Engineered virus and goggles restore object recognition in a blind man

Image of a seated person wearing a red cap and goggles.

Enlarge / The goggles in use. The red cap isn’t part of the system; it holds electrodes that are tracking the participant’s brain activity. (credit: Sahel et. al.)

Our nerves’ electrical impulses are created by a class of proteins called ion channels, which let ions flow into and out of cells. But controlling the flow of ions has uses that go well beyond creating nerve impulses, and there are many other channels made by cells—and even some made by bacteria and other organisms that don’t have nerves.

Scientists have discovered channels that only allow ions to flow after being triggered by light of specific wavelengths. When placed back into nerve cells, the channels turned out to be useful, as they allowed researchers to activate nerves using nothing but light. This discovery created an entire field of research—optogenetics—which has demonstrated that even complicated behaviors like socializing can be controlled with light.

But light-activated nerve activity is also part of normal biology, in the form of our eyes. The development of channels as a research tool has raised the prospect of using them to treat failing vision. In an important proof of concept, researchers have now used a light-sensitive channel and some specialized goggles to allow someone who is otherwise blind to locate objects.

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#biology, #biotechnology, #blindness, #optogeneitcs, #science, #vision

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Biden proposes ARPA-H, a health research agency to ‘end cancer’ modeled after DARPA

In a joint address to Congress last night, President Biden updated the nation on vaccination efforts and outlined his administration’s ambitious goals.

Biden’s first 100 days have been characterized by sweeping legislative packages that could lift millions of Americans out of poverty and slow the clock on the climate crisis, but during his first joint address to Congress, the president highlighted another smaller plan that’s no less ambitious: to “end cancer as we know it.”

“I can think of no more worthy investment,” Biden said Wednesday night. “I know of nothing that is more bipartisan…. It’s within our power to do it.”

The comments weren’t out of the blue. Earlier this month, the White House released a budget request for $6.5 billion to launch a new government agency for breakthrough health research. The proposed health agency would be called ARPA-H and would live within the NIH. The initial focus would be on cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s but the agency would also pursue other “transformational innovation” that could remake health research.

The $6.5 billion investment is a piece of the full $51 billion NIH budget. But some critics believe that ARPA-H should sit under the Department of Health and Human Services rather than being nested under NIH. 

ARPA-H would be modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which develops moonshot-like tech for defense applications. DARPA’s goals often sound more like science fiction than science, but the agency contributed to or created a number of now ubiquitous technologies, including a predecessor to GPS and most famously ARPANET, the computer network that grew into the modern internet.

Unlike more conservative, incremental research teams, DARPA aggressively pursues major scientific advances in a way that shares more in common with Silicon Valley than it does with other governmental agencies. Biden believes that using the DARPA model on cutting edge health research would keep the U.S. from lagging behind in biotech.

“China and other countries are closing in fast,” Biden said during the address. “We have to develop and dominate the products and technologies of the future: advanced batteries, biotechnology, computer chips, and clean energy.”

#arpanet, #biden, #biotechnology, #cancer, #congress, #darpa, #diabetes, #government, #health, #joe-biden, #life-sciences, #national-institute-of-health, #national-institutes-of-health, #president, #tc, #united-states, #white-house

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2021 should be a banner year for biotech startups that make smart choices early

Last year was a record 12 months for venture-backed biotech and pharma companies, with deal activity rising to $28.5 billion from $17.8 billion in 2019. As vaccines roll out, drug development pipelines return to normal, and next-generation therapies continue to hold investor interest, 2021 is on pace to be another blockbuster year.

The median step up in valuations from seed to Series A is now 2x, higher than in all later rounds. As a result, biotech startups will continue to attract more investment at earlier stages from a larger, more diverse pool of venture capitalists.

This may also change the nature of biotech founders themselves: As a blog post from Y Combinator suggests, these founders are trending younger and perhaps less willing to cede control to VCs and hired executives than they might have in years past (i.e., via the “venture creation” model so predominant among early-stage biotech companies).

Founders are some of the most creative people out there, but legal documentation should be anything but.

As longtime members of the biotech startup community — as executives, entrepreneurs, advisors and legal counsel — we’ve seen our fair share of founder missteps early in the fundraising journey result in severe consequences.

In this exciting moment, when younger founders will likely receive more attention, capital and control than ever, it’s crucial to avoid certain pitfalls.

Clarity trumps creativity

Founders are some of the most creative people out there, but legal documentation should be anything but. Keep it as simple and clear as possible. That means using National Venture Capital Corporation documents that everyone knows and understands, as well as keeping organized documentation for employee intellectual property (IP) assignment and NDAs, option grants, independent contractor agreements, tax documents and other key contracts and paperwork.

#biotech, #biotechnology, #column, #ec-column, #ec-how-to, #funding, #private-equity, #startups, #venture-capital

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Longevity startup Longevica plans to launch supplements based on long-term research

A biotech company, that has spent 11 years researching supplements to increase human longevity, plans to launch its supplements later this year. Longevica says it has attracted a total of $13 million from investors including, Alexander Chikunov, a longevity investor, who is also president of the company.

Longevica says it created a biotechnology platform for longevity after researching the life-span of laboratory mice. It now aims to produce medicines, dietary supplements, and food products.

The longevity space is a growing sector for tech startups. Google backed the launch of Calico in the space. Late last year Humanity Inc. raised $2.5 million in a round led by Boston fund One Way Ventures for its longevity company that will leverage AI to maximize people’s healthspan.

Longevica’s CEO Aynar Abdrakhmanov, backing up his company’s aim to tap the desire for people to live longer, said: “According to the WHO, by 2050, 2 billion people will be 60+ years old. By 2026, the sales of services and products for this audience will be around $27 trillion… By comparison, it was only $17 trillion in 2019.”

According to CB Insights, life-extension startups raised a record total of $800 million in 2018 alone. And there are some high-profile investors in the space.

PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel invested in Unity Biotechnology, which is developing drugs to treat diseases that accompany aging, has also raised significant funding.
 And Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin invested $2.4 million worth of Ether into the nonprofit SENS Research foundation, where famed longevity research Aubrey de Grey is chief science officer, to develop rejuvenation biotechnologies.

Longevica is basing its platform on the work of scientist Alexey Ryazanov, who holds 10 US patents in the space, and a long-time researcher into the regulation of protein biosynthesis cells.

Chikunov said: “I gathered scientists known in this field to discuss their approaches to the problem. Then Alexey Ryazanov proposed the innovative idea of large-scale screening of all known pharmacological substances on long-lived mice in order to find those that prolong life.”

Under the leadership of Ryazanov, Longevica says it used 20,000 long-lived female mice and 1,033 drugs representing compounds from 62 pharmacological classes, to find five substances that statistically significantly increased longevity by 16-22%: Inulin, Pentetic Acid, Clofibrate, Proscillaridin A, D-Valine.

