This is the fifth installment of our “Why We Invested” series, where we’ll go into every investment we make from Integra Partners Fund II and talk about the problems that our portfolio companies are addressing, and what they’re doing about it. (You can find the rest of the series here.)
An Average Person
On average, the modern world was not designed for you. It was designed for the average person. Standardized tests, building codes, insurance rates, clothing sizes, The Dow Jones — all these measurements are based around the concept of an “average.” But how did the concept of the “average person” come about?
Roman Mars’ excellent and entertaining podcast, 99% Invisible, talks about the invention of the concept in its introduction to Episode 226 — we’ll leave you to listen on your own time. (That’s where we stole our intro from, to give credit where it’s due.) Some relevant tidbits from the podcast, however, is that the advent of factory-based manufacturing has supercharged the concept of the “average person” to the point where it has become the silent assumption underlying all sorts of goods and services — even though there is no such thing as an average person.
Designing things for an average person can have dire consequences. The podcast episode talks about a young Harvard graduate named Gilbert Daniels who in the 1950s measured thousands of airmen against a set of 10 critical physical dimensions that formed the basis of air plane cockpit design in the US Air Force. Not a single man he measured was average across all 10 dimensions — and that was the reason behind the Air Force’s inexplicable multi-decade high death rate. Designing the Air Force’s cockpits for the average person made their planes literal death traps.
An Average Patient
The standardization problem in medicine still persists to a large extent. Just take a look at the label instructions on over-the-counter drugs — the familiar “take 2 pills every 8 hours”. But are you an 18 year old Chinese woman? Or a 60 year old Indian man? Regardless, the instructions are the same. That’s a little oversimplified, of course — in prescription medication, doctors sometimes calibrate dosage instructions based on medical history, symptom persistence and severity — but most of the time, no one is taking your genetic makeup, environment, or lifestyle into consideration. Many drugs that are on the market today are “one size fits all,” but don’t in fact work the same way for everyone. It can be difficult to predict who will benefit from a medication, not respond at all, or experience adverse drug reactions.
Pharmacogenomics and Personalized Medicine
That’s a problem that NalaGenetics aims to solve. The company’s two founders, Levi and Astrid, met at ASTAR’s Genomic Institute of Singapore, where they invented a way to predict life-threatening adverse reactions to an anti-leprosy drug used in Indonesia before founding NalaGenetics. NalaGenetics is a pharmacogenomics startup (pharmacogenomics analyzes how the genetic makeup of individuals affects their response to various drugs and therapies). NalaGenetic’s core product is a Clinical Decision Support system that enables doctors to access and interpret their patients’ genetic data, aided by the Company’s test kits. In the initial instance, the system helps doctors to determine if their patients are likely to react well to the drugs that they prescribe, so drug recommendations become more personalized for patients, rather than a statistical guessing game (where doctors might think: 70% of patients tend to respond well to this drug, so let’s try that first, and if that doesn’t work then let’s try this other drug next, and then this other one and this other… etc.).
Read the full article here
Written by Jennifer Ho, Partner at Integra Partners. Illustrated by Theodore Ng.