Humans 2.0: Upgrading Our Biology to Fight Disease

One founder’s mission to upgrade human biology and equip us with a new weapon against disease.

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Growing up in the suburbs of Mississauga, Canada, life started out ordinarily enough for Khatija Ali — CEO and founder of Biosapien. Like most kids too, her imagination often ran wild; for her though, these thoughts almost always turned toward the future, on what farfetched technologies humans might create and how the humdrum of everyday life would be transformed.

No surprise then, that her first love was philosophy and remains so to this day, as evidenced by the well-thumbed Nietzsche classic “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” that lay between us as we talked over coffee.

Which way up?

At 18 and a philosophy major, Khatija had absolutely no interest in medicine or science and was content with lofty abstract ruminations. Yet life, as it often does, provided her with an unceremonious crash-landing back to reality when her dad was diagnosed with colon cancer.

After two rounds of chemotherapy and two years later he sadly passed away when she was 21. Taken aback by the suddenness of her dad’s deteriorating condition and the lack of treatment options available, she became hellbent on pursuing medicine to change the fate of future cancer patients.

At McMaster University, her curiosity led her to work with 3D-printed biodegradable blood vessels encapsulated with iPSCs (stem cells generated directly from adult tissue).

As fate would have it, she was also conducting a meta-analysis of antibiotic eluting beads when it suddenly occurred to her that by combining elements of the two technologies she could create an entirely new 3D-printed drug delivery mechanism.

After exploring the problems surrounding the current state of 3D printed designs, she found a novel biopolymer that was degradable, non-cytotoxic, long-lasting and had the unique ability to secrete a drug payload at a constant rate, thus ensuring the most efficacious and efficient therapy possible.

She immediately placed a patent on her discovery and with a $10K cheque from her ever-supportive OB-GYN attending she decided to take the plunge into founding her own biotech startup — Biosapien.

Taking the plunge

Now at RebelBio, she is recruiting a rockstar team, readying a seed round of fundraising, and preparing preclinical testing for her startups’ first design which intends to precisely deliver FDA approved chemotherapies directly to cancerous cells using only a fraction of the typically required dosage, significantly reducing costs and, crucially, mitigating against the debilitating side effects of the treatment.

On the potential of the technology, Khatija gestures skyward — “The possibilities are virtually unlimited. Anything that needs precise delivery into the body can be incorporated into Biosapien’s design. Therapeutics, nutrients, surgical nanorobots, you name it!”

Thinking back, she chuckles at how, when she was a child, she wanted to grow up to be an astronaut, charter boundless space and even dive into one of the cosmos’ greatest mystery— the black-hole. Where or when she would have liked to end up she paid little thought to.

It was the going into the unknown that so thrilled her imagination, and the chance that at the end of that journey we might find ourselves, and our species, further advanced along than we dared dream of at the start.