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Roommates from MIT Working Together to Make Good on the Promise of Engineering Smarter Medicines through Senti Bio’s Gene Circuit Technology Platform

From a College Pool Table to Furthering the Field of Synthetic Biology, How Connection Remains the Backbone of What We Do at Senti Bio 

Within the first week of arriving at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for my undergrad, I met Tim by a pool table in a historic Boston mansion. We quickly connected over our shared passion of leveraging engineering to improve biology (which was unusual in the midst of the dot-com boom). We definitely didn’t know then where we would be now but that connection persisted, driving us both in our careers. This connection as friends, a mutual respect for what we wanted to accomplish, and the connection we could see between cell biology and engineering —this was the seed that became Senti Bio.

After graduation, I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and Tim stayed in Boston. Over the course of almost 15 years we stayed in touch, celebrating each other’s professional accomplishments, and sharing in our personal growth including getting married to the loves of our lives and growing our families. In 2015, I was near Boston for a business trip and met up with Tim in-person for the first time in years. We both could feel the excitement in the air as the first generation of cell therapies were just coming to the market, and the potential of synthetic biology as a discipline to take the field to the next level. Given our strong personal connection, the conversation naturally evolved into the idea of starting a new company. In that moment, the vision of developing the next-generation of medicines with one of my most brilliant friends was overwhelmingly compelling. We were ready to take that leap of faith and do it.

In that moment, the vision of developing the next-generation of medicines with one of my most brilliant friends was overwhelmingly compelling.

As with all great journeys, the road to get from that dinner to where Senti is today has not been a straight path. We decided on the name “Senti” to evoke both “smart” and “sensing” (and the website was available). Tim and I hit the road and approached investors with our core belief that by taking an engineering approach to biology, we could design therapeutics much the way an engineer would design computer software. We knew we had something powerful with gene circuit technologies but it was difficult to articulate that vision through concrete product profiles. So like all good entrepreneurs, we experimented and iterated. We talked to professors and clinicians and thought leaders in the cell and gene therapy space; we came up with ideas and pitched them, got told those ideas wouldn’t work and then went back to the drawing board. With each iteration, this connection we could see between cell biology and engineering remained strong, and we were increasingly convinced that we were onto something that fundamentally made sense and could be transformative. 

Biology is complex, and the big challenges in medicine do not have simple solutions. But as we were trained at MIT, when you are looking at a difficult problem and don’t know the solution yet, you have to keep trying to design solutions, to build them, and test them to get ever closer to something that works. That’s the system and development philosophy we have built and scaled at Senti Bio.

Since the very start, Senti Bio’s mission has been to leverage next-generation synthetic biology with gene circuits to program sophisticated functions into the emerging modalities of living cells and gene therapies. We want to answer the question of “How do we push the frontiers of gene circuit technology to solve bigger and thornier problems?” and then “How do we turn these into real products that reach the clinic where they can make an impact on patients’ lives?”. These are hard problems and putting them together and solving them is core to the mission here at Senti Bio.

The vision Tim and I had many years ago was to see medicines get to a point where they can sense their environment, compute a decision, and deliver a therapeutic response.

Our underlying belief is that better technologies will lead to better medicines. Similar to how my kids cannot fathom a world where phones are not “smart,” I expect they will see a world where all medicines are “smart.”  The vision Tim and I had many years ago was to see medicines get to a point where they can sense their environment, compute a decision, and deliver a therapeutic response. Here at Senti Bio, the technologies are finally available for us to make this a reality.

Back when Tim and I first met over 20 years ago, we didn’t know it would be the beginning of a connection that would bring Senti Bio into existence. This pioneering spirit and collaborative mentality continues to drive us forward in everything we do. Those two kids from MIT are still doing the same thing to some extent, trying to solve problems that will shape our future, and hopefully greatly improve the outcomes for future patients.

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