Dr. Elizabeth O'Day
Sapere aude is Latin for “dare to know”. The phrase originated with the ancient Roman poet Horace, was later embraced by the philosopher Kant and ultimately became the motto for entire Enlightenment period, an intellectual revolution were reason was emphasized over tradition.
As a scientist, the concept of sapere aude has been my North star. Whether it was working as a synthetic chemist in Dr. Evan Kantrowitz’s lab at Boston College, as a NMR spectroscopist in Professor Chris Dobson’s lab at the University of Cambridge or completing my doctoral research combining cancer biology and biophysics in the laboratories of Judy Lieberman and Gerhard Wagner at Harvard University—sapere aude has always encouraged me to ask why, how come and what if.
My insatiable desire to find reason in the unknown likely rooted itself in a situation that lacked logic. As kids, my older brother, Rob, had a rare form of adrenal cancer known as neuroblastoma. Rob not only survived but flourished. However, for 2 years, my family lived at Boston Children’s Hospital unsure of what was happening, unsure of why it was happening and completely at a loss for what we could do. I hated this uncertainty. I wanted to be able to do more than just “hope” that the treatment (chemo+radiation+surgery) would work.
This experience is what motivated me to become a scientist. “Curing” cancer is the only thing I have ever wanted to do. I have likely spent more hours of my life than not in a library or in a lab, studying the disease, dissecting pathways, and experimenting methods to detect and combat cancer. While the diagnosis of cancer remains threatening, we are actually lucky to live in an era where we not only understand the molecular mechanisms driving many cancers but we also have access to growing list of breakthrough therapies. We also know that not every drug will benefit every patient. Unfortunately, the underlying reason remains largely unknown.
Tackling this “drug treatment problem” was part of my graduate studies, wherein we established an NMR-based metabolomics platform that could differentiate a patient that responds to a drug (“Responder”, R) from a patient does not respond to that same drug (“Non-Responder”, NR).
Removing uncertainty in cancer treatment by differentiating R vs NR for specific drugs could have broad clinical utility. It could prevent patients wasting precious time on ineffective therapies. It could prevent patients being unnecessarily exposed to toxic side effects. It could also provide confidence for patients and their families they are on the optimal path to recovery.
When I set out to become a scientist, I never imagined starting a company. I barely knew what biotech was and I had almost no connections to that world. But I felt a responsibility to bring this technology beyond academia to patients. Emboldened by sapere aude and with the support of incredible mentors (Bill, Bob, John, and John) we started Olaris.
That was 5 years ago. It feels like both a blink of an eye and a life-time ago. For the first 3.75 years while I was technically the only person on pay-roll, I was not alone. Olaris has an extended family of absolutely amazing advisors, consultants, contractors, interns, supporters, friends, fellow entrepreneurs, and investors that have helped me at each step. I am humbled, grateful, and forever indebted to those individuals that helped Olaris and myself maintain our course in the rough waters of startup life.
Last month we closed our Series A funding led by Innospark Ventures. Innospark invests in early stage companies leveraging AI/ML to make a bold impact. Venkat, the Founder and Managing Director, a successful entrepreneur himself, knows the roller coaster of starting, growing, building and exiting a company. He and his team offer strategic and operational excellence. Truth- I can’t think of a better partner for Olaris’ next chapter.
To date Olaris has completed a series of retrospective studies wherein from patient plasma, serum or urine either before or during treatment we were able to identify metabolite signatures that differentiate R vs NR to metastatic breast cancer therapies with high predictive accuracy for CDK4/6 inhibitors Ibrance and Kisqali, tamoxifen, aromatase inhibitors and Herceptin. We have also completed several biopharma partnerships, with more in queue. Further, we have pilot studies that demonstrate our technology’s ability to extend beyond cancer including neurodegeneration and immunology.
Our data is exciting. However, it is not yet validated. We need to repeat our studies in larger patient populations to ensure the accuracy and clinical utility of our signatures. We have both retrospective studies and prospective studies (one in the USA and one in India) specifically designed to do just that.
“We” no longer refers to the “scientific we” but rather the amazing dream team of metabolite scientists, data scientists, commercial and operational folks that make up Olaris. It sounds cliché but everyone on our team is perfectly suited for their role. We bring in-depth expertise from different disciplines, we come from diverse backgrounds, and we are all 100% committed to use our technology to transform the way diseases are diagnosed and treated.
Sapere aude has been so powerful in my life, it only makes sense to establish similar guiding principles for Olaris. A few weeks back, the entire company came together to define our core values. With unanimous support, we decided Olaris is and will forever be…
Accountable to SCIENCE
In everything we do, we are truthful, transparent and we uphold ourselves to the highest scientific rigor.
Always strive for BETTER
As a company & as individuals we are constantly seeking to be better than our previous best. We are constantly expanding and improving our capabilities. We believe in an idea meritocracy. We have cultivated a culture of learning and teaching. We believe that together we excel.
Passion drives our team. We believe our technology cannot only save lives but disrupt wild inefficiencies. We are mind, body and soul committed to transform healthcare and health.
Challenges undoubtedly lay ahead of Olaris, but bound by these principles I sincerely believe Olaris has the potential to change the world.