Charlotte Guzzo is co-founder of the health tech start-up Sano Genetics, which helps patients with rare and chronic diseases – including Long COVID, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s – take part in personalised medicine research from their own homes.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
I started my career as a risk analyst at JP Morgan before moving into science, studying genomics, specialising in the embryonic origins of childhood cancer, at the University of Cambridge. That’s where I met my fellow postgraduate students Patrick Short and William Jones, who I went on to co-found Sano Genetics with.
Our company finds patients with chronic diseases, matches them to live studies in genetic disease research, and provides them with free and easy-to-use ‘at home’ DNA testing kits. Participants have total control over how their data is used and they can withdraw from studies at any time. We send participants regular updates on the research they’ve been involved in, keeping them engaged and informed, and also offer personalised content, such as genetic reports.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
The idea was borne out of the problems with precision medicine research we witnessed first hand during our postgraduate studies. For participants taking part in trials, the process is often difficult and time-consuming, and there’s usually little benefit to them besides altruism.
As such, 85% of research trials fail because they cannot retain enough participants. Even finding them in the first place is a challenge: the scientific community usually relies on time-starved doctors to signpost patients to relevant studies, which just doesn’t result in high enough levels of participation.
We urgently need more people contributing to medical research. Our platform helps match-make people keen to take part in trials and studies.
How did you achieve awareness?
Once we had our idea, we created our MVP for the Cambridge University Entrepreneurs competition – which we won. We went on to incorporate the business in 2017.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
We’ve raised funds from venture capital and we’ve also received a number of non-dilutive innovation grants.
In 2018, we raised £500k in pre-seed funding from Seedcamp, Cambridge Enterprise and a number of angel investors; this was followed by a £2.5M seed round led by Episode1.
We were also given £350k in funding from Innovate UK, which was to co-develop our platform with Genomics England for use in large-scale rare disease research, and a further £130k from Innovate UK to fund our at-home genetic testing and digital data collection study for people with Long Covid.
What are the key successes?
We’ve doubled our revenue every six months since inception and built an impressive partner network encompassing more than 1.1M participants with genetic data, including top genetic biobanks in the UK and Australia, as well as patient groups, providing secure access to the under-used data of millions of patients with a variety of conditions.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
Hiring has been a problem; we’re facing perhaps the toughest jobs markets in history. It helps that we’re all now working remotely, as we can pick from a far larger talent pool, but it’s still difficult.
What are your plans now/for the future?
At the moment, we’re working on expanding to 6+ new countries, and 50+ new diseases in 2022 and 2023. We’re also always refining and perfecting the online patient experience.
The long term vision is to completely transform precision medicine research.
Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?
Building a successful company takes years of hard work. It’s not enough to come up with a winning idea – that’s only the starting point. What comes next is a long, painstaking process, which involves continuously refining your idea, gaining a deeper understanding of the market, watching the competition, and looking for opportunities.
Key to this journey is staying curious and keeping an open mind. Our business has evolved over the years into something quite different to the one we first envisioned back in 2016, because we were flexible enough to take onboard new learnings and respond to feedback.
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
“An entrepreneur never asks for permission, they ask for forgiveness.”
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