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I'm Hirofumi Tsuruta. I'm in charge of research and development related to machine learning. COGNANO is currently engaged in research on antibody drug discovery using IT technology and recently published research results on breast cancer as papers. In order to spread these research results to the world and connect them to drug discovery, we are conducting business and research activities not only in Japan but all over the world. As part of that, from February 25th to March 4th, 2023, CEO Akihiro Imura, CFO Yasuko Imura, and Hirofumi Tsuruta went to Boston. I had many meaningful discussions with researchers from Google and Massachusetts General Hospital, and I strongly felt the joy of research through this business trip. The meetings were extremely tense, but it was also a week in which I thoroughly enjoyed a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that I rarely get daily. This time we will deliver the business trip report!

Massachusetts General Hospital

We met Professor Kronenberg at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), an affiliated hospital of Harvard Medical School, and had a discussion. We also met him in November 2022, and at that time, we talked about the research results related to breast cancer. On this visit, we introduced our research on "applying machine learning to the vast amount of amino acid sequence data of antibodies produced by alpacas to predict antigen-antibody interactions and epitopes (antigen sites that antibodies specifically bind to)." If you are interested, please refer to the following article for a more detailed explanation of this research.

Machine Learning Initiatives with Alpaca Antibody and Future - COGNANO Blog
I am Hirofumi Tsuruta, in charge of research and development on machine learning at COGNANO. Recently, COGNANO published a paper and press release on alpaca antibodies effective against the novel coronavirus. Since it was widely covered on TV and in newspapers, some of you may have seen the term "alpaca antibody. The key to this achievement is the vast amount of antibody gene data produced by vacc...
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Although Professor Kronenberg said that he did not know much about machine learning, he asked many essential questions, and we were amazed at the speed of his understanding. In particular, he was very interested in our efforts to predict epitopes using machine learning. However, there were some questions about this work that I could have explained better, so I want to refine the content and explanations until the next time we meet. It was a great experience to have a great professor listen to and discuss our research. After the meeting, we immediately went into a café and had a review meeting. This is the most enjoyable time after finishing one's work.

Google

During this business trip, we also visited Google's Cambridge Office and had discussions with Google researchers for two days.

We were invited to lunch on the first day. On the dining floor in the office, we chose what we liked from many menus and enjoyed lunchtime while chatting. Afterward, we each got a drink in the cafe space, moved to the meeting room, and a lively discussion began.

We shared our research results of building a deep learning model that predicts antigen-antibody interactions using a massive amount of antibody data derived from alpacas that we originally produced. Because our data are unique in the world, it is not easy to understand how to interpret, process, and model their bio-information. However, I was delighted they were eager to understand more deeply and asked many questions. Thanks to their intellectual curiosity, we managed to explain in English using a whiteboard so that they could gain a deeper understanding of our research content and the characteristics and value of our data. We also had a fascinating and concrete discussion about future developments, so please look forward to further updates!

Google Building at night

Cambridge Innovation Center

We visited the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) Cambridge office, an incubator that supports startup companies and where we have been mentored since November 2022. The CIC staff introduced us to a mentor who is familiar with the drug discovery industry and gave a presentation on COGNANO's company and technology.

First, we introduced ourselves, including our backgrounds, and then gave a presentation on our company overview and research results related to breast cancer. The mentor had a wealth of knowledge about biotechnology and asked us questions about business and technology. After a lively discussion, he said, "I already have several candidates in mind who could be COGNANO's partners. Let's keep in touch and work together." They showed their support for our future business start-up in Boston.

After the hour and a half of mentoring, we attended a Venture Cafe hosted by CIC.

Opening of Venture Cafe

Venture Cafe is an event held every Thursday where anyone, including startup companies and students, can freely participate. The three COGNANO members acted separately and were able to talk with various people, such as MIT students, engineers, and investors. The next day, someone we met at Venture Cafe immediately contacted us, saying, "I feel much potential for COGNANO, so please tell me more about it. I have a lot of fellow investors, so there's something I can do to help." That's impressive speed. Of course, not all stories are good, so you must be careful, but it is an excellent place to meet people and gather information.

Closing thoughts

During this one-week business trip, I strongly felt the joy and pleasure of exchanging discussions and deepening mutual understanding in the fair world of research, regardless of the field of specialization, nationality, or native language. Before each meeting, there were feelings of nervousness and anxiety, but the sense of accomplishment and fulfillment after completing the work was irreplaceable. I would like to keep this feeling in mind and continue to take on new challenges, so please look forward to COGNANO in the future!

Eating clam chowder at Quincy Market after completing all schedules