Startup Interview

  • [Startup Interview] CEO Sung Woon Lee of ‘RevoSketch’, a startup company developing digital PCR technology to provide early cancer screening service
  • 창업원
  • 2022-10-30 20:28:32
  • 243

CEO Sung Woon Lee of RevoSketch, a company that help researchers to detect early cancer and other diseases by detecting genes, joined us today. CEO Lee is known to be a serial entrepreneur, because he started 4 new businesses. RevoSketch, the company he is currently at, utilizes a digital PCR technology to conquer cancer.

Let’s meet CEO Sung Woon Lee of RevoSketch!

Can you briefly introduce RevoSketch and yourself?

I am KAIST class of ’92 and majored in Electrical Engineering. RevoSketch is my 4th startup, followed by AKCRON(1994), Star V-ray(2000) and 3DISC(2007). All of the startups became M&As to American companies.

RevoSketch stands for Revolutionary Sketch, meaning that all innovative products are born from innovative sketches.

As an undergraduate, I was always interested in startups, and there was an IT startup boom at that time. In sophomore year, I participated in the KITSAT-3 project at the Satellite Technology Research Lab, and decided to start a business while I was working as the main designer for two of the thirteen payloads in the project. At that time, some professors said that students funded by the government should not be involved in businesses, and some supported startups. I was suggested to close the business, so I re-established the startup after I graduated.

Lee’s success was achieved by challenging himself to actually start a business beyond interests. The company name shows that Lee is trying to achieve innovation.

How did RevoSketch decide on this item as its startup product?

First of all, I have more than 20 years of technical experience in the bio and medical fields. In particular, I became experienced in global supply while operating FDA certification and overseas branches. At the time of preparing a startup, I interviewed many representatives of bio companies, researched global market reports, then decided that digital PCR technology could create the most innovative item.

RevoSketch consists of members with long experience in optics, electronics, software, mechanics, and bio. The currently developed and released item is based on High Speed Laser based Fluorescence Scanning technology. Since we have experience in supplying more than 2500 precision laser-based medical devices, we have the development ability and mass production capability to maintain quality from design to shipment to anywhere in the world.

So, PCR technology was selected based on various experiences and preliminary research. We look forward to RevoSketch and its excellent team.

Can you explain the product High Speed Laser based Fluorescence Scanning Technology in detail?

High Speed Laser Based Fluorescence Scanning is not the product itself, but a basis technology. It is used in Digital PCR and Microarray scanner products.

Fluorescence Scanning is a method of measuring the amount of fluorescence by using the principle that when excitation beams are irradiated and then lowered to the base state, they release emission beams. Fluorescence Scanning allows for many possible the technology of aggregating various types of laser excitation beams to 10um, the optical filter technology of reflecting light and transferring light emission to the detector, SiPhoton Multiplier (SiPM) technology, low noise analog front end technology, high speed ADC technology, and high speed digital transfer technology.

In other words, it is a technology that scans fluorescence in a small area of 10um at high speed and creates a 2-D fluorescence image. In the bio field, there are various ways to use fluorescent materials to detect genes or proteins. RevoSketch’s laser-based high-speed fluorescence scanning technology is useful for delicate detection of small amounts of genes or proteins.

You have many experience in startups, so what was the reason to start your own business? How did you overcome the difficulties?

In the 90s and early 200s, there weren’t many VCs investing in startups, so I had difficulty of developing services and products and raising funds at the same time. The startup ecosystem of startups at that time was very poor. Despite the weak environment, we continued to develop the technology and overcame the difficulties by receiving investment from foreign companies that recognized our technology.

As mentioned above, CEO Sung Woon Lee started a new business 4 times. He was interested in startups since college, and successfully started businesses through technology development. Despite the difficulties of startups, he continued to proceed and became an M&A for an American company.

How is the digital PCR device developed by RevoSketch unique from other digital PCR devices?

Traditional digital PCR devices are considered as the third generation, but I believe RevoSketch’s digital PCR technology is considered as the 3.5th generation. The biggest difference is that traditional digital PCR devices uses the end-point scan method which detects 1 signal after 40 separate gene amplifications, while RevoSketch uses a real-time scan method that detects signal after each amplification stage. In other words, it is a real-time digital PCR technology that can accurately determine whether the signal is caused by amplification by detecting signals at every stage.

The detected bulk data automatically determines whether the signal is positive or negative through RevoSketch’s own neural network AI algorithm, solving the chronic “Rain problem” of traditional digital PCR devices. As a result, we remove the high error rate of traditional end-point scan methods that rely on the position of the threshold that can go up to 17%.

This difference can be seen as a significant improvement in the performance of sensitive and accurate measurement of limited Bio-markers for early diagnosis of cancer or dementia.

RevoSketch’s technology is one step ahead of traditional digital PCR technology by performing real-time scans. It seems to have a great advantage with its own AI algorithm that could solve existing “rain problems” as well. RevoSketch’s technology will help to treat diseases like cancer in a timely manner through early screening.

Is it possible to diagnose diseases other than cancer early with RevoSketch’s technology? What is the principle and how is it operated?