From this work, they formed a view about the elimination of certain heavy metals from the body and improve the body’s ability to remove toxins.

#articles, #artificial-intelligence, #biotechnology, #ceo, #co-founder, #ethereum, #europe, #food, #google, #humanity-inc, #one-way-ventures, #paypal, #peter-thiel, #population, #president, #sens-research-foundation, #tc, #united-states, #vitalik-buterin, #world-health-organization

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Startups have about $1 trillion worth of reasons to love the Biden infrastructure plan

The sweeping infrastructure package put forward today by President Joe Biden comes with a price tag of roughly $2 trillion (and hefty tax hikes) but gives startups and the broader tech industry about $1 trillion worth of reasons to support it.

Tech companies have spent the past decade or more developing innovations that can be applied to old-world industries like agriculture, construction, energy, education, manufacturing and transportation and logistics. These are industries where structural impediments to technology adoption have only recently been broken down by the advent of incredibly powerful mobile devices.

Now, these industries are at the heart of the President’s plan to build back better, and the hundreds of billions of dollars that are earmarked to make America great again will, either directly or indirectly, be a huge boost to a number of startups and large tech companies whose hardware and software services will enable much of the work the Biden administration wants done.

“The climate-oriented investment in Biden’s new plan would be roughly ten times what came through ARRA,” wrote Shayle Kann, a partner with the investment firm, Energy Impact Partners. “It would present a huge opportunity for a variety of climate tech sectors, ranging from clean electricity to carbon management to vehicle electrification.”

Much of this will look and feel like a Green New Deal, but sold under a package of infrastructure modernization and service upgrades that the country desperately needs.  Indeed, it’s hard to invest in infrastructure without supporting the kind of energy efficiency and renewable development plans that are at the core of the Green New Deal, since efficiency upgrades are just a part of the new way of building and making things.

Over $700 billion of the proposed budget will go to improving resiliency against natural disasters; upgrading critical water, power, and internet infrastructure; and rehabilitating and improving public housing, federal buildings, and aging commercial and residential real estate.

Additionally there’s another roughly $400 billion in spending earmarked for boosting domestic manufacturing of critical components like semiconductors; protecting against future pandemics; and creating regional innovation hubs to promote venture capital investment and startup development intended to “support the growth of entrepreneurship in communities of color and underserved communities.”

Climate resiliency 

Given the steady drumbeat of climate disasters that hit the U.S. over the course of 2020 (and their combined estimated price tag of nearly $100 billion), it’s not surprising that the Biden plan begins with a focus on resiliency.

The first big outlay of cash outlined in the Biden plan would call for $50 billion in financing to improve, protect and invest in underserved communities most at risk from climate disasters through programs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and new initiatives from the Department of Transportation. Most relevant to startups is the push to fund initiatives and technologies that can help prevent or protect against extreme wildfires; rising sea levels and hurricanes; new agriculture resource management; and “climate-smart” technologies.

As with most of Biden’s big infrastructure initiatives, there are startups tackling these issues. Companies like Cornea, Emergency Reporting, Zonehaven are trying to solve different facets of the fire problem; while flood prediction and weather monitoring startups are floating up their services too. Big data analytics, monitoring and sensing tools, and robotics are also becoming fixtures on the farm. For the President’s water efficiency and recycling programs, companies like Epic CleanTec, which has developed wastewater recycling technologies for residential and commercial buildings.

Fables of the reconstruction

Energy efficiency and building upgrades represent by far the biggest chunk of the Biden infrastructure package — totaling a whopping $400 billion of the spending package and all devoted to upgrading homes, offices, schools, veteran’s hospitals and federal buildings.

It gives extra credence to the thesis behind new climate-focused funds from Greensoil Proptech Ventures and Fifth Wall Ventures, which is raising a $200 million investment vehicle to focus on energy efficiency and climate tech solutions.

As Fifth Wall’s newest partner Greg Smithies noted last year, there’s a massive opportunity in building retrofits and startup technologies to improve efficiency.

“What excites me about this space is that there’s so much low-hanging fruit. And there’s $260 trillion worth of buildings,” Smithies said last year. “The vast majority of those are nowhere up to modern codes. We’re going to have a much bigger opportunity by focusing on some not-so-sexy stuff.”

Decarbonizing real estate can also make a huge difference in the fight against global climate change in addition to the its ability to improve quality of life and happiness for residents. “Real estate consumes 40% of all energy. The global economy happens indoors,” said Fifth Wall co-founder Brendan Wallace, in a statement. “Real estate will be the biggest spender on climate tech for no other reason than its contribution to the carbon problem.”

The Biden plan calls on Congress to enact new grant programs that award flexible funding to jurisdictions that take concrete steps to eliminate barriers to produce affordable housing. Part of that will include $40 billion to improve the infrastructure of the public housing in America.

It’s a project that startups like BlocPower are already deeply involved in supporting.

“Get the superhero masks and capes out. The Biden Harris Climate announcement is literally a plan to save the American economy and save the planet. This is Avengers Endgame in real life. We can’t undo the last five years… but we can make smart, massive investments in the climate infrastructure of the future,” wrote Donnel Baird, the chief executive and founder of BlocPower. “Committing to electrify 2 million American buildings, moving them entirely off of fossil fuels is exactly that — an investment in America leading theway towards creating a new industry creating American jobs that cannot be outsourced, and beginning to reduce the 30% of greenhouse gas emissiosn that come from buildings.”

As part of the package that directly impacts startups, there’s a proposal for a $27 billion Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator to mobilize private investment, according to the White House. The focus will be on distributed energy resources, retrofits of residential, commercial and municipal buildings; and clean transportation. A focus there will be on disadvantaged communities that haven’t had access to clean energy investments.

Financing the future startup nation

“From the invention of the semiconductor to the creation of the Internet, new engines of economic growth have emerged due to public investments that support research, commercialization, and strong supply chains,” the White House wrote. “President Biden is calling on Congress to make smart investments in research and development, manufacturing and regional economic development, and in workforce development to give our workers and companies the tools and training they need to compete on the global stage.”

To enable that, Biden is proposing another $480 billion in spending to boost research and development — including $50 billion for the National Science Foundation to focus on semiconductors and advanced communications technologies, energ technologies and biotechnology. Another $30 billion is designed to be targeted toward rural development; and finally the $40 billion in upgrading research infrastructure.

There’s also an initiative to create ARPA-C, a climate focused Advanced Research Projects Agency modeled on the DARPA program that gave birth to the Internet. There’s $20 billion heading toward funding climate-focused research and demonstration projects for energy storage, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, advanced nuclear and rare earth  element separations, floating off shore wind, biofuel/bioproducts, quantum computing and electric vehicles.

