Prominent scientist Dr Wareed Alenaini has worked with three prominent governments, including the administration of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
While thankful for the experience, it did not pan out how she hoped.
Dr Alenaini, Saudi born and raised, arrived in London in 2013 to complete her post-graduate studies. Following a Master’s in biotechnology, specialising in non-invasive diagnostic technologies, she completed a PhD in bioimaging – specialising in using these technologies to understand chronic conditions that occur in old age.
“During my PhD, I did a lot of work with politicians: I was part of a delegation that was sent to the US Congress to explain a project around insurance coverage for ageing-related diseases,” Dr Alenaini tells TechBlast.
“I was very interested in politics at that time, because I thought it could actually help translate the science that we have in the lab into making something meaningful that can help people. I felt like government has the most power to do that. I also worked with the Saudi government, the Ministry of Health; and I worked with Boris Johnson at No.10.
“It was an excellent experience. I learned a lot about interaction – how it’s possible to get science into the hands of every one of us. But I also learned that if you want to change a practice, or if you want to make an impact, policy and government is not the way.”
Despite the clear benefits of its status as an established and healthy democracy, this may actually hinder the UK’s ability to effect change compared with the absolute monarchy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, says Dr Alenaini.
“There is a long cycle of bureaucracy,” she ponders. “In Saudi it’s probably easier, because everything is stable; with a democracy, you have changes all the time. It becomes very difficult to make a significant impact when it comes to the healthcare sector, which is already a very sensitive area.”
She adds: “It’s not what I intended to achieve in my life. That’s what reshaped the focus of my everyday practice as a scientist – moving what is in the lab into every hospital, and making it easier for them to use.”
The solution which presented itself to Dr Alenaini – via an Imperial College programme – is not one she expected. “I came across venture building – and there was an opening at [VC firm] Antler,” she explains.
“Venture building has a significant power to disrupt sectors. Uber has disrupted transportation, and WeWork has disrupted the way we go to work – because they were able to build something out of the box.
“With all the advancements that we see in computer and processing, machine learning and AI capabilities, it’s really the right time to get all these fascinating technologies and apply them in healthcare.
“But as a scientist, I never thought I’d found a company!”
Dr Alenaini is the founder and CEO of Twinn.health, the London-based MedTech startup behind a recently launched AI-driven imaging platform that aims to revolutionise the early detection of age-related diseases. It does this by analysing data from MRI – magnetic resonance imaging – a type of scan that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body.
Key features of the platform include heatmaps, which are visual representations of areas of concern and adipose tissue within MRI scans; AI-generated risk scores reflecting a patient’s risk for highlighted diseases; and comprehensive AI case reports summarising key findings and analysis.
Twinn.health claims to identify chronic age-related diseases up to 10 years earlier than traditional molecular signals, making it a powerful tool for early intervention and prevention. The platform has been validated through a retrospective clinical study involving 400 patients and three radiologists.
Dr Alenaini met her co-founder, chief commercial officer Chris Mosedale, at Antler. “Building a business has been a non-stop learning journey,” she reflects. “I’m learning something new every single day.
“You need to implement team building, while this morning, I was doing accounting. I mean… I’m a scientist! It’s just amazing, the different skills that you acquire along the line – and these then become really, really helpful.”
Dr Alenaini raised money from the 500 Startups accelerator in the United States to build a prototype then raised again from a pair of angel investors who are also physicians to begin its trial phase. After raising further capital from Saudi Aramco, it is now filing for an FDA approval in the States.
To date, the company has secured a total of $800k in pre-seed funding and established data partnerships with the UK Biobank, University of Edinburgh and Imperial College London. Twinn.health is currently raising a pre-Series A round.
The “inflection point” for Dr Alenaini was understanding that the most valuable currency in a startup is time. “A lot of opportunities will come up – you need to have a focus, a goal, in every quarter,” she advises. “If my focus at a particular time is fundraising, anything that comes my way that is not related to fundraising – or helping with fundraising – can wait.
“If you have too many projects – in our case, our clients want multiple things, such as more diseases, other things done with the images – you have to refocus on just one product at a time.
“I would advise: surround yourself with founders who are down the line from you in the journey. Some of my mentors are Series D founders in companies in my field. They did the same thing that I am doing, at Oxford or Cambridge – and if I’m confused about something I can call on them.
“They’ll tell me: ‘Yeah, we faced that [same issue]. You really need to switch.’ Or: ‘Keep focused on this.’ It is very important to have this network.”