Follow the Money: AI-Driven Talent Engagement, Cancer Center Funding, Maternal Health, More

December 28, 2021

December 27, 2021 | AI used in talent engagement and communication and in the development of therapeutic antibodies; women’s health, maternal health, and contraceptive technologies


$100M: Series B for Blood Collection Technology

Tasso, Inc., a leader in clinical-grade blood collection technology, announced that it has completed an oversubscribed $100 million Series B financing round, bringing the total funding to date to $131 million. The financing round was led by RA Capital Management and included participation from new investors the D.E. Shaw group, Senvest, InCube, and SVB Innovation Fund, as well as existing investors Foresite Capital, Hambrecht Ducera Growth Ventures, J2V, Cedars-Sinai, and Merck GHIF. Tasso will use the proceeds from the latest funding round to scale manufacturing and operations to meet the increased demand for its signature line of blood collection devices and high-quality, reliable decentralized health testing services. Tasso is well positioned to capitalize on the growing demand for remote testing services driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.   


$50M: Series D for AI-Driven Talent Engagement and Communication Platform Solutions

Sense, a market leader in AI-driven talent engagement and communication platform solutions for recruiting, announced $50 million in Series D funding led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2, bringing the total funding to date to $90 million. Sense delivers a singular engagement platform powered by AI and machine learning that enables personalized communication across the entire talent lifecycle at scale. Through this personalized approach, Sense customers experience on average a 263% increase in candidates screened compared to a manual approach, reduced time to fill by 30-81%, and up to 800 hours of recruiter time saved. With blue and gray-collar workers leaving jobs in record numbers, increased competition for hiring has helped Sense gain traction across more than 600 customers. Funding will be used to drive global expansion and product innovation to support the record hiring demands.


$25M: Gift to Brown to Accelerate Discovery at Renamed Legorreta Cancer Center

A $25 million gift from accomplished life sciences entrepreneur and investor Pablo Legorreta and his wife, Almudena, will advance a plan to transform Brown University’s recently launched cancer center into a world-class cancer center. The gift will rename the Cancer Center at Brown University, established in 2020 to build on the strengths of the Joint Program in Cancer Biology at Brown and Lifespan, as the Legorreta Cancer Center. It will also position the center to work toward National Cancer Institute designation, the highest federal rating a cancer center can achieve. Rhode Island has high rates of bladder, lung, prostate, breast and endometrial, brain and certain gastrointestinal cancers, and the center has worked to recruit experts who specialize in those areas. Understanding why Rhode Islanders are at a higher risk of these types of cancers and what can be done about it will continue to be top priorities of the Legorreta Cancer Center.


$20M: Series A for Developing and Commercializing Digital Surface Plasmon Resonance-Based Proteomics Platform

Nicoya Lifesciences, a Canadian-based life sciences tools company, announced a $20 million Series A extension led by Whitecap Venture Partners. The round included participation from Agilent Technologies, Export Development Canada, BDC Capital, MaRS IAF, Garage Capital, and others. The funding will fuel Nicoya’s continued development & commercialization of Alto™, an innovative surface plasmon resonance (SPR) platform that digitalizes label-free protein characterization, and it will aid expansion into new international markets. Alto integrates surface plasmon resonance (SPR) with digital microfluidics to revolutionize the way biologics developers approach biological assays and tackle challenging drug targets. This disruptive technology platform is broadly applicable to the most advanced therapeutic approaches, saving precious time and money. Nicoya previously announced $10M in Series A financing in early 2020, also led by Whitecap, which enabled them to grow to a team of over 100 employees and launch the early adopter program for Alto. This round of financing brings the Canadian-based company’s total raised since inception to $35 million.


