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Inside Multiply Labs - CEO Fred Parietti's visionary journey in Robotics and Pharma

April 17, 2024

With an impressive academic background that includes a Bachelor’s degree and a Master's from Politecnico di Milano and a PhD from MIT in Boston, Fred Parietti stands out as a top-tier tech entrepreneur. His resume shines with the success stories of Silicon Valley startups, but his story goes far beyond academic titles and funds raised. As the CEO and co-founder of Multiply Labs alongside Alice Melocchi, Fred has embraced the challenge of revolutionizing the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry through technological innovation.

Multiply Labs is not just a startup: it's a concrete ambition to transform the production of personalized medicines and therapies through the integration of advanced robotic systems. Behind the success lies a story of sacrifices and relentless research.

In this final interview, Fred Parietti opens up about the challenges faced in Multiply Labs' journey, sharing the lessons learned and visions for the future of robotics and biopharma. Through the recounting of his experience, Fred offers a privileged glimpse into the fascinating and challenging world of tech startups and Multiply Labs' compelling mission in pharmaceutical manufacturing innovation.

Additionally, he sheds light on the valuable advice he gives to aspiring entrepreneurs aiming to launch successful innovative startups or embark on a career in the tech industry.

Can you tell us about your journey and how you got started in the tech industry? What inspired you to pursue a career in the robotic IT sector?

My journey into the tech industry began with a childhood passion for building things. I loved working with Legos and Erector sets, which fueled my fascination with robotics. My aspirations were quite clear from the beginning and my instinct has always been that of an engineer who utilizes laws to innovate and create new things. Hence, my path naturally led me towards the engineering side, so when it came time to choose a university, I opted for these studies.

I completed my Bachelor's in Mechanical Engineering at Politecnico di Milano, pursued a Master's split between Politecnico di Milano and Zurich, and delved into advanced robotics at Carnegie Mellon University

However, I knew academia wasn't for me, my goal wasn't to become a professor; it was to apply my knowledge in starting a robotics company. I was drawn to creating advanced robots with real-world impact, rather than consumer-focused or military applications. 

Pursuing a Ph.D. seemed like the best path to gain the practical skills I needed. So, in 2011, I began my Ph.D. at the prestigious M.I.T. in Cambridge. There, I met Alice Bellocchi, who would soon become my co-founder at Multiply Labs. She's also Italian, hailing from Bergamo, but with a background in the pharmaceutical sector.

The idea to found Multiply Labs together came about quite serendipitously. She shared her insights into the challenges of producing advanced medicines. This sparked the idea of using robotics to revolutionize pharmaceutical manufacturing. It was a perfect fit—a meaningful application that justified the complexity of our technology. So, while my childhood dream was to build robots, it was the opportunity to make a difference in healthcare that truly inspired my career in the robotic IT sector.

Can you give us a deeper insight into Multiply Labs' mission and how the company is revolutionizing the pharmaceutical industry and making a positive impact on society through its innovative technologies and pharmaceutical manufacturing solutions?

Multiply Labs' mission is deeply rooted in addressing a critical need within the pharmaceutical industry. We've observed that the production of advanced medicines is excessively manual, with large pharmaceutical companies primarily staffed by biologists lacking engineering expertise. This gap presented a significant opportunity for us to step in and provide automation solutions that streamline drug manufacturing processes.

From a technical standpoint, our goal is to leverage robotics and innovative technologies to revolutionize pharmaceutical manufacturing, making it more efficient and precise. By doing so, we empower pharmaceutical companies to focus on their core expertise in biology while we handle the engineering aspects necessary for drug production.

Ethically speaking, it's incredibly fulfilling to build robots that directly contribute to improving people's lives. While many robots are deployed for mundane tasks like floor cleaning or fast food cooking, our focus on pharmaceuticals brings a unique combination of significance and value. Unlike other applications, pharmaceuticals have a profound impact on human health, making our work both intellectually stimulating and morally rewarding.