The bulk of Biden’s efforts to pour money into manufacturing represents another $300 billion in potential government funding. That’s $30 billion tickets for biopreparedness and pandemic preparedness; another $50 billion in semiconductor manufacturing and research; $46 billion for federal buying power for new advanced nuclear reactors and fuel, cars, ports, pumps and clean materials.

Included in all of this is an emphasis on developing economies fairly and equally across the country — that means $20 billion in regional innovation hubs and a Community Revitalization Fund, which is designed to support innovative, community-led redevelopment efforts and $52 billion in investing in domestic manufacturers — promoting rural manufacturing and clean energy.

Finally for startups there’s a $31 billion available for programs that give small businesses access to credit, venture capital, and R&D dollars. Specifically, the proposal calls for funding for community-based small business incubators and innovation hubs to support growth in communities of color and underserved communites.

Water and power infrastructure 

America’s C- grade infrastructure has problems extending across the length and breadth of the country. It encompasses everything from crumbling roads and bridges to a lack of clean drinking water, failing sewage systems, inadequate recycling facilities, and increasing demands on power generation, transmission and distribution assets that the nation’s electricity grid is unable to meet.

“Across the country, pipes and treatment plants are aging and polluted drinking water is endangering public health. An estimated six to ten million homes still receive drinking water through lead pipes and service lines,” the White House wrote in a statement.

To address this issue, Biden’s calling for an infusion of $45 billion into the Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act grants. While that kind of rip and replace project may not directly impact startups, another $66 billion earmarked for upgrades to drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems and monitoring and managing the presence of contaminants in water will be a huge boon for the vast array of water sensing and filtration startups that have flooded the market in the past decade or more (there’s even an entire incubator dedicated to just water technologies).

The sad fact is that water infrastructure in America has largely failed to keep up in large swaths of the country, necessitating this kind of massive capital infusion.

And what’s true for water is also true increasingly true for power. Outages cost the U.S. economy upwards of $70 billion per year, according to the White House. So when analysts compare those economic losses to a potential $100 billion outlay, the math should be clear. For startups that math equals dollar signs.

Calls to build a more resilient transmission system should be music to the ears of companies like Veir, which is developing a novel technology for improving capacity on transmission lines (a project that the Biden administration explicitly calls out in its plan).

The Biden plan also includes more than money, calling for the creation of a new Grid Deployment Authority within the Department of Energy to better leverage rights-of-way along roads and railways and will support financing tools to develop new high-voltage transmission lines, the White House said.

The administration doesn’t stop there. Energy storage and renewable technologies are going to get a boost through a clutch of tax credits designed to accelerate their deployment. That includes a ten-year extension and phase down of direct-pay investment tax credits and production tax credits. The plan aslo calls for clean energy block grants and calls for the government to purchase nothing but renewable energy all day for federal buildings.

Complimenting this push for clean power and storage will be a surge in funding for waste remediation and cleanup, which is getting a $21 billion boost under Biden.

Companies like Renewell Energy, or various non-profits that are trying to plug abandoned oil wells, can play a role here. There’s also the potential to recover other mineral deposits or reuse the wastewater that comes from these wells. And here, too, investors can find early stage businesses looking for an angle. Part of the money frm the Biden plan will aim to redevelop brownfields and turn them into more sustainable businesses.

That’s where some of the indoor agriculture companies, like Plenty, Bowery Farms, AppHarvest could find additional pots of money to turn unused factory and warehouse space into working farms. Idled factories could also be transformed into hubs for energy storage and community based power generation and distribution facilities, given their position on the grid.

“President Biden’s plan also will spur targeted sustainable, economic development efforts through the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER grant program, Department of Energy retooling grants for idled factories (through the Section 132 program), and dedicated funding to support community-driven environmental justice efforts – such as capacity and project grants to address legacy pollution and the cumulative impacts experienced by frontline and fenceline communities,” the White House wrote.

Key to these redevelopment efforts will be the establishment of pioneer facilities that demonstrate carbon capture retrofits for large steel, cement, and chemical production facilities. But if the Biden Administration wanted to, its departments could go a step further to support lower emission manufacturing technologies like the kind companies including Heliogen, which is using solar power to generate energy for a massive mining operation, or Boston Metal, which is partnering with BMW on developing a lower emission manufacturing process for steel production.

Critical to ensuring that this money gets spent is a $25 billion commitment to finance pre-development activities, that could help smaller project developers, as Rob Day writes in Forbes.

“As I’ve written about elsewhere, local project developers are key to getting sustainability projects built where they will actually do the most good — in the communities hit hardest by both local pollution and climate change impacts. These smaller project developers have lots of expenses they must pay just to get to the point where private-sector infrastructure construction investments can come in,” Day wrote. “Everyone in sustainability policy talks about supporting entrepreneurs, but in reality much of the support is aimed at technology innovators and not these smaller project developers who would be the ones to actually roll out those technology innovations. Infrastructure investors are typically much more reticent to provide capital before projects are construction-ready.”

Building a better Internet

“Broadband internet is the new electricity. It is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning, health care, and to stay connected,” the White House wrote. “Yet, by one definition, more than 30 million Americans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. Americans in rural areas and on tribal lands particularly lack adequate access. And, in part because the United States has some of the highest broadband prices among OECD countries, millions of Americans can’t use broadband internet even if the infrastructure exists where they live.”

The $100 billion that the Biden Administration is earmarking for broadband infrastructure includes goals to meet 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage and prioritizes support for networks owned, operated, or faffiliated with local governments, non-profits and cooperatives.

Attendant with the new cash is a shift in regulatory policy that would open up opportunities for municipally-owned or affiliated providers and rural electric co-ops from competing with prive providers and requiring internet providers to be more transparent about their pricing. This increased competition is good for hardware vendors and ultimately could create new businesses for entrepreneurs who want to become ISPs of their own.

Wander is one-such service providing high speed wireless internet in Los Angeles.

“Americans pay too much for the internet – much more than people in many other countries – and the President is committed to working with Congress to find a solution to reduce internet prices for all Americans, increase adoption in both rural and urban areas, hold providers accountable, and save taxpayer money,” the White House wrote.

 

#agriculture, #america, #articles, #biden-administration, #biotechnology, #blocpower, #brendan-wallace, #broadband, #co-founder, #congress, #construction, #cornea, #department-of-transportation, #education, #electricity, #energy, #energy-impact-partners, #fifth-wall-ventures, #forbes, #greg-smithies, #infrastructure, #joe-biden, #kamala-harris, #los-angeles, #manufacturing, #mobile-devices, #national-science-foundation, #oecd, #plenty, #president, #quantum-computing, #real-estate, #semiconductor, #semiconductors, #steel, #supply-chains, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital, #venture-capital-investment, #white-house

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Bluu Biosciences raises cash to become Europe’s first purveyor of lab grown salmon, trout, and carp

A startup from Europe is joining the race to become the first big provider of lab grown fish.

