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Bailey College of Science and Mathematics

Enhancing lives through learning, discovery and innovation

Website Update

Treating Disease Through Innovation - Cal Poly Biology Student Launches Drug Design Software Company to Help Combat Disease

The startup won this year's Innovation Quest hosted by Cal Poly's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship


By Nick Wilson

June 2023

A new software company launched by a recent Cal Poly graduate is providing an innovative new biomedical resource to help researchers better design and collaborate on new drug formulas.

The web-based tool aims to enhance experimentation for research teams seeking to create new medications towards treating a wide range of medical conditions, from inflammation to cancer.

McClain Kressman, of Santa Cruz, California, who graduated in June with a bachelor’s degree in biology, is part of a two-student team that won this spring’s Innovation Quest competition for their company, called BioGlyph.

Kressman partnered with UC Berkeley computer science student Nico Galin to create a cloud-based platform that has promising potential to help advance drug discovery.

The innovative tool can be used in researching medications for cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and a wide range of other debilitating or life-threatening illnesses, according to Kressman and Cal Poly faculty members.

“It’s basically creating a new software to tap into a visual and markup language (a notation language for chemical combinations) that will help the scientific community create new drugs, treating any disease from cancer to viral infection,” Kressman said.

Innovation Quest, hosted by Cal Poly’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), involves pitching potentially successful or innovative ideas.

This spring, Kressman and Galin received coaching beforehand from CIE mentors and then formally pitched their business model in front of a panel of Innovation Quest judges. They ultimately won $15,000 in prize seed money.

“The Innovation Quest replicated the environment that you’d have if you were to go pitch to investors,” Kressman said. “That’s the kind of environment we’ll be in, so it was great training.”

The CIE program offers students mentorship to develop and launch their business ideas. The BioGlyph team has worked with program mentors to set up their business and introduce it to industry.

“Cal Poly’s CIE offers a rich amount of resources, competitions, and investor-facing opportunities to students who are looking to turn their ideas into startups or other entrepreneurial ventures,” said Erik Sapper, Bailey College of Science and Mathematics’ faculty innovation lead and a chemistry associate professor.

BioGlyph has exciting potential to make an impact on science and the pharmaceutical industry, Sapper said.

“BioGlyph is a shining example of entrepreneurial student innovation that we are encouraging and supporting within the Bailey College of Science and Mathematics,” Sapper added.

Already, the startup has a corporate client in the Bay Area (one of the largest biopharmaceuticals in the world, Kressman said), But he isn’t able to announce the deal formally yet, and the student partners are reaching out to more companies.

“The potential of using computational resources to run models and take on all the different modifications is a really big deal,” said biological sciences Professor Jean Davidson. “I think that’s why we’re seeing it being taken up by these major companies. They understand that this shift is coming and they're trying to stay ahead of it.”

Davidson said that BioGlyph’s product could help target more successful pathways for potential drug solutions, especially by ruling out what may not work.

“It absolutely can prevent a lot of false starts and going down the wrong pathway, which is huge in screening,” Davidson said. “Any weight on the side of success is huge and provides a bit more confidence moving forward with a potential target.”

The BioGlyph platform offers a tool for creating graphic representations of molecules and chemical bonds through various graphics representations, including swirling patterns, lines, block shapes and colors.

Kressman likens the graphic shapes to Lego-building blocks for drug design that a user can create with the click and drag of a mouse.

The graphics can be then converted into written formulas, identifying the molecular structure.

“As these images are created, there’s an underlying language being generated,” Kressman said. “We’re trying to help create a standardized way to communicate what's been developed and researched.”

The idea behind protein engineering in drug discovery is that proteins are “like little machines” that can be designed and altered to treat disease.

“For example, you can design and engineer proteins to bind a cancerous cell allowing an immune cell to see it, so the immune system can detect and fight off cancer,” Kressman said. “Or it could bind a cell causing inflammatory problems and shut down that response.”  

Kressman said there isn’t currently a program like BioGlyph on the market. While there are similar open-source versions, scientists sometimes use PowerPoint or other presentation programs that aren’t consistent language tools for sharing ideas in the medical field.

The standardization of BioGlyph’s format will help in the vetting process and in applying ideas through machine learning (artificial intelligence).

Scientists commonly screen for new drugs in labs through processes that are time-consuming. But computational programs such as BioGlyph can help streamline the work on the front end of design methods. 

“Building such a tool for researchers in a field that I previously knew almost nothing about has been one of the most exciting, humbling and fulfilling experiences of my life,” said Galin, also of Santa Cruz, who connected with Kressman through mutual friends.

The pair puts in between 15 and 40 hours per week to launch the startup, Galin said. They began working on their idea about six months ago.

“It can be hard at times to find meaningful work in the world of software development, but BioGlyph has proved to be an incredible opportunity to make real change,” Galin said.

Kressman has been accepted to UC Santa Cruz’s graduate program in biochemistry and chemistry, but he may choose to focus on their business full time.

“I never thought I’d find myself in a big board room meeting pitching an idea like this to companies,” Kressman said. “Initially, we found this interesting and that led to it becoming a business. It’s a lot of work, but it has been extremely rewarding so far.”


To learn more about BioGlyph, go to the company website at

To make a gift to support student learning, go to Cal Poly Giving







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