Health Tech: Mike Klein On How Genomenon’s Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our Overall Wellness

An Interview With Dave Philistin

Dave Philistin, CEO of Candor
Authority Magazine

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Technology advances often come with a double-edged sword: With an abundance of genomic information comes some ethical and moral issues we’ll need to wrestle with as a society. The decision, for instance, about what or how much to disclose after sequencing a person’s genome. We can diagnose a baby with a rare disease at birth and start treating them on day one. That same baby’s genome may also show a likelihood for early-onset Alzheimer’s. Should we share this with the parents? If the parent gets the information and there is no treatment available, does this create more harm than good?

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course, many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Klein.

Mike Klein has over 25 years of experience as a CEO developing, building, and growing four different high-tech companies. He is the CEO of Genomenon, an AI-driven genomics company that organizes the world’s genomic knowledge to connect patient DNA to scientific research in the diagnosis and development of treatments for patients with rare genetic diseases and cancer.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

I grew up in a blue-collar family in Buffalo NY. I’m the oldest of four kids and a first-generation college graduate. I started college at age 16 and earned a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology. After graduating I moved to Arizona and worked in corporate America and earned my master’s degree in electrical engineering at night at Arizona State University.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I had breakfast with a doctor at Rady’s Children’s hospital 4 years ago. He shared how he used our software to diagnose a 3-day old baby suffering from dozens of life-threatening seizures a day. Our technology connected the baby’s DNA variant with a single research paper that led to a treatment that saved that child’s life. I’ll never forget walking away from that breakfast understanding the type of impact our technology can have on saving lives.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

It takes an incredible amount of patience and love to put up with a serial entrepreneur and someone who is driven to change the world. My wife Gwen has been an incredible partner with me on the journey. We met more than 30 years ago, and she encouraged me to chase my dream and start my first company. 29 years later, I’m still an entrepreneur working on my fourth company, Genomenon, and Gwen has been by my side taking the risks and sharing the dream along the way.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

It seems like Theodore Roosevelt was speaking directly to entrepreneurs: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

You are a successful business leader. Which three-character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

For me, two-character traits go hand in hand: “humble confidence” and “always learning”. This means working with a strong team of executives and advisors with great experience in their respective areas and the opportunity to listen and learn from them. Before I took on my role at Genomenon, I had little experience in the healthcare industry. In fact, my last biology class was in 9th grade. Genomenon offered an opportunity to take on a unique challenge and learn from a group of really smart people along the way.

The third character trait I look for is grit, which is another Genomenon core value. There are thousands of people that will tell you why your dream will fail, or your company can’t succeed. Start-up teams need to see past that, with persistence and confidence that helps you overcome all the obstacles a new business presents and solve the tough problems when there is no easy answer.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on our wellness. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?

Genomenon is focused on the role of precision medicine and making genetic information actionable. We make it available to treat and diagnose rare diseases and cancer and to help researchers to develop therapies for rare diseases. We recently announced a partnership with Inozyme Pharma to speed up genetic diagnoses for rare disease patients. Our data will enable caregivers and medical teams to make informed decisions and increase patient treatment options.

How do you think your technology can address this?

Genomenon provides the tools and data needed to inform a medical diagnosis from patients’ genetic data. Behind any medical diagnosis is a litany of peer-reviewed medical research that provides the scientific evidence needed to make a diagnosis. Genomenon uses AI to index and organize the genomic research and put it at the fingertips of clinicians and researchers. Diagnosing a rare disease is like looking for a needle in the haystack. We’ve found every needle in every haystack and deliver the information in a way that makes it easy for doctors to diagnose these patients.

We are an AI-driven genomics company. Without AI, no human has the ability to read and organize the millions of medical publications to extract and organize the genetic information on the billions of nucleotides in the human DNA. In 4 years, our engines have read 100 times more research articles than a team of 100 scientists have read and catalogued in the last 20 years.

