Seeking to ‘close the loop’ in drug discovery with machine learning, Catalio-backed biotech emerges from semi-stealth – Endpoints News
Two years after securing seed funding and remaining in a “semi-stealth” state, a San Francisco biotech eager to combine evolution with small molecule discovery recently bagged a venture capital round that will see it to do just that.
Known as Anagenex, the company announced on Wednesday that it had raised a $30 million Series A funding round, attracting the attention of Catalio Capital Management as lead investor. A few other investors followed, such as Lux Capital and Khosla Ventures.
Lux Capital had led the Anagenex seed round in 2020, which raised $7.2 million for the biotech. According to Anagenex CEO Nicolas Tilmans, the cycle should last at least two years for biotech.
Anagenex said in a statement that it plans to use its Series A funds to “further expand its novel data generation platform and build a strong pipeline of programs addressing historically challenging unmet medical needs.”
Tilmans began by telling Terminal news that in his mind, the force of evolution is one of the most powerful forces in nature.
“And if you can create a system that harnesses evolution, you’ll almost always do better at biology than not,” added the CEO, who holds a PhD in biochemistry from Stanford.
The biotech kicked off in 2018, after Tilmans said he saw this evolving concept in antibody- and protein-based drug discovery. So he wondered why not apply it to small molecules? From his point of view, the obstacle had been the lack of means to “close the circle”.
The CEO likened it to subjecting the finches to evolutionary pressures and seeing which finches do. As they repopulate over time, one could create the perfect finch – a similar theory advanced by Charles Darwin with his finches.
According to Anagenex, the platform is now giving way to a closed loop that can be refined over and over again, creating a process of directed evolution, in Tilmans’ words.
After taking an initial library of potential compounds (ranging from a few hundred million to over a billion) and screening them to see if they bind to a certain target, the results are fed into the platform of biotechnology machine learning. Then this platform creates a restricted library of one million more “promising” compounds based on the results of the previous screen. The refined compound library is re-examined as the results are fed back into the machine learning platform, and it spits out another narrow compound library to further refine.
The company will start with synthetic lethal oncology, with Anagenex also looking at certain inflammatory and cardiovascular targets. So far, there are three programs in play: two in synthetic lethal oncology and one in cardiovascular.
Tilmans said he could see small molecules branching out into multiple indications similar to Keytruda or Humira, both of which are antibodies — and that’s their goal.
“We don’t have the luxury of Pfizer. So yes, whatever we choose, we would like to be able to fit it into several different indications. But the most important thing for us is to take a problem that we are almost sure to win. And we’re pretty sure the market at the other end will be big enough,” the CEO added.
In terms of partnerships, Tilmans said there are a few conversations going on, but he says his approach to partnerships is markedly different from that of other biotech CEOs.
I want to emphasize that we are a therapeutic company and we want to solve problems and then bring the fruits of our labor to the patient ourselves. So it’s a bit different from some of the other companies in the space. One of the ways I like to think of it is kind of like Wall Street newsletters. If you tell me what things to invest in, maybe you should invest in it and put your money where your mouth is. And that’s how we see drug discovery.
Anagenex currently has approximately 18 employees and expects to grow to 30 within approximately the next 18 months.
In the meantime, the Anagenex Board of Directors welcomes two new members as part of the increase: Catalio co-founder and partner George Petrocheilos as a director and Catalio analyst Matthew Hobson as an observer. .