Bluu Biosciences has raised €7 million in a round of financing from investors including Manta Ray Ventures, Norrsken VC, Be8, CPT Capital and Lever VC to compete with a host of startups like BluNalu, Wild Type, and Shiok Meats in a bid to market with a lab-grown fish replacement.

The market for sustainable fish is huge and growing. Already, concerns over the effects of overfishing and industrial fish farming are mounting as demand for fish increases. It’s the same problem that other animal-based sources of protein face. The amount of demand for high quality sources of protein from the Earth’s several billion people cannot sustainably keep up with the available supply.

That’s why a number of cellular meat companies are focusing on fish instead of other meats like beef, pork, or chicken.

There is a lot of talent in Europe and very little companies built in this space. If you compare it t0 the mammalian space there are a lot fewer companies,” said Simon Fabich, co-founder and managing director of Bluu.  

At Berlin-based Bluu, the focus is on salmon, trout, and carp (the most popular fish in China). Other companies are tackling tuna, salmon, and shrimp, but Bluu sees carp as an especially attractive target, given its popularity in one of the world’s most populous companies.

One advantage for Bluu, its founders argue, is the deep experience that co-founder Sebastian Rakers has in the wild world of cultivated fish cells.

A marine and cell biologist who was working for several years at the Munich-based Fraunhofer Institute, one of Europe’s most celebrated research institutes, Rakers led a task force that looked at potential commercial viability of cell-based meat, after conducting research on the viability of using fish cells as a component for viral production for the pharmaceutical industry.

Bluu Biotechnologies co-founder Sebastian Rakers. Image Credit: Bluu Biosciences

During his research Rakers cultivated 80 different cell cultures for more than 20 different species of fish. What’s more, he was able to make these cell lines immortal.

Before envisioning an endless, ever-producing mass of fish cells that could overwhelm the world, it might be worth explaining what immortal cell lines mean… Actually… the endless, ever-producing mass of self-reproducing fish cells comes pretty close.

Most cell lines tend to die off after reprodcuing a certain number of times, which means that to manufacture meat at scale can require several biopsies of the same animal to cultivate multiple cell lines at a time. Rakers said that Bluu could avoid that step, thanks to the work that had already been done to develop these “immortal” salmon, trout, and carp cell cultivars.

“It’s such a strong competitive advantage,” said Fabich. “If you have normal cells that are not immortalized you can only proliferate 20 to 25 times and then you need to start again from another biopsy. With immortalized cells you can grow up to 100,000 times and we can double it every day.” 

With this technology in hand, Rakers said he was thinking about what could come next in his own career and met up with Gary Lin, an impact investor and the founder of Purple Orange Ventures.

Lin connected Rakers with Fabich and the two men set off to commercialize Rakers’ research as Bluu. And even though there are several companies that have a head start in the market (and in funding), Rakers said that there are certain advantages to coming in late.

Five years ago there was hardly any company looking into media development, hardly any companies focused on bioreactor technologies at a very large scale and there was no company looking for scaffolding alternatives for cell-based meat,” he said. Now there are. 

The company is picking up speed quickly thanks to those other technology providers that are coming to market and will look to have a prototype product out by the end of 2022.

The company is also pushing for regulation, which both Fabich and Rakers said were one of the last remaining obstacles to commercialization. Ultimately, the company has its eye firmly on the Asian market. “That’s the one that moves the needle,” in terms of sustainability, Fabich said. “We can have the biggest impact if we change production behavior there.”

Bluu Biosciences co-founders Sebastian Rakers and Simon Fabich. Image Credit: Bluu Biosciences

 

#aquaculture, #articles, #berlin, #biotechnology, #china, #co-founder, #cultured-meat, #europe, #fish, #founder, #gary-lin, #manta-ray-ventures, #media-development, #munich, #norrsken-vc, #tc, #wild-type

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New clinical trial data from Locus Biosciences shows promise in CRISPR-Cas3 technology

Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest potential threats to global health today. But Locus Biosciences is hoping that their crPhage technology might provide a new solution.

Based in North Carolina’s Research Triangle, the startup recently announced promising phase 1b clinical trial results for their use of CRISPR-Cas3-enhanced bacteriophages as a treatment for urinary tract infections caused by escherichia coli. Led in part by former Patheon executive and current Locus CEO Paul Garofolo, the startup launched in 2015 with the goal of using a less popular application of CRISPR technology to address growing antimicrobial resistance.

CRISPR-Cas3 technology has notably different mechanisms from its more well-known CRISPR-Cas9 counterpart. Where the Cas9 enzyme has the ability to cleanly cut through a piece of DNA like a pair of scissors, Garofolo describes Cas3 more like a Pac-Man, shredding the DNA as it moves along a strand.

“You wouldn’t be able to use it for most of the editing platforms people were after,” he said, noting that meant there wouldn’t be as much competition around Cas3. “So I knew it would be protected for some time, and that we could keep it quiet.”

Garofolo and his team wanted to use CRISPR-Cas3 not to edit harmful bacteria found in the body, but to destroy it. To do this, they took the DNA-shredding mechanism of Cas3 and used it to enhance bacteriophages—viruses that can attack and kill different species of bacteria. Together, co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer Dave Ousterout—who has a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Duke—thinks this technology offers an extremely direct and targeted way of killing bacteria.

“We armed the phages with this Cas3 system that attacks E. coli, and that sort of dual mechanism of action is what comes together, essentially, as a really potent way to remove just E. coli,” he said in an interview.

That specificity is something that antibiotics lack. Rather than targeting only harmful bacteria in the body, antibiotics typically wipe out all bacteria they come across. “Every time we take antibiotics, we’re not thinking about all the other parts of us that are impacted by the bacteria that do good things,” said Garofolo. But the precision of Locus Biosciences’ crPhage technology means that only the targeted bacteria would be wiped out, leaving those necessary to the body’s normal function intact.

Beyond offering this more specific approach to treatment of pathogens, or any bacteria-based disease, Garofolo and his team also suspect that their approach will also be extremely safe. Though deadly to bacteria, bacteriophages are typically harmless to humans. The safety of CRISPR in humans is well-established, too.

“That’s our secret sauce,” said Garofolo. “We can build drugs that are more powerful than the antibiotics they’re trying to replace, and they use phage, which is probably one of the world’s safest ways to deliver something into the human body.”

While this new technology could certainly help treat pathogens and infectious diseases, Garofolo hopes that indications in immunology, oncology, and neurology might benefit from it too. “We’re starting to figure out that some bacteria might promote cancer, or inflammation in your gut,” he said. If researchers can identify the bacteria at the root cause of those conditions, Garofolo and Ousterout think the crPhage technology might prove to be an effective treatment.

