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EMBA participants take on Alzheimer’s with new start-up

20 April 2016

The article at a glance

Three Cambridge Executive MBA participants and a professor of molecular biology have formed Aequa Sciences, a UK-based start-up that aims to provide …

Three Cambridge Executive MBA participants and a professor of molecular biology have formed Aequa Sciences, a UK-based start-up that aims to provide inexpensive and safe solutions for Alzheimer’s disease.


EMBA participants Al L. Pineda, Jan Ruzicka, Loic Merckel and Czech professor Omar Sery have created Aequa Sciences, a start-up that aims to provide solutions and preventative measures for Alzheimer’s disease and other multifactorial diseases. The company plans to use neural network technology and big data to calculate the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and provide patients with prevention measures. A neural network is a type of artificial learning system that operates analogously to the human brain. This results in a computer having accrued memory and quick thinking speed to find patterns between patient data. Once a patient’s risk is assessed using this technology, prevention measures will be recommended. These measures may include lifestyle changes and food supplements derived from Western and traditional Chinese medicine to reduce the probability of development of the disease.

Focus on entrepreneurship and biotechnology

Loic Merkel (EMBA 2015): I decided to do the Cambridge Executive MBA for the focus on entrepreneurship and soft skills. I’m from a scientific and engineering background. And I wanted to move on to leadership role and soft skill acquisition, for example. And I think this programme is really ideal to acquire this kind of skill.

Al L Pineda (EMBA 2015): I picked Cambridge for the reputation of entrepreneurship and biotechnology. I sold my mining company two years ago. And I analysed where I wanted to be. And I believe that biotechnology is the future. It’s the future. And I want it to be there at the heart. And where else would be better but the University of Cambridge?

Studying where Watson and Crick developed DNA

Jan Ruzicka (EMBA 2015): I chose Cambridge because my work is a little bit connected to academia and to healthcare. So basically, I wanted to share the same place and to study and to collaborate and to think on the same premises where Watson and Crick developed their DNA, where Tennyson wrote his poems, or where Isaac Newton wrote Principia Mathematica.

So the genius loci of the place is, I think, the most important thing for me. I can get from Cambridge collaboration, network, new ideas, and most, I think first and foremost, the possibility to think out of the box.

Attacking Alzheimer’s

Al L Pineda: Aequa Sciences was conceived during the first week of the programme orientation at Cambridge. And I remember back then that we had a nice conversation about how Alzheimer’s is very real, and it’s out there, and how much we wanted to attack this disease.

Loic Merkel: I think during Orientation Week, the first week in Cambridge, the first week of the programme, I met, actually, my partner, business partner, at the breakfast. I think the first day, we were together and we discussed about Alzheimer’s disease, the impact of the disease to this world. We also discussed new technology, like machine learnings, data, availability of data, machine learning, could leveraged to actually improve the life of millions of people.

And I think from that first day, actually, this idea kind of developed itself over those months. And today, we form a new company that will try to analyse the issues. We find in the network some alumnis that work for a very large pharmaceutical company. So we get in touch with those people, and they really welcome our request, and they help us to reach the perfect person to help us. And now it’s really moving forward.

The importance of memory

Professor Omar Sary: Alzheimer’s disease affects our memory. It means that memory is very important for our life. If we have lost memory, we don’t know who we are. We don’t recognise our family. We don’t know what we will do. Most important in our life is memory, because this is our brain, our mind, our life. The life is memory.

Jan Ruzicka: Aequa Sciences is not only a venture, it’s not only a business, it’s a scientific platform to develop new screen opportunities for Alzheimer patients, not only patients, but their families and people at high risk. Problem with Alzheimer’s is that there is no cure.

But it’s affecting millions and millions of people. So our strategy is to find people at high risk of getting Alzheimer’s 5, 10 years prior of outbursts of disease and basically to starting treating them before the disease actually came into life. And it will be cheaper. It will be more effective. And I think we will be able to save millions of quality of life.