Digital PCR technology is 1000 times more sensitive than the widely used 2nd generation real-time PCR technology. The principle of detection is the same with real-time PR in that it selectively amplifies target genes. To explain further, target bio-markers are determined through primers and samples that contain these bio-markers are heated to 95 degrees Celsius. Then, the double helix of DNA falls off into a single strand, and when the temperature is lowered to 55 degrees, primers attach to the part containing the bio-maker, from which Polymerase replicates. In other words, once the temperature is raised and lowered, the gene part containing the bio-marker is theoretically doubled. Repeating this process 40 times, it will be amplified to 2^40, which is 1 trillion times.

The reason for detection after amplification is because the amount of gene itself is too small, so the detector must have unfeasibly high level of sensitive. Thus, the strategy is to amplify the gene through polymerase. Digital PCR uses the method of separating detection samples into tens to hundreds of thousands of microreactors (Partitioning) and amplifying them independently. This dramatically improves sensitivity because it can improve the ratio of surrounding genes to target genes.

The current digital PCR can be used for any disease that detects genes, especially early diagnosis of cancer and Alzheimer’s.

Thank you for the detailed explanation of the digital PCR technology. It seems possible for digital PCR technology to early diagnose all diseases through gene amplification and detection. Although it is difficult with current technologies, I hope the technology could lead to the development of treatments with the early diagnosis of cancer and Alzheimer’s.

Developing digital PCR devices is expensive, so how is RevoSketch managing the cost?

We invest a lot in development, secure funds from investment from VCs, and also work on government projects to cover some of the costs.

Developing digital PCR technology is extremely difficult and requires a lot of time and work force, so we are developing other products that utilizes RevoSketch’s technology. One of which is a product that has finished registering as a medical device by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety been set in production and generating revenue since last year. If we start earning profit from sales, we can continue development without receiving investment and we plan on being listed once we meet the listing conditions.

Fortunately, government and VC investment have been lively compared to the past.  Using revenue from the sales of other medical devices to develop digital PCR technology is also a good method.

What is unique about RevoSketch compared to other biomarker companies?

RevoSketch is a bio company, but we are different from normal bio companies. RevoSketch develops bio technology based on engineering, enabling convergence collaboration with many existing bio companies. Existing bio companies have excellent bio technologies but rely on foreign devices or software.

One representative example of convergence cooperation that RevoSketch has been doing is developing an optimized device and software for the isothermal PCR corona kit developed by Seasun Biomaterials. We entered the market with this item, which is being introduced to Bioneer, Osang Healthcare, Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology and the Armed Forces Medical Research Institute. In addition, we are preparing a cloud server with the collected field data to expand our business to Big Data.

Cooperation between Korean companies is very important for K-bio to be properly established, and RevoSketch’s technology can actively support the weaknesses in engineering technologies of other Korean bio companies. Currently, there are more than 10 companies working with RevoSketch.

The cooperation of domestic bio companies is crucial to compete against global bio companies. It would be beneficial for RevoSketch to develop its technology through the collaboration with other bio companies and apply it to various medical devices. K-bio does not pale in comparison to foreign companies.

Daejeon is emerging as the center of bio healthcare companies. What is the reason behind this? How is this affecting RevoSketch?

Daejeon is the hub for startups developing innovative bio-technologies. RevoSketch is currently collaborating with Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology, KAIST National Nanofab Center, Korea Institute of Machinery and Materials, and the Korea Research Institute of Standards and Science, and more than 10 companies developing innovative bio contents in Daejeon. Daejeon is concentrated with a high level of bio and other technologies, so it seems like a melting pot for convergence of technology.

Daejeon is emerging as the center of bio healthcare. There are many science institutions as well as startups, and I hope K-bio gains more stature with the infrastructure from Daejeon.

One word to KAIST students who are interested in startups?

There is no business without hardships. The most fundamental element of business is courage and passion, and I hope KAIST alumni start businesses without courage and passion.

All pre-entrepreneurs hesitate to start a business with the fear of failure. The post of process of starting a business is very difficult and the probability of success is very low. As CEO Chung Ju-yung said, “There may be distress, but no such thing as failure”.

Those who have courage and challenge can reap the fruit. There is already a road ahead that seniors have paved, so KAIST students can follow the road.

What is RevoSketch’s ultimate goal?

I started RevoSketch to live until 500 years old. My goal is to contribute my abilities to solve the problem of death, which is probably the last homework for mankind. Of course, it is difficult to solve “death” with one technology, but humanity has doubled the life expectancy in the past 100 years, and the process will accelerate.

RevoSketch will do our best to contribute to the healthy life extension of mankind.

RevoSketch aims to solve diseases like cancer by developing digital PCR technology, the core of next-generation bio technology, and medical devices. The company reveals the startup experiences of the serial entrepreneur CEO Sung Woon Lee. CEO Lee’s 27-year experience and know-hows and the skillful team will continue to develop RevoSketch’s technology.

In the future, more diseases and unpredictable events may occur. In the midst, we hope RevoSketch’s technology will be able to predict and deal with such incidents. In addition, we hope that RevoSketch takes the lead in promoting K-bio by collaborating with various bio companies.

This was CEO Sung Woon Lee of RevoSketch.