Notes on Engineering Health, October 2021

Nucleate: Empowering Biotech Founders

We sat down with Michael Retchin, a graduate student in New York and the co-founder of the Nucleate program. Digitalis is an early partner of Nucleate, dedicating time and resources to the program and its students.

Digitalis: Michael, tell us a bit about you and your research and how you became involved with Nucleate.

Michael Retchin: I’m so delighted to be sharing our story with your readers! I am a second-year PhD student in John Chodera’s Lab at MSKCC; for my work in the lab, I am trying to automate and improve small molecule therapeutic development with machine learning. I had always been a builder and organizer throughout undergrad, so when I got to graduate school, it felt inevitable that one day I would attempt to build a biotech startup accelerator. Not long after this thought occurred to me, I received an email from one Soufiane Aboulhouda, who had been organizing what was then called Activate Bio. We quickly put our heads together and realized the potential to scale the program and network to New York — and beyond.

DV: What is Nucleate and why did you feel it was needed where you were?

MR: Nucleate is a student-led, entirely nonprofit educational organization that helps academic trainees start companies without ever needing to give up equity or to pay any fee. It breaks down barriers across the biotech ecosystem, across campuses, geographies, and disciplines. Typically, a scientist with a great idea or a business-minded student (could be MBA, MA/MS, PhD, or postdocs) meet each other through Nucleate and then gain a playbook, resources, network, legal advice, and non-dilutive funded fellowships. Then, they’re off to the races, as a new startup is born.

New York is particularly siloed, because each university administrator mostly has a mandate to open opportunities within their own campus, rather than between them. We believe that Nucleate is on the cusp of unlocking the next great biotech hub, New York.

DV: You had a regional ambition for the program when you started thinking about it, why the national expansion?

We’re also excited to see the results of pooling mentors, resources, and know-how across our nationwide network. Already, the capabilities and benefits of Nucleate’s national scale are astonishing, to an extent that is hard to express. Ultimately, we are running a grand experiment, and our hope is that the new ties we are bridging across the ecosystem will uncover a new, viable path for students to make practical venture progress on their most promising ideas, without compromising their academic plans.

DV: How can people get involved with the program? If you are a student? An advisor? A VC? A large Biotech?

MR: If you’re a student, please apply — or nominate a friend! If you would like to advise or otherwise help out with Nucleate, please fill out this form. If you’re a larger biotech company, you should email so that we quickly get back to you with a proposal for partnership. Thank you very much for your interest!

First Five

First Five is our list of essential media for the month which spans a range of content including scientific papers, books, podcasts, and videos. For our full list of interesting media in health, science, and technology, updated regularly, follow us on Twitter or Instagram.

1/ Are We Too Clean?
A prevalent theory is that modern society is too clean, leading to defective immune systems in children contributing to the rise of allergic diseases. A recent paper from researchers at University College London entitled “Microbial exposures that establish immunoregulation are compatible with targeted hygiene” suggests, however, that sticking to our hygiene habits is a good idea.

2/ Darkness Visible
Global light pollution has increased by at least 49% over the past 25 years!

3/ Sweating Fat
Treating obese mice with the cytokine known as TSLP led to significant abdominal fat and weight loss compared to controls, according to new research published in Science from researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Unexpectedly, the fat loss was not associated with decreased food intake or faster metabolism. Instead, the researchers demonstrated that fat loss can be achieved by secreting calories from the skin in the form of energy-rich sebum.

4/ Eat Your Amino Acids
Protein intake has been shown to be important for maintaining brain function in older individuals. Researchers now have evidence that the intake of a specific set of amino acids can inhibit the death of brain cells, protect the connections between them, and reduce inflammation, preserving brain function. The research using a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease suggests that a combination of seven selected essential amino acids can hinder the development of dementia.

5/ State of AI 2021
AI investors Nathan Benaich and Ian Hogarth have released their annual report on the state of AI. Amongst the things they highlight is “a watershed moment in the field of biology, where AI-first approaches continue to show their potential to entirely transform drug discovery and healthcare.”