“If we’re right about that, it’s not just about infections or antimicrobial resistance, but helping people overcome cancer or delay the onset of dementia,” Garofolo said. “It’s changing the way we think about how bacteria really help us live.”


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#biology, #biotech, #biotechnology, #cancer, #cas-3, #crispr, #enzymes, #genetic-engineering, #health, #life-sciences, #locus-biosciences, #north-carolina, #science, #startups

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Foresite Capital raises $969 million fund to invest in healthcare startups across all stages of growth

Health and life science specialist investment firm Foresite Capital has raised a new fund, its fifth to date, totally $969 million in commitments from LPs. This is the firm’s largest fund to date, and was oversubscribed relative to its original target according to fund CEO and founder Dr. Jim Tananbaum, who told me that while the fundraising process started out slow in the early months of the pandemic, it gained steam quickly starting around last fall and ultimately exceeded expectations.

This latest fund actually makes up two separate investment vehicles, Foresite Capital Fund V, and Foresite Capital Opportunity Fund V, but Tananbaum says that the money will be used to fuel investments in line with its existing approach, which includes companies ranging from early- to late-stage, and everything in between. Foresite’s approach is designed to help it be uniquely positioned to shepherd companies from founding (they also have a company-building incubator) all the way to public market exit – and even beyond. Tananbaum said that they’re also very interested in coming in later to startups they have have missed out on at earlier stages of their growth, however.

Image Credits: Foresite Capital

“We can also come into a later situation that’s competitive with a number of hedge funds, and bring something unique to the table, because we have all these value added resources that we used to start companies,” Tananbaum said. “So we have a competitive advantage for later stage deals, and we have a competitive advantage for early stage deals, by virtue of being able to function at a high level in the capital markets.”

Foresite’s other advantage, according to Tananbaum, is that it has long focused on the intersection of traditional tech business mechanics and biotech. That approach has especially paid off in recent years, he says, since the gap between the two continues to narrow.

“We’ve just had this enormous believe that technology, and tools and data science, machine learning, biotechnology, biology, and genetics – they are going to come together,” he told me. “There hasn’t been an organization out there that really speaks both languages well for entrepreneurs, and knows how to bring that diverse set of people together. So that’s what we specialized i,n and we have a lot of resources and a lot of cross-lingual resources, so that techies that can talk to biotechies, and biotechies can talk to techies.”

Foresite extended this approach to company formation with the creation of Foresite Labs, an incubation platform that it spun up in October 2019 to leverage this experience at the earliest possible stage of startup founding. It’s run by Dr. Vik Bajaj, who was previously co-founder and Chief Science Officer of Alphabet’s Verily health sciences enterprise.

“What’s going on, or last couple decades, is that the innovation cycles are getting faster and faster,” Tananbaum said. “So and then at some point, the people that are having the really big wins on the public side are saying, ‘Well, these really big wins are being driven by innovation, and by quality science, so let’s go a little bit more upstream on the quality science.’”

That has combined with shorter and shorter healthcare product development cycles, he added, aided by general improvements in technology. Tananbaum pointed out that when he began Foresite in 2011, even, the time horizons for returns on healthcare investments were significantly longer, and at the outside edge of the tolerances of venture economics. Now, however, they’re much closer to those found in the general tech startup ecosystem, even in the case of fundamental scientific breakthroughs.

CAMBRIDGE – DECEMBER 1: Stephanie Chandler, Relay Therapeutics Office Manager, demonstrates how she and her fellow co-workers at the company administer their own COVID tests inside the COVID testing room at Relay Therapeutics in Cambridge, MA on Dec. 1, 2021. The cancer treatment development company converted its coat room into a room where employees get tested once a week. All 100+employees have been back in the office as a result of regular testing. Relay is a Foresite portfolio company. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

“Basically, you’re seeing people now really look at biotech in general, in the same kind of way that you would look at a tech company,” he said. “There are these tech metrics that now also apply in biotech, about adoption velocity, other other things that may not exactly equate to immediate revenue, but give you all the core material that usually works over time.”

Overall, Foresite’s investment thesis focuses on funding companies in three areas – therapeutics at the clinical stage, infrastructure focused on automation and data generation, and what Tananbaum calls “individualized care.” All three are part of a continuum in the tech-enabled healthcare end state that he envisions, ultimately resulting “a world where we’re able to, at the individual level, help someone understand what their predispositions are to disease development.” That, Tananbaum suggests, will result in a transformation of this kind of targeted care into an everyday consumer experience – in the same way tech in general has taken previously specialist functions and abilities, and made them generally available to the public at large.

#alphabet, #articles, #biotech, #biotechnology, #ceo, #corporate-finance, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #foresite-capital, #fund, #fundings-exits, #health, #innovation, #investment, #jim-tananbaum, #machine-learning, #private-equity, #startup-company, #tc, #venture-capital, #vik-bajaj

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Immunai raises $60M as it expands from improving immune therapies to discovering new ones, too

Just three years after its founding, biotech startup Immunai has raised $60 million in Series A funding, bringing its total raised to over $80 million. Despite its youth, Immunai has already established the largest database in the world for single cell immunity characteristics, and it has already used its machine learning-powered immunity analysts platform to enhance the performance of existing immunotherapies, but aided by this new funding, it’s now ready to expand into the development of entirely new therapies based on the strength and breadth of its data and ML.

Immunai’s approach to developing new insights around the human immune system uses a ‘multi-omic’ approach – essentially layering analysis of different types of biological data, including a cell’s genome, microbiome, epigenome (a genome’s chemical instruction set) and more. The startup’s unique edge is in combining the largest and richest data set of its type available, formed in partnership with world-leading immunological research organizations, with its own machine learning technology to deliver analytics at unprecedented scale.

“I hope it doesn’t sound corny, but we don’t have the luxury to move more slowly,” explained Immunai co-founder and CEO Noam Solomon in an interview. “Because I think that we are in kind of a perfect storm, where a lot of advances in machine learning and compute computations have led us to the point where we can actually leverage those methods to mine important insights. You have a limit or ceiling to how fast you can go by the number of people that you have – so I think with the vision that we have, and thanks to our very think large network between MIT, and Cambridge to Stanford in the Bay Area, and Tel Aviv, we just moved very quickly to harness people to say, let’s solve this problem together.”

Solomon and his co-founder and CTO Luis Voloch both have extensive computer science and machine learning backgrounds, and they initially connected and identified a need for the application of this kind of technology in immunology. Scientific co-founder and SVP of Strategic Research Danny Wells then helped them refine their approach to focus on improving efficacy of immunotherapies designed to treat cancerous tumors.

