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Philly’s Lithero developed AI tech before it was cool. Here’s what its leaders think about the current hype

The University City company uses artificial intelligence to review marketing materials for drug companies to ensure accuracy and save time and money.

Lithero's team. (Courtesy photo)
You know how drug commercials on TV always have a section where they talk really fast through all the side effects and other important information about the drug?

Thousands of people have the job of fact checking that content to make sure it is accurate. Nyron Burke’s background is in consulting, where he worked with marketers and senior leaders to review and fact check marketing content for ads like those drug commercials. He said they used software tools to assist with the job, but he thought the process could still be more efficient. So in 2015 he founded Lithero, a company that developed AI software to do the work of those fact checkers.

“It came from just living the problem, seeing it, seeing how much money is spent on it. Most people don’t know that pharma spends one and a half to two times the cost of R&D on the actual sales and marketing of a drug,” he said. “A significant portion of it is making sure that content is right. So we’re trying to hopefully benefit society by making that process cheaper, right? So more can be invested in creating new medicines versus checking content for accuracy.”

This Philly company is making sure that stream of information is completely accurate, so no one is harmed by taking medication they shouldn’t. Lithero’s software — ¬†Lithero Artificial Review Assistant, or LARA — uses artificial intelligence to review drug content and find errors. It also features a search engine to ask for correct information about a drug.

Lithero’s customers are broadly in the life sciences, which includes drug companies or companies that work with drug companies, such as agencies. Brandon Morton, VP of AI innovation at Lithero, said the data the company looks at is so specialized, they had to custom build their own AI tools.

Ben Franklin Technology Partners has invested in the company twice. The company just started raising a seed round and is starting have conversations with traditional venture capitalists. The currently loud AI hype is a plus.

“So far, that’s going well, we’re getting good feedback,” Burke said. “It helps to be doing an AI company when everybody’s focused on AI.”

Strong Philly ties

Lithero is about as local as it gets for a tech company: It’s based at uCity Square and the whole team is based in the Philadelphia region.

Much of the team attended Drexel University, with Morton completing both his master’s degree and Ph.D. there. Lithero participates in Drexel’s co-op program, regularly hiring these students full time after their co-ops. The company currently has six employees, and Morton said they hope to continue finding talent that way.

“I was familiar with the process, familiar with the kind of quality of students that you can find there,” Morton said. “And also we’re on Drexel’s campus, so, kind of crazy to not take advantage of one of the better engineering schools in that pipeline.”

In general, Burke said he is excited to continue growing in Philly, but as a minority founder, would like to see more diverse tech companies come out of the region.

“I think the Philadelphia ecosystem has a lot going for it. It still could be stronger,” he said. “I would love to see multiple companies that look like Lithero in Philly and right now there aren’t.”

What an AI company thinks about AI hype

Conversations about AI have become more mainstream in the last year, but Morton said technologists have been researching the tech for many years. He’s happy to see the technology take off, especially because he thinks it will help people.

“One of the things it does really well is it offloads some of the cognitive load that we as humans have when we’re working on [tedious] things, and [it’s] able to do really tedious tasks very quickly, like identifying images and video and transcription,” he said — “things that are super important, but take humans really long to do. Computers can do that really well.”

However, he thinks generative AI, such as ChatGPT, is scary because of the potential for spreading misinformation:¬†“I also hope that people, when they’re developing these things, that they will also ask themselves, the ethical questions like, ‘Is this right? Should I release this? Is this fair?”

Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Companies: University City Science Center
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