Inc. (USA)

Doing Good Work in More Ways than One

Unlearn, a mission-driven technology company, is using machine learning to accelerate clinical trials


Unlearn probably spends more time thinking about culture than most early- stage startups, says Founder and CEO Charles K. Fisher. Since its founding in 2017, the company has assembled a team whose members care deeply about their work and each other, taking a scientific approach to everything they do. In April 2022, Unlearn closed $ 50 million in Series B funding to support its growth. Fisher says a strong culture played an outsized role in this success.


Unlearn uses machine learning (ML) to to improve clinical trial timelines. Using ML models trained on historical patient data, Unlearn created TwinRCTs™, randomized clinical trials that require a smaller control group than traditiona­l trials because they compute a digital twin for every patient enrolled in the trial, regardless of randomizat­ion assignment. A digital twin is a clinical prediction of prognosis—the outcome of an individual patient if they were assigned to the control arm. “This allows for more patients to get access to the experiment­al therapy, which is usually the reason they’re participat­ing in a clinical trial in the first place,” Fisher says. The benefit for clinical trial sponsors is they can proceed with fewer patients and generate the same level of evidence as a larger study, faster and at a lower cost.

This year, Unlearn will increase its employee base from 40 to roughly 70 and open an office in Boston in addition to its San Francisco headquarte­rs. Whether recruiting clinical scientists or software engineers, Unlearn wants people who connect to its mission. When employees care deeply, they take full ownership of their work, Fisher says. While Unlearn periodical­ly gathers teams in person to brainstorm and make decisions, they “disperse to execute,” allowing employees to work remotely if they like.


The team is bound by core virtues, including the mantra, “Do good work,” which refers to scientifi c rigor as well as the societal benefits of accelerati­ng clinical trials. A second virtue, “Run the experiment,” encapsulat­es Unlearn’s scientific approach to invention. To offset the innate risk of experiment­ation, Fisher uses diversific­ation. Rather than going all in on one ML technology, for example, Unlearn explores multiple options, adapting along the way. “Thinking of your business as an experiment, trying to test things rapidly, and make datadriven decisions is a good idea for every startup,” Fisher says.

The third virtue reminds employees about the purpose of their work: “Invent for the customer.” For Unlearn, partners are leading pharmaceut­ical companies, including Merck KGaA (EMD Serono). Over the next three years, Unlearn will expand into disease areas across neuroscien­ces and immunology. Fisher hopes that, one day, nearly all clinical trials can benefit from Unlearn’s pioneering ML technology and patientcen­tric approach.

 ?? ?? Charles K. Fisher, founder and CEO, Unlearn
Charles K. Fisher, founder and CEO, Unlearn

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