‘PH Elon Musk’ startup out to improve cancer detection 2
InterVenn Biosciences CEO Aldo Carrascoso
Culture

They call him ‘Pinoy Elon Musk’ and his startup is working on changing the game in cancer detection

InterVenn Biosciences CEO Aldo Carrascoso projects to save 20 million lives a year with the breakthrough cancer diagnostic tests the startup is developing.
RHIA GRANA | Sep 12 2021

If one were to sum up the theme of his life in two words, techpreneur Aldo Carrascoso says it would be “overcoming limitations.”

Over the last two decades, he had successfully built an impressive roster of startup companies. There’s Verego, a business-to-business (B2B) matchmaking platform; Jukin Media, a payment licensing tool for video content creators; and Veem, a global payment provider, which was honored in 2019 at the Benzinga Global Fintech Awards.

Not resting on his laurels, the serial entrepreneur is now making inroads in the field of medicine via a company he cofounded called InterVenn Biosciences, of which he is the CEO. The biotech company seeks to revolutionize the fight against cancer thru artificial intelligence (AI).

But to get to where he is now, Aldo first had to overcome two major hurdles in life. 

Growing up, the guy used to stutter a lot. “I couldn’t speak in public,” he shares in a video interview. “I can’t even answer the phone.” He stuttered from the time he was a young boy up to his teenage years. 

Frustrated at the situation, he decided to one day to dial the numbers of random people in their phonebook and talk to these strangers—only to practice his oral communication skills. Now at 43, there isn’t a hint of the once-stuttering kid in the techpreneur. He speaks clearly and confidently both in English and Filipino. One could imagine him giving a motivational speech at a TED Talk.

The second hurdle was his being lackluster in school: “I’m farthest from a genius,” he tells ANCX. The San Juan-born Aldo admits he was a far cry from his siblings who were topnotchers in their respective classes. He sucked at exams. He sucked at oral recitations. He had to work harder than most. How did he make up for it? He was blessed with a natural curiosity and desire to learn. And he was also very interested in science and technology.

Aldo Carrascoso
Aldo's biotech company seeks to revolutionize the fight against cancer thru artificial intelligence (AI).

Tech-centric

It helped a lot that Aldo grew up in a very tech-inclined family. His father, former Manila International Airport general manager Eduardo Carrascoso, is an engineer and a graduate of Berklee College.

“We were always surrounded with electronics,” recalls Aldo, now 43. “We always have physical tools to break down engines, cars, TVs. It was fulfilling and I got into trouble a lot dahil madami akong sinira because I am curious about how things work.”

Grade school in De La Salle University exposed the tech enthusiast very early on to programming. His parents brought him and his siblings to tech bootcamps. He also became president of the electronics club. His “nerdiness” was balanced by his love for sports—he was into soccer, swimming, and volleyball. He also dabbled in music and was part of a rock band from high school to college.

 

His journey to Silicon Valley

After finishing Psychology in Ateneo, Aldo envisioned a high-flying entrepreneurial career in the Land of Opportunity. “It was my dream to pitch to the world’s top venture capitalists,” he says. But to do that, he first had to pass the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). He feared there was a big likelihood he would suck at that exam, but he tried anyway.

“I need to get through this. Kaya ko ‘to,” he says, recalling talking to himself at the parking lot where he was to take the prep test.

The power of visioning paid off, says Aldo. He passed the actual GMAT. But he thought he might have gotten one of the lowest scores after receiving a “not-so-nice letter” from the college. This only motivated him even more to show what he’s got. “Screw it, I’m gonna fly all the way to Boston and show them what makes a real entrepreneur.”

Aldo completed his MBA at Babson College in the US, which is noted for its business and entrepreneurship program. He soon built a string of startup companies. His latest venture, InterVenn Biosciences, aims to launch products that could help cancer patients, doctors, and scientists. It’s an undertaking very personal to Aldo, having lost his mother and two close relatives to breast cancer many years ago. 

Ang di namin maintindihan [cancer] runs in the family, pero wala naman kaming gene signatures,” he says. Experts could not detect the cancer’s origin. At the same time, he was frustrated with the lack of choices in the standards of care.

Aldo Carrascoso
Aldo with the InterVenn Biosciences team

In search of answers, Aldo spoke to epidemiologists, cancer biologists, and analytical chemists. This led him to fellow Filipino Dr. Carlito Lebrilla, Ph.D., a glycoproteomic pioneer and professor at the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Carolyn Bertozzi Ph.D., a luminary in glycobiology and chemistry professor at Stanford University. These doctors are experts on glycoproteomics, an important yet highly complex field of study that can immensely enhance the early detection, diagnostic, treatment selection and monitoring processes for various cancers and even other diseases.

Utilizing AI, the company has been developing a first-of-its-kind glycoproteomics-based liquid biopsy solution to detect and diagnose cancers. GLORI, an ovarian cancer liquid biopsy diagnostic, for instance, would help physicians determine whether a tumor in a woman’s pelvic region is malignant or not. GLORI has been validated via the VOCAL (InterVenn Test For Ovarian Cancer Liquid Biopsy) clinical trial, made possible by the over P2 billion venture investment received by the company from Genoa Ventures, True Ventures, Amplify Partners, Boost VC, Prado SV, the Ojjeh Family and Anzu Partners. 

Intervenn has also raised a P10 billion Series C financing from SoftBank Group, Heritage Provider Network, Irving Investors, and Highside Capital Management. The fund will largely be allocated for the development and commercialization of DAWN, a blood-based test aimed at helping physicians appropriately match cancer patients to the immuno-oncology therapy with the best possible chance of response.

Currently in the pipeline is a wide range of breakthrough tests for various types of cancers and diseases. “If we become successful, we project to save 20 million lives a year,” he says. To achieve this, the company will be hiring 200 to 300 software engineers in the Philippines.

“I am also enabling a lot of our partners to develop new drugs, new therapies, and new modalities that can improve patients’ lives,” he says. “So you can expect that in three to five years.”

InterVenn Biosciences' Aldo Carrascoso and Erwin Estigarribia
Aldo with InterVenn Chief Operating Officer Erwin Estigarribia

The Elon principles

Even with his achievements in tech, being called “the Elon Musk of the Philippines” sounds like a tall order for Aldo. “I am not comfortable hearing it,” he says with a slight laughter, saying the tag didn’t come from him.

He thinks the nickname caught on because he applies the Elon mindset in his field of work, like always doing things with intent. “What Elon does is to accelerate us into a more sustainable world. Lahat ng projects nya,” he says.

The other maxim Aldo has adapted from the famed tech magnate is adhering to the first principle thinking—which is basically breaking down problems into their basic components. Aldo realized solving problems is actually one of his biggest strengths. “People have never seen me panic because parang nagkaroon ako ng framework or template for handling all types of problems, whether personal, professional, existential, phenomenological,” he says.

In fact, all his startup companies were driven by a goal to solve specific problems. The goal of InterVenn, for one, is to create a world where no one is blindsided by disease.

As for the Elon lifestyle, well, Aldo owns fast cars and flies jets (he’s actually a licensed pilot) but he refuses to go into detail. He’s also into scuba diving, watches, and movies (he has a 200-inch screen at home). 

But if there is any obvious similarity between Aldo and Elon, it’s that for both no goal is too lofty with science and technology on their side. “Everyone said [Elon’s] crazy for making an electric car go from 0 to 60 [mph] in 2 seconds. But he did it. In the beginning, everyone said I was crazy, too. You wanna analyze the glycoproteom? Do you know how many glycoforms there are? Trillions! Gagawin mo?” he remembers being asked. “[I told them] it’s not me, it’s AI.”