From IT to Biotech: Sujal Patel Discusses the Promise of the Proteome on “Close to the Edge”

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A decade before Sujal Patel co-founded a Seattle biotech, he was a leader in the region’s burgeoning tech sector as CEO of Isilon Systems, the developer of a successful data storage platform. Among Isilon’s customers were the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, which in 2008 deployed the company’s Isilon IQ clustered storage in order to support a five-fold increase in the volume of genomic data analyzed and stored, streamlining its next-generation DNA sequencing workflow.

That exposure to the genomics market not only fueled Isilon’s success—Patel sold the company to EMC in 2010 for $2.6 billion—but also planted seeds for Patel’s next venture.

As Patel told us in Close to the Edge (episode 8), as a former software engineer he didn’t anticipate becoming the CEO of a groundbreaking proteomics company. Patel discusses his successful career at Isilon and the journey to Nautilus and its ambitious goals. He also expounds upon the broader state of proteomics and why the field appears poised to finally deliver on its potential for unlocking insights into human health and disease.

After a brief stint as president of EMC’s Isilon Storage Division following the acquisition until 2012, Patel maintained his interest in the life sciences as an investor, advisor and director in several Northwest startups through the Seattle venture capital firm Madrona Venture Group.

In 2016, Parag Mallick, PhD, an associate professor at Stanford University and a former customer of Isilon’s—called Patel and invited him to join in co-founding a new biotech company, Nautilus Biotechnology. Patel accepted and the company began setting out to revolutionize biomedicine by unlocking the complexity of the human proteome.

Nautilus is developing a large-scale, single-molecule proteomic analysis technology designed to achieve quantification of >95% of the proteome, in the process delivering extreme sensitivity and scale. Nautilus has set a goal of commercializing its platform by late 2023, with several key internal milestones met across a range of platform design and science activities. The company’s overall ambitions include “democratizing access to the proteome” and “enabling fundamental advancements across human health and medicine.”

As a biotech based in Seattle, Nautilus has attracted capital from many of the region’s top investors, including Madrona and Paul Allen-founded Vulcan Capital. Nautilus’ best-known Seattle-based investor is Jeff Bezos, who through his Bezos Expeditions and later via Amazon has taken a stake in Patel’s company stretching back to its venture capital days.

In June, Nautilus went public through a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) deal, a business combination with Arya Sciences Acquisition Corp. III that raised about $345 million—about $145 million of funds held in Arya III’s trust account and a concurrent private investment in public equity (PIPE) financing of $200 million.

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