Immunai has already demonstrated that its platform can help identify optimal targets for existing therapies, including in a partnership with the Baylor College of Medicine where it assisted with a cell therapy product for use in treating neuroblastoma (a type of cancer that develops from immune cells, often in the adrenal glands). The company is now also moving into new territory with therapies, using its machine learning platform and industry-leading cell database to new therapy discovery – not only identifying and validating targets for existing therapies, but helping to create entirely new ones.

“We’re moving from just observing cells, but actually to going and perturbing them, and seeing what the outcome is,” explained Voloch. This, from the computational side, later allows us to move from correlative assessments to actually causal assessments, which makes our models a lot more powerful. Both on the computational side and on the on the lab side, this is really bleeding edge technologies that I think we will be the first to really put together at any kind of real scale.”

“The next step is to say ‘Okay, now that we understand the human immune profile, can we develop new drugs?’,” said Solomon. “You can think about it like we’ve been building a Google Maps for the immune system of a few years – so we are mapping different roads and paths in the in the immune system. But at some point, we figured out that there are certain roads or bridges that haven’t been built yet. And we will be able to support building new roads and new and new bridges, and hopefully leading from current states of disease or cities of disease, to building cities of health.”

#artificial-intelligence, #biotech, #biotechnology, #cambridge, #cancer-immunotherapy, #funding, #health, #life-sciences, #machine-learning, #machine-learning-technology, #mit, #recent-funding, #science, #stanford, #startups, #tc, #tel-aviv

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Healthvana’s digital COVID-19 vaccination records are about communication, not passports for the immune

As the vaccination campaign to counter COVID-19 gets underway (albeit with a rocky start), a number of companies are attempting to support its rollout in a variety of ways. Healthvana, a health tech startup that began with a specific focus on providing patient information digitally for individuals living with HIV, is helping Los Angeles County roll out mobile vaccination records for COVID-19 using Apple’s Wallet technology. A cursory appraisal of the implementation of this tech might lead one to believe it’s about providing individuals with easy proof of vaccination — but the tech, and Healthvana, are focused on informing individuals to ensure they participate in their own healthcare programs, not providing an immunity pass.

“I generally consider most of healthcare to look and feel like Windows 95,” Healthvana CEO and founder Ramin Bastani said. “We look and feel like Instagram . Why is that important? Because patients can engage in things they understand, it’s easier for them to communicate in the way they’re used to communicating, and that ends up leading them to better health outcomes.”

Bastani points out that they began the company by focusing this approach to patient education and communication on HIV, and demonstrated that using their software led to patients being 7.4 times more likely to show up for their next follow-up appointment versus patients who received follow-up information and appointment notices via traditional methods. The company has built their tooling and their approach around not only producing better health for individuals, but also on reducing costs for healthcare providers by eliminating the need for a lot of the work that goes into clearing up misunderstandings, and essentially hounding patients to follow-up, which can significantly dig into clinician and care staff hours.

“We’re actually also reducing the cost to healthcare providers, because you don’t have 1,000 people calling you asking what are their results, and saying ‘I don’t understand, I can’t log in, I don’t know what it means to be SARS nonreactive,’ or all those things we address through simplicity,” Bastani said. “That’s made a huge difference. Overall, I think the key to all healthcare is going to be to be able to get patients to pay attention, and take action to things around their health.”

That’s the goal of Healthvana’s partnership with LA County on COVID-19 immunization records, too — taking vitally important action to ensure the successful rollout of its vaccination program. All approved COVID-19 vaccines to date require a two-course treatment, including one initial inoculation followed by a booster to be administered sometime later. Keeping LA county residents informed about their COVID-19 inoculation, and when they’re due for a second dose, is the primary purpose of the partnership, and benefits from Healthvana’s experience in improving patient follow-up activities. But the app is also providing users with information about COVID-19 care, and, most usefully, prevention and ways to slow the spread.

While Bastani stresses that Healthvana is, in the end, just “the last mile” for message delivery, and that there are many other layers involved in determining the right steps for proper care and prevention, the way in which they provide actionable info has already proven a big boon to one key measure: contact tracing. In select municipalities, Healthvana will also prompt users who’ve tested positive to anonymously notify close contacts directly from their device, which will provide those individuals with both free testing options and information resources.

“Just us doing this in the greater Los Angeles area for less than two months, 12,000+ people have been notified that they’ve been exposed,” Bastani said. “Each of them likely lives with other people and families — this is how you can help slow the spread.”

Contrast that with the relatively slow uptake of the exposure notification tools built into iOS and Android devices via recent software updates provided by Google and Apple working in a rare collaboration. While the technology that underlies it is sound, and focused on user privacy, its usage numbers thus far are far from earthshaking; only 388 people have sent alerts through Virginia’s app-based on the exposure notification framework in three months since its launch, for instance.

Healthvana’s focus on timely and relevant delivery of information, offered to users in ways they’re mostly likely to understand and engage with, is already showing its ability to have an impact on COVID-19 and its community transmission. The startup is already in talks to launch similar programs elsewhere in the country, and that could help improve national vaccination outcomes, and how people handle COVID-19 once they have it, too.

#android, #apple, #biotech, #biotechnology, #covid-19, #google, #health, #healthvana, #hiv, #instagram, #life-sciences, #los-angeles, #startups, #tc, #vaccination, #virginia, #windows-95

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Senti Bio raises $105 million for its new programmable biology platform and cancer therapies

Senti Biosciences, a company developing cancer therapies using a new programmable biology platform, said it has raised $105 million in a new round of financing led by the venture arm of life sciences giant, Bayer.

The company’s technology uses new computational biological techniques to manufacture cell and gene therapies that can more precisely target specific cells in the body.

Senti Bio’s chief executive, Tim Lu, compares his company’s new tech to the difference between basic programming and object oriented programming. “Instead of creating a program that just says ‘Hello world’, you can introduce ‘if’ statements and object oriented programming,” said Lu.

By building genetic material that can target multiple receptors, Senti Bio’s therapies can be more precise in the way they identify genetic material in the body and deliver the kinds of therapies directly to the pathogens. “”Instead of the cell expressing a single receptor… now we have two receptors,” he said.

The company is initially applying its gene circuit technology platform to develop therapies that use what are called chimeric antigen receptor natural killer (CAR-NK) cells that can target cancer cells in the body and eliminate them. Many existing cell and gene therapies use chimeric antigen receptor T-cells, which are white blood cells in the body that are critical to immune response and destroy cellular pathogens in the body.

However, T-cell-based therapies can be toxic to patients, stimulating immune responses that can be almost as dangerous as the pathogens themselves. Using CAR-NK cells produces similar results with fewer side effects.
That’s independent of the gene circuit,” said Lu. “The gene circuit gets you specificity… Right now when you use a CAR-T cell or a CAR-NK cell… you find a target and hope that it doesn’t affect normal cells. We can build logic in our gene circuits in the cell that means a CAR-NK cell can identify two targets rather than one.”