$18M: Grant for Program to Accelerate Progress in Women’s Health and Contraceptive Technology 

Evotec SE announced that it has received an $18M grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the integrated discovery and development of a novel, first-in-class program to accelerate progress in the area of women’s health and contraceptive technology, leveraging Evotec’s integrated R&D platform. The project makes use of Evotec’s fully-integrated drug discovery and development platforms as well as therapeutic area expertise to take an idea from concept to the nomination of a pre-clinical development candidate. To efficiently deliver safe and efficacious pre-clinical drug candidates, Evotec will use its extensive toolbox of computational tools, structural biology, therapeutic area knowledge, translational biology models, safety assessment, and deep talent across the full R&D continuum.


$18M: Partnership to Develop AAV Gene Therapy Vectors for Skeletal and Cardiac Muscle

Astellas Pharma Inc. and Dyno Therapeutics, Inc. announced an option and license agreement signed on November 23 to develop next-generation adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors for gene therapy directed to skeletal and cardiac muscle using Dyno's CapsidMap platform. Dyno's CapsidMap platform represents a transformative approach applying in vivo experimental data and machine learning to create novel AAV capsids—the cell-targeting protein shells of viral vectors—with optimized tissue targeting and immune-evading properties and improved packaging capacity and manufacturability. This research collaboration combines Dyno's AI-powered AAV vector engineering capabilities with Astellas Gene Therapies’ global leadership in AAV-based pipeline assets. Under the terms of the agreement, Dyno will design novel AAV capsids with improved functional properties for gene therapy, and Astellas will be responsible for conducting preclinical, clinical, and commercialization activities, including manufacturing, of gene therapy product candidates using the novel capsids. Dyno will receive an $18 million upfront payment and be eligible to receive additional payments during the research phase of the collaboration as well as clinical and sales milestone payments and royalties for any resulting products. The aggregate potential value of future milestone and royalty payments to Dyno exceeds $235 million per product and over $1.6 billion in total value.


$13.53M: Funding for Development of Dental Implant Bone Regeneration Products

Osteopore Limited, an Australian and Singapore-based global leader in the manufacture of innovative regenerative implants at commercial scale empowering natural tissue regeneration, has signed an agreement to launch an A$18.7M project with the National Dental Centre Singapore and A*STAR’s research institutes to develop dental implants and support its entry into a global market estimated at A$1.26B. The project encompasses the development of a combination product with patented biological additives and polymer compound to enhance the bone regeneration capability and clinical outcomes. Expected outcomes include shorter surgical procedures and faster recovery time for patients. The A$18.7m study is mostly funded by the Singapore foundation, with Osteopore contributing A$1.8M in cash over three years. Project milestones include in-vivo implantation with Osteopore’s patented magnesium composite material.


$11M: Seed Round for AI-Based Therapeutic Antibodies

Nabla Bio, a next-generation antibody design company, announced the closing of an $11M Seed financing round. The round was co-led by Khosla Ventures and Zetta Venture Partners, with participation from Fifty Years, Cantos Ventures, and others. The new funding will be used to accelerate the development of an AI-first protein design platform, enabling rapid end-to-end engineering of next-generation antibody therapeutics. Nabla is developing a high-throughput technology that enables the generation of a predictive “biophysical fingerprint” for 1 million antibodies in a single step.


$10M: Investment for Compact Flow Cytometry in Cell Therapy Applications

Accellix Inc., which provides quick and accurate flow cytometry results in a compact and easy-to-use platform designed for use by cell therapy companies on the manufacturing floor and at the point of need, announced that it has raised $10 million from BroadOak Capital Partners. This investment will enable the acceleration of commercial and development efforts. Accellix has grown their customer base 10-fold in the past 2 years, with some of these customers already implementing the Accellix Platform in their commercial GMP manufacturing processes. Accellix intends to continue investing in the infrastructure required to support these customers’ needs.


