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01. Tom Willis (LGB '86)

Posted By Alumni Office, jeudi, 22 janvier 2015

Tom WillisSequenta

> Founded 2008; merged with Adaptive Biotehnologies in 2015

(& ParAllele BioScience)

> Founded 2000; sold to Affymetrix in 2005

1. What is your company’s product/service?
Sequenta is a biotechnology company dedicated to improving patient care in diseases mediated by immune cells through the discovery and development of novel clinical diagnostics. Its LymphoSIGHT platform is a simple and scalable laboratory process that allows specific types of blood cell to be characterised and enumerated. Individual cells can be detected at levels as low as one cell per million white blood cells. The platform has been commercialised for clinical use as the ClonoSIGHT™ process, relating to disease detection in lymphoid cancers. The company is also investigating the use of the LymphoSIGHT platform in a diverse set of immune-mediated diseases and as a method for evaluating the efficacy of therapies based on immune system modulation.

2. Where was it founded and where do you now have offices?
San Francisco… Its offices are in South San Francisco near the SF airport.

3. Number of employees at peak (and now)?
65…now as part of Adaptive we are 150.

4. What was the hardest thing about building the company?
The hardest and most important part of building any startup company is recruiting the right people. At Sequenta we are blessed to have a set of employees that have worked together at two companies in the past decade. Fundraising was also challenging given that the company was founded during the financial crisis of 2008.

5. Where do you see your company in three years?
Now as part of a larger group dedicated to changing the way the immune system is monitored we see a bright future ahead for the company.  It is likely that it will become a publicly traded company with multiple products that serve to direct emerging care paradigms in cancer and autoimmune disease.

6. Do any other Ecolint alumni work with you?
Yes! Martin Moorhead (LGB '84) has led our bioinformatics efforts at both of my companies. In addition, Index Ventures, which was founded by Neil Rimer (LGB '82) and his brothers (including of course the inimitable David Rimer (LGB '86)) were the first investors in ParAllele. They have also invested in Sequenta. Richard Rimer (LGB '83) served on the board of ParAllele.

7. In what ways (if any!) did your Ecolint education help you in founding a company?
Needless to say that Ecolint launched me on the academic course that led to a Ph.D. from Stanford in Physics. That put me in the middle of an incredibly vibrant entrepreneurial community that exists in the Bay Area and inspired me to head down this path.

In addition, the global perspectives I gained from Ecolint were instrumental in putting together my companies. ParAllele was founded by a scientific team that included a Dutchman, a Russian, an Indian, an Iranian and a Syrian.  Furthermore, it was started as a commercial partnership that we struck with a team in Uppsala, Sweden. Understanding how to lead this team was grew largely out of the fact that it seemed totally normal to me.

Lastly, having the good fortune to be friends with partners at one of the premier global Venture Capital firms was incredibly important, as were friendships with people like Martin who moved to SF from Cambrdge to help get ParAllele off the ground. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Ecolint, both as a place that began my education and as a community that helped me realize my entrepreneurial vision.


More about the Ecolint Entrepreneurs project.

Tags:  biotechnology  healthcare  san francisco  USA 

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