Fighting Animal Testing with Machine Learning

“I believe my leadership traits are driven by how I want to represent the team and the company. One of the most important traits is valuing the time of others and myself,” says Dr. Jo Varshney, an empathetic leader, and the founder of VeriSIM Life. VeriSIM Life is a futuristic drug development company that replaces legacy methods like Animal Testing with AI. Computational sciences are used in place of the existing trial and error experimentation. Dr. Varshney is a multi-disciplinary and celebrated pioneer in both veterinary & human health development. Even as a child, Dr. Varshney had a profound thirst to stand against animal cruelty and empower the powerless creatures by finding and developing unique methods and solutions as alternatives. Her pharmacological pedigree, her determination, and her exposure to technology led to the formation of VeriSIM Life. Being the sole founder, Dr. Varshney’s passion, and commitment help her to accomplish more in less time. She leads by example, communicates consistently, stays on top of relevant facts, and builds trust amongst her team. So, how does Dr.Varshney manage to do all this? Let’s find out!

Born Valiant

Dr. Varshney, a PhD holder in comparative oncology and genomics has been a self-aware individual since childhood. She likes to face challenges head-on. She doesn’t let the fear of failure postpone her plans. Dr. Varshney starts her day by planning specific outcomes to achieve that day. She plans goals with enough mental space for any unexpected hindrances that may lead to course correction. She believes that the skills you learn throughout life are futile without confidence. She adds that taking any direction is always better than not doing anything. An important virtue that Dr. Varshney values is integrity. Since a company’s culture is a reflection of its leaders, she ensures that her company culture embodies such traits. She believes in standing up for something bigger than yourself and setting a precedent within your business. These morals became the foundation of VeriSIM Life.

Against Animal Cruelty

Before VeriSIM Life there existed a fundamental disconnect in how new medicines reach patients. Animal testing is usually relied upon to understand how the safety and efficacy of a new drug compound will react within the human body before being used in clinical trials. This process may not be as effective for a few reasons:

  1. Animal physiological outcomes translate poorly in humans. In clinical trials. it leads to over 92% drug failure rate in human trials.
  2. Identifying a true promising drug candidate may lead to several rounds of animal testing. This drives significant time, loss of innocent lives, and costs during the drug development process.

“We, at VSL, are solving these translatability challenges by creating a framework that embodies the knowledge generated from world-class experts in machine learning, biology, mechanistic modelling, and engineering,” says Dr. Varshney. Being strongly against animal cruelty, she kept questioning herself why subject poor animals to this testing when it was not even effective. She resolved to find another way. She successfully rolled out the BIOiSIM platform. It produced models that served as ‘digital’ representations of animals and humans. This enabled simulated tests, so she could forgo animal testing altogether or lead to significant reliance on animals.


BIOiSIM enables researchers to choose only the most human-applicable preclinical testing subjects. It provides outputs of species-translatable simulations. This helps in narrowing down the number of drug compounds that are potential treatments or cures of specific illness or disease. The platform can run simulations of 1000’s of experimental conditions at a time by leveraging existing datasets. Pharmaceutical firms face massive losses when their research has led to little or no gain. This results in the other successful products being marked up to make up for the losses of other products. It’s safe to say that the slow speed, expense, and moral issues of testing on species such as rats and monkeys could be eliminated with biosimulation. Drug development which normally took 10 years or more with investments of over 2 billion dollars could now be done at a shorter time with minimal errors. This approach has far better outcomes than the 8% success currently seen in the medicines making it to the market. Thanks to BIOiSIM, pharma will be able to focus their development efforts on the drug combinations that are more likely to succeed in delivering the anticipated result for the treatment or cure of specific illnesses and diseases.

A Paradigm Shift

The four applications which drive the majority of the AI market in biopharma are drug discovery, precision medicine, medical imaging & diagnostics, and research. “Drug discovery is the majority shareholder,” says Dr. Varshney. Taking into account the progress in AI for Drug Discovery over the last three years, it’s reasonable to expect that really significant results could be achieved in the coming years. Thus, enabling a paradigm shift for the entire biotech industry. From a technology and data perspective, three factors, in particular, are driving progress towards the recent transformation in the biopharma world: increasing data volumes, computing power, and decreasing costs of computing. There have been several advances in the techniques used in AI domains. Every year these techniques are improved to produce the next-generation AI methods. Biopharma companies that use these next-generation technologies in AI, Deep Learning, Big Data, reinforcement of drug discovery & production, product repurposing, and biomarker production cause significant disruption in the industry. Progressive, technologically oriented countries are reformulating their drug evaluation and approval procedures to improve the time it takes to authorize medicines.

