We caught up with Dr Tom Stubbs, Co-Founder of Chronomics, an organisation revolutionising health and wellness using epigenetic DNA insights to help improve long term health.
Can you tell me about yourself and your organisation?
I did my undergraduate at the University of Oxford in molecular and cellular biochemistry, left there with a first and went on to do a masters in semi-conductor physics applications of biology, before moving on to a PhD and postdoc in epigenetics; specifically, how epigenetics relates to ageing.
Whilst I was there, I was fortunate enough to work with one of the founders in the field of epigenetics research, Professor Wolf Reik, and the technical co-founder of a company called Solexa that has gone on to power Illumina (the largest sequencing provider on the planet), Professor Shankar Balasubramanian.
During that time, I was working on a bunch of wet lab and computational methods for the study of epigenetics, specifically relating to ageing. Out of that research, I realised that using epigenetics, you could get an understanding at a molecular level of somebody’s biological age; so how fast biologically they are ageing – actually you can influence this with wellness and therapeutic interventions.
Out of this research, it was the realisation of the power of epigenetic data to provide people with personalised biomarkers or measures at a molecular level, to support them with prevention against the leading causes of age related and chronic conditions that pretty much all of us today will suffer with at some point in our lives.
That was really the genesis for Chronomics; we founded the company, together myself with other incredible scientists from the University of Cambridge, to take epigenetics as a science out of the lab and bring it to people where it can support them with prevention from these conditions by providing really early warning signs way before the actual onset of any disease symptoms.
Can you take me through a typical day for you?
At Chronomics, our mission as a company is to improve lives by making health actionable. The problem we are addressing as a company is that humanity doesn’t have the tools to deliver prevention.
Whilst scientists and doctors have come up with a thousand different ways to measure, stratify and classify disease states, we still don’t have objective molecular measures that capture the broader definition of health. For over 70 years now, the WHO has redefined health, not just as the absence of disease but actually as the complete physical, mental and social wellbeing of a person and we still don’t have objective measures that capture this broader definition of a person.
And with the rise in ageing population and the growth of chronic conditions, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, there’s a growing need for healthcare to shift towards prevention and to enable that shift we need objective molecular measures of health.
Chronomics to devise these measures, we’ve turned to nature, we’ve turned to epigenetics. Epigenetics is really the science of how your DNA is fundamentally controlled, and also really importantly how it is affected by environment and lifestyle; many of the largest risk factors for age and chronic conditions.
Unlike your genetic information that is fixed from birth and doesn’t change, epigenetics is dynamic and it is the reason why you can have people that share the exact same genetic material – identical twins, yet they can have very different health outcomes.
Importantly, from a prevention perspective, epigenetics is actionable, meaning that people can find out about this information, take action and remeasure to see how that has improved their health and wellbeing.
At Chronomics, we combine the latest in this epigenetics sequencing technology together with machine learning, to enable each of us from a simple saliva test to understand how many of the risk factors from age and chronic conditions are affecting our health at the level of our DNA today. Through our digital product, to enable people to make and track positive changes to their health over time.
Really, when it comes to a typical day at Chronomics, it is about processing samples for thousands of individuals globally through providers to enable them to get access to this rich information to support people in preventing future health conditions or disease onset.
This involves data processing on the wet lab side using the forefront of cutting-edge technology to do that. When we get that raw data, processing that through our pipelines and conducting really in-depth analysis on those samples to derive these objective measures that we feed back to people and their doctors in easy to understand parcels of information.
What do you do to continue learning in the field of development and technology?
In epigenetics and in the prevention space, we are as a company constantly learning, we are at the cutting edge of this space and we are bringing out products and solutions; we are literally at the cutting edge of this science.
When we look at adjacent spaces and how to look at new technologies as they emerge, we stay very much up to date with the latest developments in the academic community and on the customer side – the doctor’s side, the practitioner’s side, what they are most interested in.
On the academic side, the top tier publications to see what’s coming through and speaking with those academic as well as many of the academics we work with on a regular basis to see what new things we can incorporate and bring out.
On the tech side, we have a fantastic tech team that have worked for some of the leading tech giants globally and we stay up to date with all the latest developments in that space through a range of publications and RSS feeds and also just from the knowledge contained within the networks of the people we work with as well.
What are you working on at the moment and what’s next?
We are working on something at the moment which will be a world’s first in the mental health space; this is something we’ve been working on for a year tuning perfecting and now taking it through protection process before releasing it in the next couple of weeks.
It is bringing that molecular level detail to the mental health realm, where there is a real lack in objective molecular level measures to support both clinicians but also individuals with understanding their risk with future disease outcomes so we are super excited about that and that’s one of the key things that we are bringing out within our pipeline of biomarkers that we are constantly delivering new insights from.
What do you think makes a good leader in a health tech company?
To an extent, it depends what sort of health tech company you are.
There are a range of companies in the health tech space that are tackling problems related to doctor-patient interaction, note taking related stuff, biomarker companies like us, there are a whole range of companies that require different sorts of leaders.
In a broader sense, you need people that are deep specialists in the problem that you’re solving or the tech that you are bringing.
You also need people that are dynamic and are able to pull together interdisciplinary teams because that is absolutely required in the health tech space, you need that deep expertise in the various disciplines that you are bringing together, you need developers and people who understand the users – designers, and you need to understand the commercial landscape.
You really need a dynamic leader.
What advice would you give to a new health tech start-up?
To believe and stay true to the vision you set out with – that doesn’t mean that the vision won’t get battered and modified but stay true to that north star that you set out with.
Ultimately, whether it is investors or doctors or customers or employees, whatever it is, you’re the person that holds that vision of where the future will go to in the health space and you need to stay true to that because everything you are building needs to align to that.
So, stay true to your belief and enjoy the journey because it will come with challenges; it’s a rollercoaster with moments of elation and also tough times – be prepared for that and realise that’s part of the journey of any successful company.
Anything else you wish to add?
During the coronavirus outbreak, we’ve brought out a personalised risk calculator for severity and this is a free solution that we’ve launched and will continue to add to, to provide people with more in-depth and better understanding of this risk measure.
It is something that can be accessed online at covid.chronomics.com; we are constantly building on that and are in the process of developing a coronavirus test as well.