  • Cancer Risk DNA Test to Analyze Hereditary Cancer Risk
  • Prenatal NIPT test to check baby’s genetic health from 10th week onwards
  • Pharmacogenomic testing to accelerate and optimize treatment

In this way, we aim to empower people with the knowledge and insights they need to take control of their health and make proactive choices.

What are the biotechnological innovations that made genetic testing possible in the first place? What is the role of AI?

The human genome project was completed in 2003. It proved the technological capacity to decode the human genome, but it lasted 13 years and had a total cost of almost 3 billion dollars.

Then came a series of technological innovations, mainly based on Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) technology, which drastically reduced the costs of DNA sequencing.

It went from around 1 million euros per human genome in 2007 to the current amount of less than 500 euros.

As genome sequencing became cheaper, more genomes were sequenced and the ability to compare groups with specific characteristics began to emerge.

Until now, discoveries in genetics have not relied on AI as we think of it today, but rather on other established methods in data science and bioinformatics, such as Principal Component Analysis (PCA).

AI can be very powerful, but it often has specific requirements for the dataset – that is, it requires many more samples compared to the number of features under investigation.

In genetics, this is a challenge, considering that the genome is 3.2 billion base pairs long.

With new AI methods like Large Language Models (LLMs), which the popular ChatGPT is based on, the future of AI in genetics looks bright.

DNA is essentially a language of its own; therefore, the AI ​​will be able to interpret it, assemble the correct sequences with specific properties based on requests, etc.

What role do you see AI playing in the healthcare industry overall?

AI has the potential to revolutionize healthcare in countless ways.

From improving disease detection and diagnosis to facilitating the discovery of new treatments, AI is poised to transform the landscape of medicine.

At GenePlanet, we recognize the power of AI in driving the future of healthcare. It plays a crucial role in analyzing large amounts of genetic data, identifying patterns and generating valuable insights.

This, in turn, paves the way for a new era of personalized healthcare, where treatments and interventions can be tailored to an individual’s unique genetic makeup.

AI promises a more efficient, effective and patient-centric healthcare system, and we are actively harnessing its potential to shape the future of medicine.

What are some of the biggest challenges you faced while developing the product and growing the company, and how did you overcome them?

One of our most significant challenges as the company grew was managing the pace. As our product became popular, we grew faster than anticipated. This rapid expansion meant we had to hire more people quickly, and it wasn’t always easy to find the right person for our team. At the same time, we were interested in introducing our product to new markets.

So instead of diving into multiple markets at once, we started prioritizing. We chose to focus on a few key markets first, understanding their specific needs and adapting our approach accordingly.

We also took a step back and invested in a thorough hiring process so we could hire people who had the right skills and shared our commitment.

How do you see the current state and trajectory of AI-powered technology? product market in Slovenia? What about the wider CEE region?

AI is quickly becoming an essential part of every software product.

From the customers’ perspective, the user experience will improve dramatically, and from the company’s perspective, workforce productivity will also increase substantially.

This is region independent and in most cases, AI integration will be affordable for the enterprise in many use cases.

What is currently missing or would you like to see more of when it comes to AI and deep support for technological innovation in Slovenia and the region?

If a company is trying to train its own language model, cost is the biggest limitation. It can reach tens of millions or even more than one hundred million euros.

And that’s just for model training, not to mention that there is currently much more demand for hardware than supply.

These products often require significant upfront financing, which is not common in our region.

You recently raised a Series B round. What was the process like seeking out and obtaining funding and investor support for your startup?

For our fundraising process, it was crucial to find a partner capable of supporting our growth ambitions not only with capital, but also with support in opening markets, acquiring companies and expanding our business portfolio.

Therefore, we spent some time in the early stages of the discussion to understand what synergies we can expect when partnering with a potential new investor.

The process, on the other hand, like any other M&A transaction, required some resources and management time. In addition to the more common areas of due diligence (financial, legal, tax, technology, etc.), our ESG processes have also been reviewed and evaluated.

What’s next for GenePlanet?

Our next steps involve further global expansion, with a strategic focus on expanding our reach in Europe and Latin America.

Additionally, we are committed to developing new products, such as a robust big data infrastructure that will allow us to analyze large amounts of genetic data and extract meaningful insights.

And, of course, the development of an advanced LLM AI system. This platform will revolutionize the interpretation of the human genome, taking personalized medicine to new heights.

We believe this innovative approach will unlock unprecedented health benefits for individuals around the world.

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