At Multiply Labs, we're not just working on theoretical research that may never see real-world application. We're actively collaborating with pharmaceutical companies and hospitals, producing tangible solutions that directly benefit patients. This level of impact and satisfaction is rare in the field of robotics, and it's what drives our team's passion and dedication. We're not just building robots; we're building robots that make a positive difference in the world.

What has been your vision in integrating robotics technology into the biopharma sector?

Our vision in integrating robotics technology into the biopharma sector is centered around enabling the production of some of the most advanced drugs available today, known as cell therapies. Essentially, these therapies involve taking living cells from the patient, often immune cells or stem cells, and genetically modifying them to combat diseases like cancer. This process is incredibly complex, with fewer than 10 therapies approved and over a thousand in clinical trials, highlighting its importance in the future of medicine.

However, the complexity of biology presents unique challenges. We can't simply go to a pharmaceutical company and propose a complete overhaul of their manufacturing process. Even if we were biologists, the intricacies of cell behavior make it risky to change even a single step in the process. Therefore, our approach is to automate without fundamentally altering the existing process.

We teach our robots to use the same instruments, reagents, and consumables that human operators would use, ensuring consistency and reliability while minimizing errors. This additive approach to automation allows us to scale up production of cell therapies without introducing unnecessary risk. Unlike some competitors who develop their own instruments, forcing pharmaceutical companies to adapt, we prioritize seamless integration with existing processes.

Our robots operate alongside human operators, performing tasks in the same manner as instructed by scientists. This ensures that the delicate biological processes remain undisturbed, maintaining the integrity of the final product. In essence, we enhance the manufacturing process through automation without changing it—a philosophy that sets Multiply Labs apart in the industry.

Multiply Labs has a diverse team ranging from mechanical engineers to pharmaceutical scientists. How does this interdisciplinary approach contribute to the success and innovation of the company?

Having a diverse team spanning mechanical engineers to pharmaceutical scientists is absolutely crucial for Multiply Labs' success and innovation. It's fascinating to see how everyone on the team ends up wanting to learn from each other. Our software engineers delve into hardware aspects, while hardware specialists dabble in software development. Even our biologists actively participate in joint design meetings with hardware and software teams.

This interdisciplinary approach is inevitable because, while we're developing technology for the pharmaceutical industry, we're not pharmaceutical experts ourselves. Therefore, it's vital that we understand what truly matters to them and what doesn't. This requires asking a lot of questions and having a team with diverse skills to engineer solutions that meet their needs.

In essence, we couldn't function effectively without the collaboration of software, hardware, and bio experts. Each perspective brings invaluable insights to the table. For instance, without biologists on the team, we might make critical mistakes in designing instruments, assuming that minor changes won't affect the process. However, in biology, even the slightest alteration can have significant consequences.

Conversely, biologists may propose ideas that are technically challenging or impossible to implement without input from engineers. Therefore, it's imperative that we work together closely to leverage our collective expertise and drive innovation forward.

For individuals entering the tech industry, what advice would you give to those looking to build a successful career, especially in the intersection of robotics and biopharma?

My advice is simple yet fundamental: study what you love and become an expert in it. Passion is a powerful motivator, and when you genuinely enjoy what you do, overcoming challenges becomes more manageable.

For me, robotics has always been my passion, driving me to dedicate years of study to become proficient in the field. It wasn't about chasing where the most money was or following trends; it was about pursuing what genuinely interested me. That passion led me to realize the potential application of robotics in the pharmaceutical space when I met Alice. It wasn't a calculated decision based on financial gain; it was a natural progression driven by my interests and expertise.

I've often contemplated pursuing a second Ph.D. in biology, recognizing its significance as a frontier of technology. Biology fascinates me as an area that's still largely unexplored and unpredictable compared to the more well-understood realms of software and hardware engineering. However, my inclination towards engineering lies in its predictability and the ability to build tangible things.

