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Optimizing Compound Screening with High-Throughput Scanning in Fruit Flies: Meet FlyScreen

Two Members of the start-up team FlyScreen, Guy Reeves and Dušica Briševac.

Yellow post-it notes labeled with thick black felt-tip pen writings glide across the table. The words "Drosophila," "contract company," and "drug discovery" catch the eye. Dušica Briševac is organizing notes into different piles labeled "essential," "nice to have," and "negative." The 35-year-old postdoc at Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, is currently faced with the task of prioritizing future features of their start-up business model. Just moments ago, Briševac and the "FlyScreen" team were listening to the workshop "User Integration for Product Development" as part of the MAX!mize program. This incubation program, specifically designed for Max Planck scientists venturing into the startup world, equips them with the knowledge to better understand customer needs and develop market-oriented products.

Dušica Briševac, Yu-Xuan Lu, Guy Reeves, and the newest co-founder Judith Bossen, joined forces to establish a start-up company focused on contract research in pharma, biotech, and agritech. The team's primary objective revolves around target discovery and validation—a process that remains laborious and time-consuming within the realms of pharmaceutical and agricultural research. However, FlyScreen, a new start-up initiative aims to revolutionize this field. Leveraging innovative scanning technology, FlyScreen offers an in vivo high-throughput screening service, facilitating efficient and cost-effective compound analysis in fruit flies. By participating in the MAX!mize start-up incubation program, FlyScreen's vision has received a significant boost. In this feature, we delve into FlyScreen's project idea and explore their experiences within the MAX!mize program.

Transforming Drug Discovery and Agricultural Research

The cornerstone of FlyScreen lies in its cutting-edge scanner, developed in collaboration with a Hamburg-based company. By combining this scanning technology with existing database systems, image recognition, and barcode readers, FlyScreen can efficiently evaluate viability, longevity, development, morphology, and behavior in a rapid and high-throughput manner. FlyScreen's technology finds significant application in early drug discovery, addressing the limitations of cell culture and organoid-based methods that fail to replicate the in-vivo context of complex disease phenotypes. Additionally, commonly used animal models are unsuitable for high-throughput analysis, heavily regulated, and financially burdensome. Fruit flies provide FlyScreen with a relevant, translatable, and cost-effective alternative, expediting the early stages of drug discovery. Moreover, the start-up's technology holds immense potential in the agricultural sector. With the increasing demand for eco-friendly compounds and stringent EU regulations on chemical pesticides, FlyScreen's scanning technology presents a faster and more efficient path to developing new pesticides, benefiting the agricultural industry.

MAX!mize: A Catalyst for Entrepreneurial Growth

FlyScreen's journey took a significant leap forward upon joining the MAX!mize start-up incubation program designed for Max Planck scientists. Dušica Briševac recounts how they discovered the program during the Career Evolution Games Week organized by the Planck Academy. A motivating encounter with Elizbieta Piatkowska, a start-up coach from Max Planck Innovation, led to the formation of FlyScreen. Each team member brings unique skills and expertise to the project. Yu-Xuan held the initial idea behind the company. He is an expert and a rising star in the field of longevity. Guy has decades of knowledge in Fruit Fly genetics and was a part of the team that developed the scanning technology. The newest addition to the team, Judith, is an expert in fruit fly disease models. Dušica has a background in molecular biology, and in-vitro and in-vivo animal models. She put the team together.

"The MAX!mize program has provided invaluable support and resources for FlyScreen's growth," shares Dušica Briševac. "One key lesson I've learned is the importance of effective communication and building connections. We must establish FlyScreen's value proposition to potential financial backers by simplifying complex scientific concepts into relatable messages that highlight the real-life impact of our technology. Moreover, the program has given us opportunities to connect with fellow scientists and expand our network, showcasing entrepreneurship as a viable career path for academics. It effectively bridges the gap between academia and the business world for young scientists."

During the ongoing Phase 1 of MAX!mize, FlyScreen's primary focus lies in gaining a deeper understanding of their target customers. Engaging in market research and customer discovery efforts, the team conducts interviews, interacts with potential clients, and attends conferences to identify the specific needs and pain points of the pharmaceutical and agricultural industries. Through these activities, FlyScreen aims to refine their business model and tailor their services to meet the precise requirements of their customers. This ensures a value-driven approach that effectively addresses their key challenges. Additionally, FlyScreen is actively seeking talented individuals to join their team. "We are looking for enthusiastic people to embark on our journey of building an innovative young company at the forefront of biotechnology. Individuals with a strong background in business and/or drug development are welcome. Join us in shaping the future of scientific discovery and advancing healthcare," closes Dušica Briševac.

Ready to start your own entrepreneurial journey? Apply now for #maximizeincubator Batch#3!


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