The Fight Against COVID-19

While there are significant innovations that have been brought into the biotech sector such as gene therapy, CRISPR-Cas9, and gene sequencing, Dr. Varshney claims that there’s lots more to accomplish. “Our work is not done yet and I believe we need to continue to innovate especially in bringing drugs and vaccines to diseases such as rare diseases at a more efficient pace,” she says. The ongoing pandemic due to COVID-19 has brought about an immensely urgent need for a cure as soon as possible. In order to do so there needs to be significant investment in computational strategies including AI. By integrating AI in drug development, it’s possible to accurately predict which drugs will be safe and effective for specific patient subgroups. AI can generate drug candidates for which there already exists some evidence of effectiveness.

VeriSIM Life’s AI-based technology is currently reviewing the best existing drug combinations to treat COVID-19 cases. The combinations generated are based on the current literature and knowledge about the virus. VeriSIM Life hopes to find some evidence to find combinations in a matter of months rather than years. Such high throughput will also significantly reduce the costs and extensive lab testing and clinical trials. It will provide more efficient protocols for drug experiments.

Biotech’s Challenges

“I would like to see healthcare innovations that are centered to adopt cross-functional frameworks where science and technology are married to one another to solve biological problems,” says Dr. Varshney. Immense knowledge is available at present on several biological processes and the diseases associated with them. So, making use of them efficiently is the key. Many of the current Biotech’s challenges such as reproducibility, scalability, and predictability can be solved by computationally integrated approaches. Knowledge and data are managed better by computers rather than human interventions. Software and computational resources such as ML/AI have become extensively cheaper and are easily available and are more accurate. Biotech/pharma companies would be able to maximize the utility of the huge datasets already at their disposal. In the current digital world, innovation and re-structuring biopharma will generate more drug approvals and further personalization. This is the need of the hour. Dr. Varshney feels that such a supportive, cross-functional leadership with openness to adopt new technologies would play a vital role in reforming the industry.

Serial Achiever

“From my first school prize to successful coding to winning Google’s Hackathon, I have realized every situation has its own learning curve,” says Dr. Varshney. At a Google Hackathon, patient information was shared and the team was able to identify potential drugs in 3 days. This win gave Dr. Varshney the confidence to build VeriSIM Life. Post the launch, she witnessed a spectrum of wins including getting investments from world-class investors and early testimonials from happy customers of the world’s top pharma. She also considers the opportunities to work with like-minded experts as important milestones of her success journey. VeriSIM Life is gaining a lot of traction for its tech and several manuscripts. Being recognized as a rising leader in biopharma at the JPM conference, serving on advisory boards in early-stage biotech companies to help create successful business models, and invited speaker engagements were added honors for Dr. Varshney. “Overall success is a work in progress,” says the serial achiever.

Diversity and Collaboration

Producing medicines for everyone at a large scale is expensive. This is mainly because of the highly inaccurate and inefficient drug development practices. Dr. Varshney states there is a need for a significant mind shift. We must be able to incorporate innovation and train a workforce that is capable of engaging and working hand in hand with computational resources. This will create a much-needed drug development disruption. At VeriSIM Life, Dr. Varshney strives to embrace diverse opinions. By investigating communication, problem-solving, and collaboration, she aims to create an ideal environment to focus on this important mission of solving inefficiencies and saving lives in the process. Diversity produces the rare magic needed to solve challenges and Dr. Varshney strives to include these in VeriSIM Life’s practice.

Direction of Success

Dr. Varshney’s advice for young entrepreneurs is “Cultivate an ability to persevere even when things go or can go wrong. You won’t have all the answers. You won’t always know where to move next. You’ll have your wins, and you’ll have your losses. But through it all, you can’t lose your sense of confidence and passion.” Put your energy into developing top skills further. No one is good at everything. Those skills at which you are not talented, or have no interest, find reliable people to take over those responsibilities. This focus points you in the direction of success, she adds. VeriSIM Life looks forward to innovating drugs and vaccines for rare diseases. It continues on its mission to increase human life expectancy.

Company: VeriSIM Life


Management: Founder &

Founded Year: 2017

Headquarters: San Francisco, CA

Description: VeriSIM is focused on building personalized disease models which will change how patients’ treatment is administered.