That increased targeting means lower risks of healthy cells being destroyed alongside mutations or pathogens that are in the body.

For Lu and his co-founders — fellow MIT professor Jim Collins, Boston University professor, Wilson Wong, and longtime synthetic biology operator, Phillip Lee — Senti Bio is the culmination of decades of work in the field.

“I compare it to the early days of semiconductor work,” Lu said of the journey to develop this gene circuit technology. “There were bits and pieces of technology being developed in research labs, but to realize the scale at which you need, this has to be done at the industrial level.”

So licensing work from MIT, Boston University and Stanford, Lu and his co-founders set out to take this work out of the labs to start a company.

When the company was started it was a bag of tools and the know-how on how to use them,” Lu said. But it wasn’t a fully developed platform. 

That’s what the company now has and with the new capital from Leaps by Bayer and its other investors, Senti is ready to start commercializing.

The first products will be therapies for acute myeloid leukemia, hepatocellular carcinoma, and other, undisclosed, solid tumor targets, the company said in a statement.

“Leaps by Bayer’s mission is to invest in breakthrough technologies that may transform the lives of millions of patients for the better,” said Juergen Eckhardt, MD, Head of Leaps by Bayer. “We believe that synthetic biology will become an important pillar in next-generation cell and gene therapy, and that Senti Bio’s leadership in designing and optimizing biological circuits fits precisely with our ambition to prevent and cure cancer and to regenerate lost tissue function.”

Lu and his co-founders also see their work as a platform for developing other cell therapies for other diseases and applications — and intend to partner with other pharmaceutical companies to bring those products to market.  

“Over the past two years, our team has designed, built and tested thousands of sophisticated gene circuits to drive a robust product pipeline, focused initially on allogeneic CAR-NK cell therapies for difficult-to-treat liquid and solid tumor indications,” Lu said in a statement. “I look forward to continued platform and pipeline advancements, including starting IND-enabling studies in 2021.”

The new financing round brings Senti’s total capital raised to just under $160 million and Lu said the new money will be used to ramp up manufacturing and accelerate its work partnering with other pharmaceutical companies.

The current timeframe is to get its investigational new drug permits filed by late 2022 and early 2023 and have initial clinical trials begun in 2023.

Developing gene circuits is new and expanding field with a number of players including Cell Design Labs, which was acquired by Gilead in 2017 for up to $567 million. Other companies working on similar therapies include CRISPR Therapeutics, Intellius, and Editas, Lu said.

#bayer, #biology, #biotechnology, #boston-university, #cancer, #crispr-therapeutics, #emerging-technologies, #gilead, #head, #jim-collins, #manufacturing, #mit, #pharmaceutical, #semiconductor, #stanford, #synthetic-biology, #tc

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Poland’s GeneMe secures €5.2M seed funding for its rapid COVID-19 test

GeneMe, Poland-based biotechnology company with a COVID-19 test, has secured a €5.2M round of seed funding led by Robin Tombs, co-Founder of Yoti and previously of Gamesys, and other angel investors.

The startup has developed and patented a universal protein (polymerase) for RT-LAMP testing, which allows the production of highly accurate, rapid, molecular genetic COVID tests. It has three molecular NAAT COVID-19 tests: FRANKD, SAVD, and ICED. FRANKD is CE IVD-approved and FDA EUA-applied, and its solution is already utilized in over twenty countries. FRANKD has been identified, through official research made by the Scottish government, as the most accurate, rapid COVID-19 test on the market. The FRANKD solution has already been used by Heathrow Airport, Virgin Atlantic and TV show Britain’s Got Talent.

Dawid Nidzworski, CEO of GeneMe said: “We’re interested not only in health issues, but also in genetic predispositions, such as talents, sports abilities, learning problems, or caffeine metabolism. In the future, everyone will be able to conduct genetic analysis at home.”

Robin Tombs, Co-Founder of Yoti said: “GeneMe’s innovative approach will be highly disruptive over coming years, enabling more regular testing at point of care at much lower cost.”

GeneMe is a spin-oout from The Institute of Biotechnology and Molecular Medicine (IBMM), an independent biomedical research institution.

Recently, the company announced a partnership with U.S.-based BIOLYPH, the world leader in lyophilization services, to scale up FRANKD and SAVD significantly.

GeneMe’s patented technology simplifies the entire testing procedure compared to standard laboratory-based RT-PCR tests. RT-LAMP tests are more effective, which means results can be trusted. GeneMe’s testing technology can also be assembled at point-of-care, which makes it possible to integrate highly accurate testing stations at places of work and in locations with high throughput, such as international borders.

The global COVID-19 diagnostics market size is estimated at $84.4B in 2020 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.1% from 2021 to 2027 (Grand View Research).

#biology, #biotechnology, #ceo, #co-founder, #europe, #fda, #poland, #tc, #united-kingdom, #virgin-atlantic, #yoti

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Agricultural biotech startup Boost Biomes adds a strategic investor in Japan’s Universal Materials Incubator

Boost Biomes, the Y Combinator-backed developer of microbiome-based bio-fungicides and bio-pesticides for agricultural applications, has added $2 million in funding and picked up a new strategic investor in Japan’s Universal Materials Incubator.

To date, Boost Biomes has raised over $7 million in financing to support the development of new products like its biofungicide developed from the micro-organisms that live in the soil in a symbiotic relationship with the plants.

The work that Boost does is primarily on understanding the interactions between microbes and plants in the soil. “The goal is to be  the discovery engine and develop new microbial products for use in food and agriculture,” said Boost chief executive and co-founder Jamie Bacher.

The commitment from Japan’s Universal Materials Incubator expands on a $5 million institutional round led by another strategic partner, Yara International, a global crop nutrition company and venture investors like Viking Global Investors and Y Combinator.

Boost hopes to tackle issues in agriculture like spoilage, bacterial contamination and pathogen infrestations, as well as addressing diseases that can affect plant health directly.

Boost is already working with an undisclosed biomanufacturing partner to develop its biofungicide.

UMI’s decision to invest in Boost comes from our evaluation of their team, technology, and the associated market opportunities.  We believe that Boost’s platform generates a unique data set that can be exploited for far superior products with many diverse microbiome applications in food and agriculture,” said Yota Hayama, an investor at UMI, in a statement. “These are critical areas to achieve food security and promote sustainable agriculture. We also expect Boost’s huge potential on other areas where microbiomes are utilized.”

 

#articles, #biotechnology, #food, #japan, #life-sciences, #microbiome, #tc, #viking-global-investors, #y-combinator

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A mildly insane idea for disabling the coronavirus

Colorful blobs cluster together like a bunch of grapes.

