SITTING AT THE INTERSECTION OF SOFTWARE AND LIFE SCIENCE
I fell in love with molecular modeling during my undergraduate degree. I had started college as a computer science major, but several summer internships fixing broken code and building boring websites showed me I needed to do something more meaningful with my skills. I discovered molecular modeling while searching for an Honors program project. A professor I interviewed showed me how they were using computers to simulate ions moving through calcium channels, and I was immediately hooked! I have come a long way since my involvement in that project – now, instead of simply modeling ion channels, I work on the design of brand-new molecules to treat disease.
most basic level; both disciplines are constantly informed by the challenges of the other in a way that lets us fully take advantage of their complementary strengths. There is a future in which computers can discover drugs, test them in a cloud of virtual assays, and deliver them to patients with the press of a button. It’s a long way away, but with some key computational and biological insights, we have made substantial progress toward that world. Monica Berrondo is co-founder and CEO of Macromoltek, a disruptive biotech company using computers to design new antibodies for rare and difficult diseases. Under her guidance, Macromoltek has grown from modeling antibodies to designing completely new biotherapeutic drugs. Her vision of the future of computational design – as well as the grit and technical skill to see that vision through – have transformed Dr. Berrondo into a leader in the field of computational biology.
It is fascinating to see how the field has changed and grown since my college years – from mostly small academic projects into a whole new class of biotech companies sitting at the intersection of software and life science. From my pharma industry work, I gained a lot of perspective about this biological software junction. Pure software companies don’t have the usability or internal know-how to really meet a need in the field. Computational folks need to be integrated as much as possible with the chemists and the biologists – the people who really understand the scientific context of the problems that need to be solved. CADD, molecular modeling, and protein design have all been shown to work vastly better when applied by teams of both scientists and developers. Integrating the two is absolutely crucial!
Dr. Berrondo holds a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and a PhD in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering from Johns Hopkins University. While at JHU, she was a core developer for the Rosetta Biomolecular Modeling project. After graduating, she co-founded Macromoltek, and built the company’s software from the ground up to tackle pressing problems in pharma and biotech. She is an expert in the fields of biology, immunology, and software engineering.
As an example: computer aided drug design has been used for decades to discover and screen small molecules that can be used as drugs. With the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and recent increases in computing power, we have seen a rush of new companies who can use technology to help pharma companies find new molecules (or re-purpose old ones) to treat a broad range of diseases. But pharma companies are wary of change, and have been hesitant to adopt this technology. While most have access to the software, they rarely have the internal support and departmental know-how to successfully use it. Often an R&D team of hundreds will be supported by a computational team of less than five. At Macromoltek, nearly every single one of our software engineers has a background in science. Our software and science teams are integrated at the
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