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SOMOS Founder Federico von Son de Fernex on Latino Genetic Representation

Introduction

Clinical researchers should ideally try to account for as many factors as possible in order to create the most widely effective medicines and techniques. However, Latino populations are starkly underrepresented in clinical trials. Latino individuals account for less than 1% of research conducted by the National Institutes of Health, and as a whole, they participate in only 6% to 7% of clinical trials.

SOMOS is working on a biobank called Familia, which can help represent Latino, Hispanics, and Native Americans in pharmaceutical drug research. Through SOMOS’ data, customers can gain specific insight into their indigenous origins and will have opportunities to take part in decentralized research. We reached out to founder and CEO Federico von Son de Fernex to learn more about the inspiration behind the company and SOMOS’ future plans.

Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

How did your experience with your previous startup, Mi ADN México, lead you to start SOMOS?

Federico von Son de Fernex

Being part of a problem makes you think of changing things. At Mi ADN, we started to shift the needle on generating Latino genetic datasets, but the truth was that neither the volume of users nor the type of data was going to solve the problem. We decided to take a few steps back and create a problem solver: the SOMOS decentralized biobank, Familia.

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

How is SOMOS different from its competitors?

Federico von Son de Fernex

We generate data proactively. We build strong, long-term, and transparent relationships with indigenous communities to generate unique datasets that can result in groundbreaking knowledge. We are Latinos and MDs. We know the market, how to connect with it, and how to communicate.

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

What impact does SOMOS have on indigenous communities?

Federico von Son de Fernex

We have structured an incentive plan as follows:

  1. Short-term: To solve an immediate problem, we propose to offer free offline (no Wi-Fi needed) STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) education or discuss a potential solution for another problem.
  2. Medium-term: We will build a marketplace to offer handcrafts and products from indigenous communities to our customers — a very natural and easy model to create wealth in the communities.
  3. Long-term: When the data generates value, we will share a percentage of the profits to go back to stage one and build more community projects through the voting of the decentralized autonomous organization.
Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

Why would drug companies be interested in using the data collected by SOMOS?

Federico von Son de Fernex

It is well known that there is a bias in predicting the genetic markers, accuracy of drugs, targets, and other variables in underrepresented groups because predictions to fill genome data gaps are done with European or Asian data.

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

Who are the advisors that bring the most value to SOMOS?

Federico von Son de Fernex

Javier Marin is a great advisor because he has decades of knowledge on selling to the Latino market. Plus, he can give us a lot of exposure to Latino buyers.

Karol Estrada is our great industry insider, with years of knowledge from deals between data companies and the pharma industry combined with his scientific background in genomics and translational medicine.

Mike Zeller brings an entrepreneurial mindset and so much knowledge about how to grow organically and identify the right opportunities.

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

How do you intend to use the money you raise this round to scale the business?

Federico von Son de Fernex
  1. We’ll use the money for the collection of 7,000 samples from indigenous participants and processing 350 whole genome sequences. This is the largest indigenous biobank in history.
  2. We’ll invest in a marketing officer and data/content creation to reach 50,000 or more users after 18 months, bioinformatics and genomics analysis for product improvements, a user experience developer for the platform and backend, business growth, and business development.
  3. We’ll use a co-branded research approach for marketing campaigns and alliances.
Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

As you think about the business 5-10 years down the road, what do you see exit opportunities looking like? Have you set any future goals for the company?

Federico von Son de Fernex

The main goal is to become a biotech company ourselves, generate enough data, and build a strong drug discovery and drug development research team. We’re starting clinical trials to validate our targets and creating accessible, affordable, and more accurate drugs for the Latino community. Merging and acquisition is also an option, depending on whether our vision is shared.

We look forward to seeing where Federico and his team take the company. SOMOS is currently raising on Republic.

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About: Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

Léa is passionate about impact investing and sustainability. Prior to KingsCrowd, she worked for Stanford’s accelerator, StartX, helping to select the most promising entrepreneurs. She also led the first award-winning study on the Malawian startup ecosystem. In her free-time, she volunteers to help entrepreneurs in Cameroon, Brazil and Colombia. Léa holds a degree in Anthropology from France and is currently enrolled in the UC Davis MBA program.

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