Software Engineers Meet Bio

Someone set out to found the company I founded in 2018, so this is the advice I gave them.

Xander Dunn, 5 August 2023

I Would've Appreciated This

A software engineer and tech founder reached out to me with plans to found a company that uses machine learning to develop gene therapies for longevity. I was in a very similar situation in 2018, so I gave him the advice I wish someone had taken the time to give me in 2018. I can't say for sure that it would've put me on a more productive path at the time, but I can say for sure that I would've appreciated it in retrospect.


I was Co-Founder & CEO of a biotech company in 2018 focused on using deep learning to improve the design of gene therapies, with a focus on longevity. I want to live forever just as much as anyone, and I have the pills, exercise, 0 alcohol, minimized microplastics, and calorie restriction to prove it. But I'm skeptical of the application of software, or deep learning in particular, in biotech.

Biology has great challenges that software does not have:

<redacted VC 1> encouraged you to go for it now, but how much money did he give you to pursue it? Words from VCs are empty unless backed by money. In this case, it needs to be a lot of money. <redacted VC 1> invested >$150M in <redacted biotech company doing longevity>, so he's not serious unless he's investing those amounts. The "I already have a longevity investment and they might be unhappy if I invest in your longevity company" is nonsense. He already has multiple longevity investments.
<redacted VC 2> is being polite, but <redacted VC firm> invested in <one of the most successful biotech investments of all time>. Their core focus area is whatever makes money.

Perhaps it would be a better use of time to work at Retro Biosciences or NewLimit for a few years to better understand biotech and see first hand where there might be opportunities for problem solving and company building. It may also be worth meeting Raphael Townshend, who was on the team at DeepMind that developed AlphaFold and left to start his own company in this space a few years ago. I can introduce you. Or, have you reached out to David Sinclair and asked how you can use your software skills to empower his epigenetic research? Sinclair starts a new company almost yearly, I'm sure there is some commercial endeavor to bring his epigenetic research to market.

My current hope is that longevity will be solved indirectly within our lifetimes. For example, solve AGI / ASI, which solves longevity. Some people believe they will be able to upload their brains to silicon before we have the ability to seriously increase human biological longevity (Neuralink + e11 Bio + ASI). I think finding a really clever way to solve longevity indirectly is our best bet as software / math / physics people. But, if this is something you have high conviction in, don’t let me stop you. I hope you succeed where I did not. I am very optimistic about the future of both biology and software. All of these problems are solvable, but the path is not yet clear to me.