tales of a startup banner (6)

Offering unique, informatics-powered services for antibody discovery, Digital Proteomics was founded in 2009 in the UC San Diego Computer Science department by founding members Professors Pavel Pevzner and Vineet Bafna, leading researchers in bioinformatics.

In celebration of UC San Diego’s HerStory Month, we had the pleasure of connecting with UC San Diego alumna and Chief Executive Officer Natalie Castellana, a visionary leading the translation of bioinformatics innovation to aid the pharmaceutical and biotech industries.

 

What has been your experience with UC San Diego and its diverse entrepreneurial culture? 

UC San Diego is a critical part of the San Diego innovation system. Almost all of our employees come from UC San Diego - there is such an amazing talent pool across a variety of disciplines. From the beginning, we benefited from the unique collaborations between UC San Diego and Genentech Inc., which were instrumental in developing our original technologies.

Campus also had NIH funding for the Center for Computational Mass  Spectrometry (CCMS)  -  the epicenter for developing new algorithms, analyzing new proteins, and fostering the innovation to commercialize our technology. We worked with OIC to license software and patents developed at UCSD and CCMS. It was a seamless process as a student.

 

What excites you about your work?

We are developing a platform that uses machine learning to develop better drugs...the potential impact on patients is extremely motivating and exciting. We are looking at the human immune response in a new and unprecedented way. We are discovering new science about how the body raises antibodies to diseases like Covid-19 and cancer, discovering innovation that has not been known before.

 

 

My undergraduate degree was in computer science and when choosing UC San Diego, I knew I wanted to switch into bioinformatics, to apply my knowledge about computer science to biological problems. How do we live healthier and fuller lives? That was the answer I wanted to solve. It's always a challenge and it's right in front of our faces.

 

Describe a typical day in Startupland. What does your day look like? 

The workday has definitely evolved since my days as the sole employee  - we now have six staff and we are hiring! There is always more work to be done than you can fit into a day. First and foremost is prioritizing and organizing. We have major pillars we are driving forwards - from IP and tech development to the finances and operations.

We are growing in a lot of ways, currently hiring for bioinformatics scientists. We just graduated from JLABS and are now getting a lab up and running at San Diego Science Center in Mission Bay. It’s exciting!

How do you define innovation in the 21st Century? 

I think a lot of innovation news is usually captured by innovation that captures a new market. However, human health is a market that has always existed, we are always looking for a cure.

 

 

While biology is not any different now than 100 years ago, we now have better tools to understand the science. That’s what drives innovation, the technology. At Digital Proteomics, we have people who are experts at tool building, coming up with the best ideas to improve human health.

  

What role have mentors played in your success/journey?

This is my first time as an entrepreneur. Mentors have helped me think and grow the business, and not always in obvious places. My dad has actually been my greatest mentor, working at a transportation engineering startup himself. He has been there, he understands the challenges of building a team, going to market, and all aspects of growing and protecting IP.

Our co-founders and advisors, Pavel Pevzner and Vineet Bafna, were great mentors in our early fundraising efforts with NIH grants! We received our first grant in 2012 thanks to their encouragement and help. 

From the San Diego startup ecosystem, we connected with Curt Becker, a local entrepreneur who has been in the life science business for decades.  He worked with us to turn our science geek-speak into a real message.

 

What are some of the biggest challenges you faced in the startup process? How were you able to overcome them? 

Coming out of school, you have a narrow expertise and focus...you are good at one thing. I only knew a narrow aspect of the technology, and didn't know much about other areas of the business. We had to build a team that excelled at machine learning, molecular bio, etc.

The key was building a team you trust, to have the expertise to build that technology. The ongoing challenge is always expertise. We rely on our mentors to help us interview people that help us fill holes in sales, marketing, business development.

 

What advice would you give to a UC San Diego student thinking about starting a company? 

Start networking in the entrepreneur environment sooner - on or off campus. Listen to people, hear their stories, work at a startup, and see the environment. The journey is never what you expect it to be.

Find other people at your stage. The San Diego Angel Conference has been an amazing journey. As a semi-finalist competing, I’ve gotten to know the other female led companies. We get together, we have virtual meetups, we act as a sounding board for each other. It’s amazing to find a peer group to support you through challenges.

 

 

The entrepreneur ecosystem in San Diego is very collegiate. We have all experienced overt negative treatment because we are women, but the tide is trending towards easier access. The angel investors in San Diego want to overcome this bias. They have been helpful in sharing tips to question and counteract any bias in the room.

Digital Proteomics is Hiring! 

 

Senior Bioinformatics Scientist ~ full-time ~ Remote/San Diego, CA

Bioinformatics Scientist ~ full-time ~ Remote/San Diego, CA

 

Digital Proteomics is a growing biotechnology startup developing a novel platform for mining the natural immune response for the next generation of antibody therapeutics. If you are interested in developing new tools to unlock the immune system, please apply by sending your CV or resume to hiring@digitalproteomics.com