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Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology

The five members of the CardiaTec team standing in front of King's College Cambridge

The start-up was founded by a team of students from our MPhil in Bioscience Enterprise course seeking to leverage artificial intelligence for drug discovery in cardiovascular disease.

The team of students - Raphael Peralta, Lesley Farrah Dorwling-Carter, Thelma Zablocki, Ishbel Henderson and Charlotte Capdevila – won both the Cambridge University Entrepreneurs 2k and 10k competitions, as well as the Wolfson College Entrepreneurs Competition Audience Choice Award, with their digital biotech venture CardiaTec.

Their work will use AI algorithms to structure vast datasets available relating to cardiovascular health, to aid our understanding of the metabolic pathways leading to cardiovascular diseases.

“At the start of the MBE course, we worked on a consultancy project with a biotech company looking at cardiovascular disease and it was clear the evident need for novel innovation in drugs for this field,” says Raphael Peralta, CEO of CardiaTec.

“Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death globally but it receives much less funding than diseases such as cancer. People develop the symptoms very slowly and don’t necessarily know it’s a terminal disease that they’re suffering from until they are killed by a heart attack, which happens very suddenly.

“We want to look for ways to reduce plaque build up in arteries, or even reverse this process.”

“We had to find something to accelerate drug development, this is something we were all aware is a major pain point in the pharma industry,” explains Thelma Zablocki.

With a 40% compound annual growth rate, the field of artificial intelligence holds many opportunities for the healthcare sector. “We’re in a generation in biotech of large data and we want to explore how we can begin processing that data to make informed decisions and treat new clinical indications,” says Peralta.

As part of the MBE course, the students study a business plan module, but the CardiaTec team decided to take this a step further.

“We interviewed over 30 key opinion leaders in the area of drug discovery and from the pharma industry and we decided we should enter our business plan into these competitions,” says Lesley Farrah Dorwling-Carter, who has a background in digital healthcare ventures.

The various competitions involved creating a business canvas, writing a business plan and pitching to various juries and audiences, all taking place online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through their competition wins, they have secured thousands of pounds in funding to support the development of CardiaTec as a viable start-up.

“It was really well-timed after learning about it in the course because we’d just learnt the theory and were then suddenly thrown in to practise,” says Ishbel Henderson, whose own background is in cardiovascular disease research. 

“We applied to lots of competitions and in the beginning, our business plan wasn’t fully formed, but the more competitions we entered, the easier it became to clarify our business plans.”

“One of the super cool things about winning the competitions is the validation of the idea,” says Peralta. “Cambridge is such a big science and tech hub and most of the entries to these competitions are based around healthcare. I the first competition there were around 50 applications – so to get shortlisted and to win, particularly in such a short space of time was fantastic. This competition has been around a while and has been won by companies that have gone on to do great things.”

“It was an amazing experience and for a lot of us, we were learning everything from scratch,” says Zablocki. “Some of our team were familiar with the start-up world but for a lot of us, it was our first venture building. It was really interesting looking at every part of the process: the financial, marketing, fundraising, legal aspects... It was great exposure to this world and we really appreciated our network through the MBE – we got a lot of advice that was really helpful from past lecturers and past MBE students.”

While the students have now finished their nine-month course, the team plan to stay in touch to continue to grow CardiaTec and are currently looking for a Chief Technical Officer to join their business.

“I would encourage anyone interested to just do the MBE,” says Dorwling-Carter. “It’s a great course, you meet really great people in a supportive network, and you make long-lasting friendships.”

To find out more about CardiaTec, visit their website. Find out more about our MPhil in Bioscience Enterprise course on our postgraduate admissions pages.

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