Marissa Sumathipala, USA, 18
Basic Human Needs: Health
Because he died from heart disease at a young age, Marissa only knew her grandfather through old, grainy photographs. It was that fact that inspired her to begin working at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, at age 14, to develop treatments for chronic diseases just like her grandfather’s. While there, she was astonished to learn of the many shortcomings in drug development for chronic diseases, such as the 90% patient failure rate in drug trials, an average cost of $2.6 billion and a 12-year average time to bring a drug to market. After three years of research, Marissa developed a new and improved treatment for heart disease, and shortly thereafter, she created Theraplexus. Theraplexus is a computational platform that leverages cutting edge network science analytics and artificial intelligence to map the thousands of molecular interactions underlying a disease and pinpoints promising drug targets. Marissa describes Theraplexus as “Google Maps for molecular networks.” In 2018, Marissa won several top awards including the Regeneron Science Talent Search Junior Nobel, the Davidson Fellow and the Intel ISEF Grand Award. She also broke the record as a 4-time international BioGENEius Top 15 Winner in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. Theraplexus has already identified 200+ disease-specific drug targets for debilitating diseases like Alzheimers, breast cancer, schizophrenia and diabetes. The first of its kind, Theraplexus recognizes root molecular causes of disease, finding more effective therapies within patients’ lifetimes and potentially cutting drug development costs drastically. Partnering with Harvard Medical School’s Sharma Lab, Marissa is continuing to grow and develop the platform with the goal of transforming Theraplexus into a biotechnology startup.