Digitalis Ventures


Participated in Series A funding led by Novo Holdings and Breakthrough Energy Ventures, with additional participation from Blue Horizon, Spero Ventures, Green Generation Fund, Alexandria, and Gaingels.

BIOMILQ is developing a novel infant feeding option, derived from human mammary cells, to better meet infants’ nutritional needs and with a lower carbon footprint than traditional bovine-based infant formula. Earlier this year, BIOMILQ announced it had successfully produced a milk product with many of the same macronutrients that are known to be abundantly present in breastmilk.

Kingdom Supercultures
Participated in Series A funding led by Shine Capital, with additional participation from Sequoia Capital, YC, Lux Capital, Brand Foundry Ventures, and the founders of Daring Foods, Good Culture, Hungryroot, RXBAR, and Waterloo.

Kingdom Supercultures provides natural microbial cultures to transform the consumer packaged goods industry. Kingdom designs and supplies a new class of natural ingredients (“Supercultures”) that make it easy for food, beverage, and personal care manufacturers to create healthy and sustainable products. These Supercultures are composed entirely of microbial strains found naturally in food, which Kingdom rearranges into new combinations with new functionalities.


Aunt Bertha
MedStar Health Leads $5 Million CDC-Funded Project Aimed at Improving Cancer Survivorship and Reducing Patient Inequities

Cayaba Care
Health equity 101: What causes healthcare disparities, and where does tech fit? >

Code Ocean
Code Ocean Selected by Lantern Pharma to Power A.I. and Computational Biology Research & Data-Driven Oncology Drug Development Collaborations
PRNewswire >

Elemental Machines
Universal LabOps Platform Draws Actionable Utilization Data From Any Powered Object
ABC12 News >

McCarthy Building Co. to pilot wearable heat monitoring tech for worker safety
Solar Builder >

Plug and Play selects KC startup for Topeka accelerator
Startland News >

Dogs will get cutting-edge immunotherapy too, now:
PetMedix raises £27m to commercialise new pet treatments after a promising first trial
Sifted >

Rejuvenate Bio
Rejuvenate Bio is Reversing Age-Related Diseases to Increase Healthspan
Biospace >

Scout Bio
Scout Bio Closes $33 Million Series B2 Financing to Advance its Portfolio of Single Injection Gene Therapy Technology for the Treatment of Chronic Diseases in Pets
GlobeNewswire > Endpoints News >

Scout Bio Initiates Multi-Center Clinical Study of Gene Therapy for Chronic Arthritis Pain In Cats
GlobeNewswire >

Second Genome
Second Genome Presents Preclinical Data at the AACR-NCI-EORTC International Conference on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics Demonstrating that a Novel Peptide, SG-3–0020, Upregulates Co-stimulatory and Checkpoint Pathways
Yahoo Finance >

Portfolio Job Opportunities
Digitalis Portfolio Companies Are Hiring
See Open Positions >

Digitalis Commons

Public-Interest Technologies for Better Health

Digitalis Commons is a non-profit that partners with groups and individuals striving to address complex health problems by building public-interest technology solutions that are frontier-advancing, open-access, and scalable.

While the news is awash in stories about artificial intelligence making inroads in any number of fields, this recent Nature Perspective piece entitled “Measuring algorithmically infused societies” calls out the need to reassess how the social sciences investigate human societies in light of “the emergence of ‘algorithmically infused societies’ — societies whose very fabric is co-shaped by algorithmic and human behaviour.” The authors note three key challenges facing our understanding of this new hybrid: the insufficient quality of measurements, the complex consequences of (mis)measurements, and the limits of existing social theories. These are important considerations in the development of any public-interest technology.

The General Index, a giant, free index to the world’s research papers, has recently been release and is a fascinating example of a public-interest technology at massive scale. Nature has a good write up about the project here.



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Digitalis invests in solutions to complex problems in health.