Thomas Clozel, from medicine to predictive algorithms

At 15, he dreamed of being a medical researcher with a microscope. Twenty-five years later, hematologist Thomas Clozel has traded in his clinical chief’s white coat for a casual start-up outfit. Specialized in artificial intelligence (AI), the Franco-American company Owkin, which he co-founded in 2016, has even become a “unicorn” (valued at more than 1 billion euros) since Sanofi invested 159 million euros in its capital, in November 2021. “It’s just a different way of doing what I love: research”assures the one who, over the past three years, has co-authored several scientific articles in listed journals with a host of oncology experts from the Léon-Bérard center (Lyon), the Gustave-Roussy institute (Villejuif), the Henri-Mondor Hospital (Créteil), Imperial College (London), etc.

With the meaning of the formula, Thomas Clozel explains: “In medicine, artificial intelligence brings two things: acceleration and augmentation. Acceleration means much faster diagnoses, as in radiology, pathology [étude conjointe de l’anatomie et de la pathologie]. The increase is the superpowers, for example to make predictions about treatments. »

On this last function of the AI, Owkin obtained, on September 2, a European certification for two solutions analyzing histological slides (slice of an observable organ under the microscope): one, developed in collaboration with the Gustave Institute -Roussy, to predict the likelihood that a person with early-stage breast cancer will relapse after treatment; the other to carry out, in the case of colorectal cancer tumours, a first identification of the “MSI” (microsatellite instability) biomarker, which requires additional treatment.

Fallen into the pot

How, without having been a geek and after a mixed internship between research and medicine at the University of Paris-XII, do you find yourself in a Franco-American AI start-up? Difficult not to evoke the parental example. Young Thomas, born in Lorraine, fell very young into a pot of medicine, research and… entrepreneurship.

His parents, Martine and Jean-Paul, respectively pediatrician and cardiologist, left France at the age of 28 for the University of California in San Francisco. “They loved the research there so much that they quit medicine, went to Roche [le groupe pharmaceutique] then created Actelion with two other people. Having become the largest European biotech, the business was sold [en 2017, à Johnson & Johnson] $30 billionthe second largest buyout in pharmacy history”, he summarizes in one breath. A course “inspiring” which he did not immediately seek to follow, he affirms, but which de facto showed him that the passage from one world to another was possible.

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Thomas Clozel, from medicine to predictive algorithms


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