Deep Tech artificial intelligence (AI), and the subset of this discipline machine learning, (ML) are having notable effects on the rapid expansion and improvements made in drug discovery for diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease — the prime killers globally — but not only those. In the times of COVID-19, mental health is an issue, too, yet it is here where the power of deep tech is having a positive impact.
Although many of the biggest pharmaceutical companies have their hands in this pie, startups are also doing what is needed as well, led by some clever people who are all out to eradicate diseases using the most cutting-edge technology available.
The Deep Tech Insider will now touch on ten of these startups making the biggest difference, highlighting them using the TAFF framework of technology, applications, founders, and funding.
1. Accutar Biotech
To get the ball rolling with ten startups revolutionizing deep tech drug discovery, let’s first look at Accutar Biotech, a Brooklyn, New York-based startup (with offices in Shanghai, China, too) whose AI technology explains the physical and chemical nature of biological systems using a hybrid-based approach of computational drug design followed by wet lab validation.
Founded in 2015 by Jie Fan and Ke Liu, Accutar Biotech has raised a total of $76.6 million in funding over five rounds, giving its two software packages, the Orbital Deep neural net-based docking platform and the Chemi-Net, a data-driven, domain knowledge-free, deep learning method for absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion (ADME) property prediction platform — the financial means to develop further.
2. Finch Therapeutics
Having raised the mighty sum of $188.8 million over five rounds since it was founded in 2017, Finch Therapeutics’ Human-First Discovery platform to develop a novel class of orally administered biological drugs has gone from strength to strength.
Founded by Andrew Noh, Eric Alm, James Burgess, Mark Smith, Tom Borody, and Zain Kassam, everything is fuelled by data — employing machine learning (ML) and molecular characterization techniques — from human microbiota transplantation studies, leading to the uncovering of key dynamics associated with successful clinical outcomes.
3. Frontier Medicines
A precision medicine startup that has pioneered a powerful discovery and development platform designed to generate medicines against disease-causing proteins previously considered undruggable utilizing the power of ML algorithms, eventually eradicating disease, starting with cancer.
According to Frontier Medicines, less than 10% of human proteins are accessible to small molecules. Yet with the startup’s proprietary drug discovery engine, over 90% of human proteins are now accessible.
Located in South San Francisco and Boston, Frontier Medicines was founded in 2018 by Chris Varma, Daniel Nomura and Roberto Zoncu and has raised a total of $155.5 million in funding over two rounds. Frontier Medicines’ latest funding, raised in July 2021 from an $88.5-million Series B round, was led by Woodline Partners.
Insitro is an interesting female-founded, San Francisco-based startup, as it is rethinking the entire drug discovery process, from the perspective of ML, human genetics, and high-throughput, quantitative biology, and the team is aware drug discovery and development could be improved upon with better prediction tools earlier in the process for which drugs are likely to work and for which patients.
With an incredible $743 million banked in funding over four rounds, Insitro’s latest came in the spring of 2021, a $400-million Series C round, led by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, giving the startup endless possibilities as its IP leverages modern biology to generate high-quality, large data sets optimized for ML.
Founded in 2018 by CEO and Board Member Daphne Koller, who was the Rajeev Motwani Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University in the past — where she served on the faculty for nearly twenty years — Koller was the co-founder, co-CEO and President of Coursera for 5 years, and the Chief Computing Officer of Calico, an Alphabet company in the healthcare space.
As the author of over 200 refereed publications appearing in venues such as Science, Cell, and Nature Genetics, and has an h-index of 130, Koller was one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people and is a MacArthur Fellow, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the International Society of Computational Biology and the best person to lead the startup as it develops its technology further, helped by the massive cash injection it has recently received.
Number five on our Deep Tech Drug Discovery list is Exscientia, a pharmatech public company at the cusp of small molecule drug discovery using patient-first artificial intelligence to discover better drugs, faster. With headquarters in Oxford, the UK, Exscientia was founded in 2012 by Andrew Hopkins, one of the most distinguished and cited scientists in modern drug discovery and an individual whose research papers, published in Nature journals, are widely considered as pivotal points in the new paradigm of modern drug discovery.
On October 1st of this year, Exscientia went public with a valuation at IPO of $2.6 billion, attaining unicorn status. This was after the company had raised a total of $374.4 million in funding over eight rounds.
This clearly gives Exscientia the clout to build out its AI and big data processing technology.
6. Engine Biosciences
Engine Biosciences is a venture-backed San Francisco- and Asia-based technology company pioneering network biology-led, data-driven, medicines-oriented startup powered by ML and biological experimentation, founded in 2014 by Jeffrey Lu, Tim Lu and Timothy Lu.
Engine Biosciences’ integrated computational and experimental NetMAPPR platform, developed through several years of research by its scientific and leadership team, dramatically accelerates and reduces costs of the R&D process for new medical therapies.
So far, Engine Biosciences has raised a total of $53 million in funding over two rounds. Its most recent funding, a $43-million Series A round led by Polaris Partners, was raised in May 2021.
Juvenescence is a Dublin, Ireland-based biotech company that develops therapies and products to modify ageing and help people live longer that has raised a total of $219.2 million in funding over five rounds since it was founded in 2016.
When co-founders Declan Doogan, Greg Bailey and Jim Mellon set up Juvenescence, their intention was in building a coalition of the best scientists, physicians and investors to develop therapies and products that will help people experience better health for longer in their lives.
Although the startup’s flagship product is the Metabolic Switch Drink, basically ketosis in a bottle, Juvenescence employs data science, deep learning and AI protocols to rapidly identify potent DDR1 kinase inhibitors, revealing new therapies to fight age-related diseases.
A Foster City, California startup that uses a clinically validated, automated compound sensitivity platform to identify and advance novel therapeutic candidates to dramatically reduce the cost and time of the traditional drug development process, Notable was founded in 2014 by Matt De Silva, Matthew De Silva and Pete Quinzio.
Having raised some $54.8 million in funding over eight rounds, the money is assisting Notable to extend its technology-powered predictive platform, designed to improve patient outcomes and accelerate precision drug development.
Standigm is a South Korean workflow drug discovery startup whose proprietary AI platforms encompass novel target identification to lead generation to generate commercially valuable drug pipelines.
Founded in 2015 by Jinhan Kim, Sang Ok Song and So Jeong Yun, Standigm has raised a total of $71.2 million in funding over seven rounds. The company’s latest funding, a $10-million Series D round, was raised in June 2021 and led by Pavilion Capital.
The money will contribute to Standigm improving its automation of molecular design workflow, made through DarkMolFactory™, and the automation effort has been expanding to the whole drug discovery process on the basis of Standigm AI platforms, including Standigm ASK™ for target discovery, Standigm BEST™ for lead design, and Standigm Insight™ for drug repurposing.
10. Spring Discovery
The last on our list today is Spring Discovery, which like Juvenescence, is accelerating the discovery of therapies for ageing, though using machine learning as its principal tool.
Founded by Ben Kamens in 2017, Spring Discovery is made up of experts in the fields of ageing biology, ML and drug development, who are getting to the heart of why new therapies for the diseases of old age — from cardiovascular to neurodegenerative diseases.
Aiding the team in its quest to increase healthy lifespans is the more than $22 million the startup has raised in funding over two rounds.