Andy Chen: Unlocking Nature's Next Regenerative Secrets
Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Hi friends, it’s Spiffy, back again on Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making the world a more equitable place! I have one more interview for you this week. Today I’m excited to cruise around with Andy Chen, the co-founder and CEO of Matice Biosciences, an innovative start up working on SDG3 Good Health and Well-Being. Let’s see what’s being done!
Spiffy: Welcome Andy! Let’s jump to it. Can you tell me what challenges you’re addressing with Matice Biosciences?
Andy: Thanks for meeting with me, Spiffy. Matice Biosciences is a consumer biotechnology company that leverages our shared anatomic, genetic, and evolutionary history with nature's super-regenerators to create next-generation consumer products for people. Animals in nature, including some that are very closely related to us, demonstrate the incredible regenerative ability to regrow entire limbs, organs, and tissues without scarring. Surprisingly, these species share genetic and anatomic traits with us. Naturally, the best way to find out how humans might one day regenerate is to analyze and unlock nature's genetic secrets. Our first product is related to scarring, which represents a $38 billion market with very few—if any, effective and scientific solutions.
Spiffy: Wow, it sounds like there is a real need! What motivated you to tackle this?
Andy: In the developed world alone, over 100 million people get pathological scars annually. In addition to physical discomfort and pain, scars cause an undue amount of psychological distress, especially when they occur on visible parts of the body like on our hands or face. That's been very true and personal for the founding team at Matice. My mom and I get keloid scars (where the scar tissue grows beyond the original wound site), including an enormous eight-inch long scar from decade-old heart surgery. Jessica Whited, our scientific co-founder, and my former professor, has a young son with facial scarring caused by a traumatic bike accident. Matice Biosciences emerged as the result of personal experiences and our regenerative biology research at Harvard University.
Spiffy: It sounds like personal experience has been influential. Now, how would you say you are working to create a more equitable world?
Andy: Well, Spiffy, there are very few options available on the market to treat scarring, and what is available disproportionately skews towards expensive, invasive, and medical products such as plastic surgery, fractional laser, and medical devices. These are often out of reach for the diverse population of people (everyone!) who suffer from scars. Matice is aiming to introduce topical treatments that far exceed the efficacy of any incumbent products (the most popular of which are onion extracts).
Spiffy: Do you have any milestones that you’re particularly excited about?
Andy: After participating in our alma mater's iLab accelerator program, Matice Biosciences was recently selected as a Top 5 Finalist for the President's Innovation Challenge at Harvard University. This milestone marks the completion of Harvard LLX GEO, Stanford StartX, and Berkeley SkyDeck—accelerators whose venture mentorship, entrepreneurial resources, and world-class academic liaisons have and continue to support the cutting-edge research underlying our technology and products.
Spiffy: I’m curious, Andy, have you ever faced failure? What did you do?
Andy: Before embarking on Matice and my graduate work in bioinformatics, my college friend Kilekwang, and I founded and ran Tecnosafi, a public health NGO in East Africa. I speak Swahili and had previously studied in Tanzania, but based in his home of West Pokot, Kenya, I found myself trying and failing to start a new life in the local environment. Very different from any academic experience; a book won't quite teach you the customs and etiquette of a community goat roast in the middle of the night! I'm not sure I'll ever fully be integrated, but the community's warm welcome to what-seemed-to me very exotic circumstances taught me adaptability and perseverance in physically- and socially-uncomfortable new situations, which I value to this day.
Spiffy: I understand all about immersing oneself in new environments! What is something unexpected you’ve learned recently?
Andy: I watched "My Octopus Teacher" recently and am awestruck and re-invigorated by how much nature has to teach us, not just about the natural world itself but also our (integral!) relationship to it as humans. It's definitely been a bad habit of mine to take the physical world around me for granted (and relying too much on our digital devices for stimulation), so I'm excited to go back into our world with fresh eyes to just be receptive to learning from nature.
Spiffy: Before we sign off, is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Andy: My friends and I have a hypothesis that biotechnology will become one of the game-changers of the 21st century, akin to computer and information sciences now. Everyday, people are coming up with new ideas of using synthetic biology to create new materials and gene editing to solve old diseases. To the young people of the world, keep up your imagination and creativity and go change it!
Spiffy: I’m going to help you carry that message, Andy! Thanks so much for taking the time to tell me about your stellar journey and work. It’s been an honor!
Andy Chen is the founder and CEO of Matice Biosciences, which leverages nature's super-regenerators to create next-generation consumer products. Previously, he was at C16, a synthetic biology company disrupting the palm oil industry, and founder of Tecnosafi, a public health NGO in East Africa. He is passionate about leveraging, and helping others leverage, computational and life science innovations for better drugs, goods, and processes for human and environmental health. (Nominated by Harvard Innovation Labs. First published on the Ladderworks website on May 14, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.