$7.9M: Investment for Launch of Immune Organoid Technology Platform

NextVivo, a biotech company developing an immune organoid technology platform, launched with $7.9M in financing led by Khosla Ventures, with participation from Alexandria Venture Investments, Wilson Sonsini, and individual investors. NextVivo plans to develop the first organoid platform able to generate and test therapies in immune-competent human-derived models. NextVivo organoids are miniature 3D tissue models that can uniquely retain all key cell types of human organs, including immune cells. The company’s platform, based on technology licensed from Stanford University, has potential applications in the generation of cell and antibody therapies by leveraging the immune system’s natural defense mechanisms and in pre-clinical and clinical testing of drug candidates across a range of diseases, including cancer, infection, and autoimmune disorders. The funding will allow NextVivo to advance their platform to generate novel drug candidates using the same processes through which our immune system continuously eradicates would-be disease cells and to bring the most effective therapies to patients by safely testing them on human disease tissue.

$5M: Convertible Note for Launching COVID-19 Testing Centers Where Personal Vital Sign-Monitoring Devices Can be Promoted

G Medical Innovations Holdings Ltd. announced the pricing of a private placement in the form of a convertible note in the principal amount of $5,000,000 that has a two-year maturity and a fixed conversion price. Proceeds are to be used to launch 25 Covid-19 testing centers in California in Q1, 2022. GMedical’s innovative Prizma monitoring device will be offered direct-to consumer for the first time at these testing locations as part of an aggressive company direct-to-consumer strategy. Prizma is a user-friendly cell phone-sized device that can help monitor users’ vital signs, providing up-to-the-minute readings for ECG, temperature, oxygen saturation, heart rate, stress levels, and blood pressure, and helping track body weight and glucose levels. Data are presented directly to the user and the designated care provider.


$1M: NIH Prize to Develop New Maternal Health Diagnostics

The National Institutes of Health is offering up to $1 million in cash prizes for innovative diagnostic technologies to help improve maternal health around the world in conjunction with the White House “day of action” on maternal health. The NIH Technology Accelerator Challenge (NTAC) for Maternal Health will seek to spur and reward the development of prototypes for low-cost, point-of-care molecular, cellular, and/or metabolic sensing and diagnostic technologies. The prize competition is managed by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and with support from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health. Prototype devices submitted to the competition should be able to guide rapid clinical decision-making, improve patient outcomes, and ultimately help prevent maternal morbidity and mortality. Device prototypes should be capable of full integration with digital health platforms and be able to diagnose at least two pregnancy-associated conditions, including infections, hypertensive disease, hemorrhage, or placental issues. Participants in NTAC for Maternal Health will compete for a first-place prize of up to $500,000, a second-place prize of up to $300,000, and a third-place prize of up to $150,000, with the potential for additional prizes of $50,000 for semi-finalists as well as honorable mention recognitions. Submissions will be accepted Jan. 5, 2022 through Apr. 22, 2022. Details about eligibility, rules, and how to register and participate can be found on the challenge website.


$750,000: BARDA Funding for Proof-of-Concept Development of Intranasal Influenza RNA Vaccine

The Infectious Disease Research Institute (IDRI), a Seattle-based non-profit biotech research institute, announced a contract with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) DRIVe (Division of Research, Innovation, and Ventures) “Beyond the Needle” program to develop an intranasally delivered RNA vaccine for pandemic influenza. The development of an intranasally administered flu vaccine using IDRI’s RNA vaccine platform could improve RNA vaccine protection against respiratory viruses, remove the need for the deep cold chain that makes RNA vaccines inaccessible to low-and-middle income countries (LMICs), and alleviate fears in needle-hesitant individuals. BARDA entered into a contract with IDRI for the development of an intranasal RNA vaccine platform with long-term storage stability using H5N1 influenza as an initial proof-of-concept target. IDRI will deliver results of its BARDA-funded research as project milestones are met throughout the 2-year contract. IDRI plans to build on this work to make potent RNA vaccines cheaper and easier to manufacture, store, ship, and administer across the world. Fierce Pharma reports DRIVe funding of $748,885 with a cost-share requirement adding additional $268,853.