Follow the Money: ML in Immunology, Virtual Drug Screening; Single-Cell Multi-Omic Sequencing; AI Marketplace
February 28, 2022 | AI and ML in immunological therapeutic development, virtual drug screening, microscope-based rapid pathogen diagnostics, improved genetic variant interpretation, and more.
$963M: Pharmaceutical Venture Capital Fund
LSP announced that it has raised over EUR 1 billion for its flagship fund LSP 7. This constitutes the final close of the largest life sciences venture capital fund ever raised in Europe to date. The fund aims to invest in companies developing new drug therapies and medical technologies, to help ensure that their scientific innovations benefit patients. LSP 7 is, among others, backed by one US-based and four Asian pharmaceutical companies. The strong support by pharma demonstrates interest in European life sciences ventures and, in the view of LSP, validates its track record and industry standing. The firm expects to invest LSP 7 in 15-20 companies developing new drug therapies and medical technologies. Four investments have already been completed: Evommune (dermatology and immunology), Egle Therapeutics (oncology and autoimmune diseases), Hotspot (autoimmune diseases, rare diseases and oncology), and an undisclosed radiotherapy company.
$140M: Series C for Virtual Drug Screening
Ventus Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company utilizing structural biology and computational tools to identify and develop small molecule therapeutics across a broad range of disease indications, has closed a $140 million Series C financing. The Series C is co-led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2 and RA Capital Management with participation from Qatar Investment Authority, Andreessen Horowitz, BVF Partners L.P., Casdin Capital, Cormorant Asset Management, Fonds de solidarité FTQ, Alexandria Venture Investments, GV (formerly Google Ventures), and founding investor Versant Ventures. Concurrent with this financing, John Cassidy, Ph.D., of SoftBank Investment Advisers will join the Ventus Board of Directors. The Series C financing is expected to allow Ventus to accelerate the scaling of its ReSOLVE platform to address targets previously considered undruggable and enhance its performance by automating processes, expanding machine learning capabilities, and constructing larger proprietary virtual libraries. ReSOLVE is designed to virtually screen libraries composed of several billion compounds by using structural information about a protein to infer multiple protein conformational states and the solvation structure of each conformation. The company also plans to continue to advance its lead drug programs that target key modulators in the innate immune system, including NLRP3 (NLR pyrin domain-containing 3) and cGAS (cyclic GMP-AMP synthase), which have been extensively implicated in human disease.
$101M: Series A for ML in Immunology Drug Development
Seismic Therapeutic announced its launch and financing of $101 million. The Series A was led by Lightspeed Venture Partners with participation from lead founding investors Timothy A. Springer and Polaris Partners, along with new investors GV, Boxer Capital, Samsara BioCapital, and management and founders. Seismic’s IMPACT platform systematically integrates machine learning, structural biology, protein engineering, and translational immunology to invent novel biologics and optimize properties with significantly improved efficiency and scale over conventional therapeutics discovery. With this new approach, Seismic Therapeutic is accelerating a pipeline of biologics targeting dysregulated adaptive immunity to treat autoimmune diseases. The Series A financing will support Seismic Therapeutic’s further advancement toward the clinic of its first two lead drug programs, one targeting Ig (immunoglobulin)-mediated autoimmunity and the other targeting cell-mediated autoimmunity. In addition, the company will continue to build its proprietary IMPACT platform to make further advancements to machine learning technologies applied to immunology therapeutics.