Collaborating to beat Alzheimer’s disease

Al L Pineda: Aequa Sciences is one of those conceptions that came to mind after discussing with my then future partners, now partners, of how I believe we can tie in artificial intelligence with health care. And Alzheimer’s is such a crazy and very, very sad disease to acquire. I believe that we should group up and take this fight together, and what better way but to build into our networks or tap into the networks that we are given in the cohort.

Read video transcript

Due to demographic changes and financial tensions, there is more and more pressure on health payers to deliver affordable solutions on how to deal with long term diseases. We believe that one of the most effective ways is to invest in better prediction techniques and deal with diseases before they start. Therefore, we believe in a combination of predictive methods and inexpensive personalised preventative food supplements to combat Alzheimer's disease.

Al L. Pineda

Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a multifactorial disorder characterised by a progressive decline of mental abilities leading to dementia and death. It is estimated that 35.6 million people lived with dementia worldwide in 2010, with numbers expected to almost double every 20 years.

The primary goal of our project is not to extend human life, but to prolong healthy life, so that clients live to old age in good health. If we delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease just six months in a million people, it will rescue 500,000 years of quality life. I believe that with new technology and artificial intelligence, we can delay the onset of the disease by more than half a year.

Omar Sery

Therefore, the company believes that an effective approach to solving this problem is needed and that a preventative approach is the most promising solution.

Using artificial intelligence

Although new DNA-analysing technologies have aided research into the genetics of Alzheimer’s disease, applying neural network methodology seems the most promising way forward in the development of predictive tests in the future. The company believes that the use of neural networks in the prediction of Alzheimer’s disease based on genetic analysis has not been exploited to the level it would merit.

Recent advances in technology provide means of accruing 'rich-but-crude' DNA polymorphism data (differences in DNA sequences that make each human genome unique); machine learning data techniques give effective solutions to harness those data and find non-trivial patterns that are strong predictors of probable and undesirable future outcomes.

Loic Merckel

The group says that the advantage of this approach compared to conventional methods is that neural networks work in an unbiased, non-prejudicial way; independent of researchers, they analyse the given dataset and look for relationships that could possibly be missed by humans.

Aequa Sciences believes that healthcare research and business must be run with strong ethics. The group’s vision is to bring-to-market an inexpensive, safe solution that will be affordable to more than just the developed world.

To heal now with tomorrow's technology is a vital underpinning of our work. This is only the beginning and in due time we will embark on alternative ways to combat diseases.

Al L. Pineda

Al L. Pineda is a renowned entrepreneur with over 13 years managing start-up businesses and investments. He currently sits on the board of directors of a multinational mining and export entity headquartered in Hong Kong SAR, China and is a respectable and influential leader with several trades with China. Al currently sits on several boards of localised NGOs in several countries as he feels passionately about social impact as well as healthcare improvement.

Jan Ruzicka is an international relations and global health expert. He has worked in the Czech Civil Service since 2005, first as Private Secretary to the Minister and then as Chief of Staff and Director-General at the Ministry of Health. He is also Vice President of China Investment Forum (CIF), an officially recognised investment platform between China and 16 CEE countries. Jan runs health related projects, such as opening the first TCM teaching clinic in the Czech Republic, projects in undergraduate and postgraduate health education, humanitarian and development collaboration and global health projects in vaccination and epidemiology.

Loic Merckel is a senior consultant for a major airline concentrating in industry solutions. From 2003-2010, he was involved in the development of scientific instruments at the Department of Scientific Systems R&D in Horiba, Japan. From 2010-2012, he was involved in the development of real-time location systems (RTLS) at Ubisense, UK. Since 2012, he has been lead consultant for the operation, design and development of IT systems in the field of aircraft maintenance.

Omar Sery is a Czech professor, scholar, scientist and spin-off entrepreneur in area of health and natural sciences. He is fellow scientist at the Institute of Animal Physiology and Genetics of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. He also serves as an associate professor at the Institute of Biochemistry, Faculty of Science, Masaryk University and as Managing Director at Elisabeth Pharmacon Company.