Mher Matevosyan

Mher Matevosyan (MSE ’18): Introducing an Innovative Approach To Drug Discovery  

5 min read

Mher Matevosyan (MSE ’18) received his Master of Science in Economics (MSE) degree from the Manoogian Simone College of Business and Economics (CBE) at the American University of Armenia (AUA). He is now the co-founder and chief technology officer of Denovo Sciences, a startup that has developed an AI-powered platform for designing new drugs. Once a student at AUA, Mher now teaches at his alma mater and aims to transfer his knowledge and experience to the younger generation of Armenia. AUA’s dynamic learning environment equipped him with the core skill set for his career and a propensity to think outside the box.

How did you decide to study in AUA’s MSE program when pursuing your second master’s degree?

As a mathematician, I imagined myself pursuing a possible career at the Central Bank of Armenia. Because the MSE program has been developed with the Central Bank, I determined that studying at AUA would support my career goals. Another reason for pursuing the MSE degree was that my brother, an AUA alumnus, was highly impressed with his experience of studying at the University and encouraged me to apply. 

How did the skills you gained in the MSE program help you in your career?

AUA provided us with a dynamic learning environment. The knowledge and skills I learned from the program’s Data Scraping course was the seed that led me to learn Python, a core skill set I draw upon in my career. I would also highlight the presentation skills I gained from AUA, as in the startup world, it is essential to know how to present your ideas in an effective and accessible manner. Another skill I acquired at the University was how to formulate problems and conduct scientific research, which has helped me greatly in navigating my current research process. Our team already has five articles published in international peer-reviewed Q1 journals. Overall, AUA helped me think outside the box. 

Can you tell us about the development of your professional experience following your graduation from AUA?

During my studies, I started to gain an interest in data science and machine learning and also gained some work experience in that sphere. Following my graduation, I decided to fully invest myself in data science and machine learning. I worked in a couple of companies before my colleagues and I founded our startup, Denovo Sciences.

What is the mission of Denovo Sciences?

The mission of Denovo Sciences is to make undruggable diseases a thing of the past. We have developed an AI-powered software that can work with multiple diseases that do not yet have a cure and generate new drugs to fight against them. Our goal is to develop a target-agnostic platform to be able to bring to the market new drugs for any type of disease. 

Our software helps identify new molecules that can become drugs. First, we pinpoint what causes a given disease and the particular structure of the protein or RNA we want to target. Then, we try to design a molecule that would inhibit the target. We input a particular target(s) into our software, which then generates different molecules that can potentially inhibit it. After conducting simulation studies to understand what works effectively, the software offers us some variants. Those variants pass through further testing until we are left with variants that satisfy all the properties we are interested in. There are many parameters that we check through our software. For instance, the molecule should not only interact correctly with the targeted disease, but it should also be soluble and nontoxic to blood. After checking these parameters, we give the final variants to our clients. 

How was the idea of Denovo Sciences born? How would you evaluate the need in the market for such a platform? 

The other two co-founders of Denovo, Hovakim Zakaryan and Vardan Harutyun, were my colleagues at the Foundation for Armenian Science and Technology. We came together in 2019 during a workshop conducted by Avak Kahvejian, who is a partner at Flagship Pioneering, a venture builder creating many notable startups. Kahvejian’s workshop focused on how they established those startups. We came up with the idea for our startup during that workshop and later became the co-founders of Denovo Sciences. Harutyunyan and I are mathematicians involved in data science, machine learning, and algorithms, while Zakaryan is a biologist. So, a natural conversation arose between a biologist and mathematicians about using mathematics to design new drugs. We brainstormed for six months to understand which approach was best, and we identified the acute need for drug development through AI

What have been some of the biggest achievements of Denovo Sciences so far?

Denovo Sciences started with just the three of us; today, we are a team of 12. One of our biggest achievements is having produced molecules with positive results that are tested on animals with the funds we have received. Our software front, through which we provide services, is now ready, and we already have clients and partners from the USA, France, Sweden, Singapore, and other countries. Within the framework of our partnerships, we have scientific collaborations and commercialized results. In 2021, we applied for and won the national competition of the Entrepreneurship World Cup (EWC) organized by the Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center (EPIC) at AUA and placed among the Top 25 EWC Global Finalists.

How do you see the contribution of Denovo Sciences in the development of AI and health sciences in Armenia? 

We are a small company, but we hope to achieve a certain level of impact on the development of biotech startups in Armenia. There are now more companies that work on similar projects. One of the contributions I would mention is that three of our team members are currently teaching at AUA, aiming to transfer the knowledge and experience we have acquired to the younger generation of Armenia. Our company has also recently launched a webinar series, where we invite prominent guest speakers from the industry to educate those who are interested in these topics. Our international partnerships and peer-reviewed publications spotlight Armenian minds on the international stage and put us on the global scientific map.

You are now an adjunct lecturer at AUA. How does it feel to be back at the University in a new role?

A year ago, I started teaching Cheminformatics, a course in the Zaven and Sonia Akian College of Science and Engineering’s B.S. in Data Science program. Teaching is an interesting and fun experience, but I also feel a great deal of responsibility before my students. I would say that one of the advantages of teaching is that you learn a lot, especially when you teach very niche topics. You think that you know the topic fully, but when you find yourself in the role of instructor, you realize that there is always more to learn about it. 

What are your larger plans moving forward?

It is difficult to plan with certainty in the startup world. In the ideal case, I would like to launch more startups, as I love to create new things. Simultaneously, I want to contribute to the development of my local community in Armenia and to the international community as well.

Regarding our work in Denovo Sciences, we have two business models: one is developing our software, which is already a reality, and the second is developing our own drugs, which is a time-intensive and costly process. We do not want to limit ourselves to selling the generated molecular structures to our clients. Our goal is to develop the molecules, test them in our laboratories, and develop the drugs ourselves. If we can treat one or two incurable diseases with the new drugs we design, we will make a huge impact globally. In the startup world, if you are not ambitious, your startup will not succeed. You will not make a significant impact through your startup if you do not aim for big goals. Creating a startup necessitates that you adopt this mindset. 

What advice would you give young people who want to bring their ambitious ideas to life?

Stay curious and explore what is possible and what is not. As you are still young, do not be afraid to make mistakes. 

Five years have passed since your graduation from AUA. In what ways do you see yourself engaging with your alma mater in the future?

Firstly, I want to continue teaching at AUA. It would be great to establish a collaboration between Denovo Sciences and the University when AUA opens its new science laboratories. Also, when teaching at AUA, I always look for bright minds who can become future team members at Denovo Sciences. I would be happy to build more bridges with AUA.