Ultimately, my advice boils down to this: become an expert in something technical that you're passionate about. Opportunities will arise when you're proficient in your field, allowing you to leverage your expertise in areas that both align with your interests and have value. It's not about chasing trends or jumping on bandwagons but rather about pursuing what you love and becoming exceptionally skilled at it.

As a co-founder of a successful tech startup, what key lessons have you learned, and what advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs planning to launch their own tech startups?

Well, launching a startup in the tech industry, especially in the biopharma sector, has been quite a journey, and I have learned several key lessons along the way. Firstly, my decision to pursue my studies and launch our startup in the United States, particularly in California, was driven by a few critical factors. 

San Francisco provided a unique environment that was conducive to startup growth, especially for someone like me with no prior entrepreneurial experience. Unlike other places, such as Boston, where startups often require a professor and industry expert to spearhead the initiative, San Francisco embraced innovation from younger, less experienced individuals. This ethos was borrowed from the software industry, where fresh perspectives and bold ideas are highly valued. Here, investors are more willing to take a chance on a promising idea and the people behind it, regardless of their age or experience level.

This contrast in startup culture between San Francisco and other regions, including Europe, where age and seniority often dictate trust and investment, was a significant factor in our decision to establish our company here. The trust and support we received in San Francisco enabled us to focus on building our product and company without unnecessary barriers or restrictions.

Regarding differences in education between Italy and the U.S., one notable distinction lies in the practical aspect of learning. In Italy, there's often a lack of hands-on experience and participation in research among students, whereas in the U.S., particularly in Silicon Valley, students are encouraged to engage actively in research and innovation from an early stage. This hands-on approach fosters a more dynamic learning environment and better prepares students for real-world challenges.

In essence, my advice to aspiring entrepreneurs planning to launch their own tech startups is to consider the ecosystem in which they operate carefully. While talent is abundant worldwide, the cultural and institutional support for startups can vary significantly. For those with ambitious ideas and a desire for rapid growth, places like San Francisco offer unparalleled opportunities and resources to turn dreams into reality.

What trends do you anticipate in robotics and biopharmaceuticals in the coming years, and how is Multiply Labs positioned to stay at the forefront of these developments?

There are several trends that I foresee shaping the future of robotics and biopharmaceuticals, and Multiply Labs is strategically positioned to navigate these developments. Firstly, let's talk about robotics. While AI has been receiving significant attention lately, I view it more as a marketing trend rather than a purely technical one. The real frontier in robotics lies in hardware advancements, particularly in the realm of human-robot interaction. It's encouraging to see increasing interest in human-like robots, which opens up exciting possibilities for robotics.

However, a major challenge in advancing robotics is the scarcity of real-world data. While AI systems for chatbots can be trained relatively easily with text, video, and audio data available on the internet, training robots requires a different kind of data—data about physical interactions with objects, trajectories, forces, and more. Gathering this real-world data presents a significant hurdle that needs to be overcome to propel robotics forward. Multiply Labs recognizes this challenge and is actively contributing to the broader effort to overcome this obstacle.

Similarly, in the biopharmaceutical sector, data is becoming increasingly crucial. As therapies become more personalized and complex, there's a growing need for vast amounts of data to understand biological processes and design effective treatments. Multiply Labs is well-positioned in this landscape, as our robotic systems not only automate pharmaceutical manufacturing but also gather valuable data about biological processes, enabling us to contribute to the advancement of medicine.

Looking ahead, we anticipate a surge in demand for advanced drugs, including cell and gene therapies, as well as personalized mRNA therapies. These treatments introduce new levels of complexity that require sophisticated automation solutions—exactly the kind of solutions Multiply Labs specializes in.

By staying at the forefront of these developments and leveraging our expertise in robotics and biopharmaceuticals, we aim to continue driving innovation in both fields for years to come.

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