$84M: Series B for Signal Regulatory Protein-Targeting Antibodies
Electra Therapeutics has announced a $84 million Series B financing co-led by Westlake Village BioPartners and OrbiMed. Other participating investors include Redmile Group, Cormorant Asset Management, Cowen Healthcare Investments, RA Capital, and New Leaf Venture Partners. Electra was previously funded by its parent company, Star Therapeutics. Electra is building a pipeline of novel therapies targeting signal regulatory proteins (SIRPs), a family of cell surface receptors on various immune cell types. The company is taking a first-in-class approach to engage SIRPs beyond the current drug development efforts in cancer, by targeting specific SIRPs to deplete targeted pathological immune cells. ELA026, the company’s lead product candidate, exhibits this novel mechanism of action and is currently in Phase 1 clinical studies, including a trial in secondary hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (sHLH), a life-threatening inflammatory disease. ELA026 is also advancing in other immunological diseases. In addition, the company’s pipeline includes preclinical programs in immunology and immuno-oncology. Proceeds from the financing will be used to continue advancing ELA026 in clinical trials for sHLH and other immunological diseases. The funding will also support advancement of an additional preclinical pipeline program targeting SIRP in immunology, as well as Electra’s immuno-oncology platform that leverages SIRP to promote targeted depletion of tumor cells.
$60M: Series A for Vaccines Against Infectious Disease
Curevo Vaccine, a privately held clinical-stage biotechnology company, has announced the closing of a $60 million Series A financing round. The funding will be used to support phase 2b trials of their vaccine against shingles, CRV-101, comparing immunogenicity and safety relative to Shingrix. The financing was led by RA Capital Management, a leading investment firm dedicated to evidence-based investing in life sciences companies. They were joined by Adjuvant Capital, whose mission is to back ambitious companies developing life sciences technologies addressing high-burden public health challenges. Additional investors included Janus Henderson Investors, EN Investment, and founding investor GC Pharma, a South Korean biopharmaceutical company specializing in the development and commercialization of vaccines, protein therapies, and therapeutic antibodies.
41.5M: Series B for Single-Cell Sequencing Solutions
Parse Biosciences has announced $41.5M in Series B funding co-led by Marshall Wace and Janus Henderson Investors. Soleus Capital, Logos Capital, and Bioeconomy Capital also participated in the round, bringing Parse Biosciences’ total funding to date to over $50M. The funding will be used to expand commercialization of Parse’s Evercode Whole Transcriptome products, which empower researchers to profile cells at various levels of scale according to their unique experiment needs. Evercode leverages a patented technique of combinatorial barcoding that improves sample resolution, increases transcript sensitivity, and simplifies workflow. The company’s new products will include immune profiling, combining gene expression with receptor profiling; chromatin profiling; high-throughput CRISPR screens; and targeted gene panels, with improved sensitivity of Whole Transcriptome kits.
$15M: Series A for Regulatory Compliance Technology
BTR (Boston Technology Research), a regulatory technology company serving healthcare, life sciences, and SaMD, announced that is has raised $15 million in a Series A round led by New York-based global venture capital and private equity firm Insight Partners, with participation from LRV Health, NewStack Ventures and other investors. The new funding will be used to ensure that customers are prepared for the FDA’s anticipated guidance that will incentivize a move from traditional methods to new technologies. BTR is a leading regulatory technology company that automates how healthcare, life sciences and SaMD companies establish and maintain compliance over their systems. BTR’s flagship solution, Res_Q (for Responsible_Quality), is an entirely digital, SaaS-based validation lifecycle solution that was born from the pain points of industry experience. Healthcare and life sciences companies are required to ensure that every system that impacts patient safety and security be tested when installed, and every time it changes. Most are doing this with legacy systems like paper, struggling to keep up with the pace of new technology, and spending too much time and resources. Over the next two years, BTR will further automation within Res_Q, expand product offerings and invest in sales and customer success.
$3.53M: Pre-Seed Funding for AI-Powered Pathogen Diagnostics
OxDX, a University of Oxford spin out building instant pathogen tests using super-resolution microscopy and machine learning, has raised £2.6m in pre-seed funding for its AI-powered diagnostic technology that can recognize and identify specific species and strains of viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens within a sample in seconds. The initial funding is co-led by IQ Capital and Ahren Innovation Capital with participation from Science Creates Ventures and will be used to expand the team and further validate the technology with development partners. The OxDX technology uses novel universal labelling technology in combination with machine learning analysis in a neural network to identify the specific pathogens causing infection in just a few seconds. The team has demonstrated the ability to identify respiratory viruses in clinical samples and, in the case of COVID-19 and influenza viruses, directly identify the strain. OxDX aims to develop an ultra-fast analysis platform capable of rapidly scaling to many diseases via simple software updates, improving the cost and access to infectious disease diagnostics worldwide.