AI gives us the ability to read millions of articles automatically and to organize the information so it can be easily searched to quickly connect a patient’s variant to the research needed to make a patient diagnosis.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

Thirty years ago, my mother died of breast cancer. Her treatment and experience at that time was very different than it would have been today. We now know that cancer is a disease of the DNA, and that every individual’s cancer is different based on the variants found in the tumor. With precision medicine, we’ve also learned that a patient responds better with the medicine tuned to the DNA profile of their tumor. Understanding the genetic profile of cancer tumors and rare diseases is critical when you’re matching the therapy to the patient’s profile to get the very best chance for recovery and survival.

For me, the opportunity to play a role to get life-saving treatments to cancer patients and babies born with rare diseases is a powerful mission.

I’ve successfully developed and run a number of software and IT companies ranging from factory automation software to cloud computing. When I was a startup mentor at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Mark Kiel (Genomenon’s co-founder and chief scientific officer) approached me about joining the team as CEO. I was immediately taken with the company’s focus on using AI to get the right genomic data into the right hands quickly. Having a positive impact on cancer patients and babies born with rare diseases was a mission that went far beyond any of my previous work.

It’s a mission that still gets me excited every day.

How do you think this might change the world?

Precision medicine is at the forefront of how we will treat diseases in the future: 80% of rare diseases have a genetic cause and cancer is a disease of the DNA. We make precision medicine diagnostics and treatments a reality by putting the right information in the right hands that are treating patients and developing drugs for those patients.

In the not-too-distant future, the DNA of every newborn baby will be tested with a simple heel prick to uncover rare diseases that might be treated before they become symptomatic. For adults, liquid biopsies will be part of our annual physicals, with a simple blood test that can detect of early-stage cancer by looking at the DNA in our bloodstream. As you might imagine, this can be life-changing, allowing us to quickly treat cancers before they’ve metastasized across the body.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Technology advances often come with a double-edged sword: With an abundance of genomic information comes some ethical and moral issues we’ll need to wrestle with as a society. The decision, for instance, about what or how much to disclose after sequencing a person’s genome. We can diagnose a baby with a rare disease at birth and start treating them on day one. That same baby’s genome may also show a likelihood for early-onset Alzheimer’s. Should we share this with the parents? If the parent gets the information and there is no treatment available, does this create more harm than good?

With genomics, we have the ability to see into the future. As a society we will need to make decisions about how much of the future to share and how to equip patients and parents to deal with the impact of knowing this type of information.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

Honestly, for me, there’s only one. Start with your purpose first. At Genomenon, purpose and mission are front and center in the work we do. People on our team have bought into our mission. They want to have an impact on the world for patients: their parents, children, friends, and even people in other countries they’ll never know. Our purpose is far bigger than the financial milestones we’ve achieved.

An example of our impact: a teenager who’d been on seven-year diagnostic odyssey, meaning that he had an undiagnosed disease, even after hundreds of tests and consulting dozens of doctors. This patient finally ended up at the Rare Genomics Institute, a nonprofit organization which we sponsor with free access to our technology. RGI was able to connect one of the patient’s genomic variants with a single piece of research that provided that child with a diagnosis and treatment plan. Imagine the relief of that kid’s parents, being able to put a name to the disease that was making their child sick after seven years of testing.

These types of stories deepen our commitment to Genomenon’s mission, and we make a point of talking about them regularly and celebrating wins like finally closing the book on this young man’s odyssey.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Think about what gets you excited: What gets you out of bed each morning? Think of having a positive impact in terms of society and find that job that aligns with who you are. Do something that’s exciting and important to you.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

Craig Venter. He led the industry in sequencing the first human genome and did it in a fraction of the time at a fraction of the cost of a government-led program and he did it through innovation and determination.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Feel free to follow me on LinkedIn or my Twitter feed, and for more information about what Genomenon is up to, you can visit our web page or our corporate LinkedIn or Twitter sites.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.

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Dave Philistin, CEO of Candor
Authority Magazine

Dave Philistin Played Professional Football in the NFL for 3 years. Dave is currently the CEO of the cloud solutions provider Candor