$3.4M: Seed Extension Round for Male Fertility
ExSeed Health, the pioneering male fertility startup, announced that it closed a £2.5M/$3.4M seed extension round, led by Ascension and with participation from Trifork, Hambro Perks, and R42 Group. The investment will drive further European expansion and is a step forward in ExSeed’s mission to tackle rising male infertility. British Standards Institute (BSI) approved ExSeed’s state-of-the-art, smartphone-based sperm testing kit last year, clinically validating it as an in vitro diagnostic medical device. Successful CE certification of ExSeed’s device highlighted huge steps being made in the at-home health tech sector, validating it for use across the European Economic Area and guaranteeing patients over 95% accuracy, bringing it in line with accuracy offered by traditional fertility clinics. The at-home test doesn’t require users to attend a doctors surgery, clinic, or hospital facility, and it comes with a lifestyle intervention program that has shown highly promising health improvement rates.
$1.7M: SBIR Grant for AI-Driven Variant Interpretation
Genomenon was awarded a $1.7 million grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The grant is to accelerate development of the Mastermind Genomic Search Engine, the company’s AI-driven variant interpretation engine, with a vision of curating the entire human genome. The grant enables Genomenon to increase the expertly curated evidence needed for clinicians to make a genetic diagnosis, extending Mastermind beyond its current function as the most complete source of genomic information for medical research. Mastermind is used by more than 1,000 diagnostic labs and integrated into 18 clinical-grade decision support platforms and reference databases across the globe, helping connect patient genetic data with critical evidence from scientific literature needed to diagnose rare genetic diseases and cancer.
$1.6M: Pre-Seed Raise for AI Marketplace
Smarter.ai, creators of the world's first AI marketplace to democratize artificial intelligence and help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) compete with Big Tech, announced its pre-seed raise, led by Fuel Ventures and Hambro Perks. This comes at a time when Big Tech monopolies face growing regulatory and public scrutiny, while the pandemic has sped up the need for AI-as-a-Service (AIaaS) to solve businesses' greatest challenges. Currently, it is estimated that the usability of AI is available to the 5% of companies with sufficient resources to hire and retain skilled research data scientists to build original models—leaving out 95% of businesses. The exorbitant cost of leveraging AI (anywhere from US$20,000 to US$1,000,000+), combined with a low efficacy rate keeps companies from being able to realize the benefits of data gathering and automation—necessary components to survive, especially given the upcoming ban on data capture techniques, such as third-party tracking. Smarter.ai uses a series of proprietary matching algorithms and AI-driven logic to deliver the most efficient solution customized to the business’s needs, allowing all SMEs to build advanced AI solutions that were previously unattainable. In addition, for the first time ever, data scientists will be able to monetize their independent skills and know-how by selling through Smarter.ai’s platform, making the latest innovations accessible to all.
Emerging from Stealth Mode
Star Therapeutics has emerged from stealth mode to reveal its pioneering approach to drug discovery and development in rare diseases and to spin out Electra Therapeutics, the first in its family of companies. Star is applying expertise in rare diseases and antibody drug discovery to generate drug programs that target multiple diseases with a single therapy. All of the company’s current drug programs represent first-in-class therapies and were internally generated, starting from early discovery efforts by its experienced team. To support this innovation engine, Star has raised over $100 million in financing since its inception in 2018 from Westlake Village BioPartners, OrbiMed, Redmile Group, Cormorant Asset Management, RA Capital, Cowen Healthcare Investments, and New Leaf Venture Partners. Star’s initial focus has yielded numerous antibody programs at Electra for diseases in immunology and immuno-oncology, including a lead program that has rapidly progressed into Phase 1 clinical studies. Star is currently planning to introduce a second company focused on rare hematologic diseases in the near future.