Enlarge / Diagram of the structure of the virus’ spike protein. (credit: McLellan Lab, University of Texas at Austin)

When the COVID-19 pandemic was first recognized for the threat that it is, researchers scrambled to find anything that might block the virus’ spread. While vaccines have grabbed much of the attention lately, there was also the hope that we could develop a therapy that would block the worst effects of the virus. Most of these have been extremely practical: identify enzymes that are essential for the virus to replicate, and test drugs that block similar enzymes from other viruses. These drugs are designed to be relatively easy to store and administer and, in some cases, have already been tested for safety in humans, making them reasonable choices for getting something ready for use quickly.

But the tools we’ve developed in biotechnology allow us to do some far less practical things, and a paper released today describes how they can be put to use to inactivate SARS-CoV-2. This is in no way a route to a practical therapy, but it does provide a fantastic window into what we can accomplish by manipulating biology.

Throw it in the trash

The whole effort described in the new paper is focused on a simple idea: if you figure out how to wreck one of the virus’ key proteins, it won’t be able to infect anything. And, conveniently, our cells have a system for destroying proteins, since that’s often a useful thing to do. In some cases, the proteins that are destroyed are damaged; in others, the proteins are made and destroyed at elevated paces to allow the cell to respond to changing conditions rapidly. In a few cases, changes in the environment or the activation of signaling pathways can trigger widespread protein destruction, allowing the cell to quickly alter its behavior.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biology, #biotechnology, #coronavirus, #genetic-engineering, #science, #spike-protein, #ubiquitin

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Resilience raises over $800 million to transform pharmaceutical manufacturing in response to COVID-19

Resilience, a new biopharmaceutical company backed by $800 million in financing from investors including ARCH Venture Partners and 8VC, has emerged from stealth to transform the way that drugs and therapies are manufactured in the U.S.

Founded by ARCH Venture Partners investor Robert Nelsen, National Resilience Inc., which does business as Resilience was born out of Nelsen’s frustrations with the inept American response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a statement the company will invest heavily in developing new manufacturing technologies across cell and gene therapies, viral vectors, vaccines and proteins.

Resilience’s founders identified problems in the therapeutic manufacturing process as one of the key problems that the industry faces in bringing new treatments to market — and that hurdle is exactly what the company was founded to overcome.

“COVID-19 has exposed critical vulnerabilities in medical supply chains, and today’s manufacturing can’t keep up with scientific innovation, medical discovery, and the need to rapidly produce and distribute critically important drugs at scale. We are committed to tackling these huge problems with a whole new business model,” said Nelsen in a statement.

The company brings together some of the leading investment firms in healthcare and biosciences including operating partners from Flagship Pioneering like Rahul Singhvi, who will serve as the company’s chief executive’ former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb, a partner at New Enterprise Associates and director on the Resilience board; and Patrick Yang, the former executive vice president and global head of technical operations at Roche/Genentech .

“It is critical that we adopt solutions that will protect the manufacturing supply chain, and provide more certainty around drug development and the ability to scale up the manufacturing of safe, effective but also more complex products that science is making possible,” said Dr. Gottlieb, in a statement. “RESILIENCE will enable these solutions by combining cutting edge technology, an unrivaled pool of talent, and the industry’s first shared service business model. Similar to Amazon Web Services, RESILIENCE will empower drug developers with the tools to more fully align discovery, development, and manufacturing; while offering new opportunities to invest in downstream innovations in formulation and manufacturing earlier, while products are still being conceived and developed.”

Other heavy hitters in the world of medicine and biotechnology who are working with the company include Frances Arnold, the Nobel Prize-winning professor from the California Institute of Technology; George Barrett, the former chief executive of Cardinal Health; Susan Desmond-Hellmann, the former president of product development at Genentech; Kaye Foster, the former vice president of human resources at Johnson and Johnson; and Denice Torres, the former President of Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical and Consumer Companies.

#amazon-web-services, #arch-venture-partners, #biotechnology, #companies, #contents, #director, #drug-development, #food-and-drug-administration, #genentech, #healthcare, #johnson, #johnson-johnson, #life-sciences, #manufacturing, #new-enterprise-associates, #partner, #president, #resilience, #roche, #scott-gottlieb, #tc, #web-services

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Nobel laureate Jennifer Doudna shares her perspective on COVID-19 and CRISPR

CRISPR co-discoverer Jennifer Doudna was named a Nobel laureate in Chemistry today, sharing the honour with Emmanuelle Charpentier . We had the opportunity to speak to Doudna recently at our TechCrunch Disrupt 2020 event, and she shared her thoughts on CRISPR, and how it can be used to test and potentially treat COVID-19, as well as what it may do for our ability to address future pandemics and healthcare crises.

“It’s really interesting to think about the ability to program CRISPR to be detecting not only the the current coronavirus, but also other viruses,” she explained in the interview in September. “We were already working on a strategy to co-detect influenza and coronavirus, as you know that it’s really important to be able to do that, but also to pivot very quickly to detect new viruses that are emerging. I don’t think any of us think that, you know, viral pandemics are going away – I think this current pandemic is a call to arms, and we have to make sure that scientifically, we’re ready for the next attack by a new virus.”

Much closer to hand, CRISPR has the potential to greatly expand testing capabilities in the near-term, and to do so in ways that could change the pace, frequency and nature of testing. That could translate to very different frontline care and pandemic management, across both healthcare facilities as well as any shared workspaces.

“I think from what I’ve seen that very likely before the end of the year, we’re going to see CRISPR diagnostic tests rolling out,” she said. “Whether they’re in laboratory settings – I think that may be the first format that we see – but also something that we’re working on right now at the Innovative Genomics Institute at Berkeley and UCSF and the Gladstone is a strategy for a point-of-care CRISPR tests, where we have a small device that we envision located in different floors of buildings and institutions and dormitories, where you could do very rapid surveillance-type testing of saliva or swab samples.”

Check out the full interview with Doudna above, which also ranges into the most recent advances in CRISPR science, and where it’s heading next for everything from therapeutics, to crop modification.

#biology, #biotech, #biotechnology, #crispr, #emmanuelle-charpentier, #genetic-engineering, #genomics, #health, #innovative-genomics-institute, #jennifer-doudna, #life-sciences, #nobel-prize, #science, #tc

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Scribe Therapeutics launches a platform for engineering CRISPR-based therapeutics

A new company called Scribe Therapeutics founded by two former members of CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna’s UC Berkely genetics lab (alongside Doudna herself) launched on Tuesday, debuting a platform designed specifically to help develop and engineer new thereapeutics based on CRISPR for addressing specific diseases, with permanent treatments in patients.

Doudna is part of the leadership team behind Scribe, but it’s primarily led by CEO and co-founder Benjamin Oakes, along with VP of Platform Brett T. Staahl. Oakes and Staahl shared time at Doudna’s lab, with Oakes as a student while Staahl was a postdoc. Staahl’s interest was specifically in how gene editing, and CRISPR in particular, could be used to help treat Huntington’s disease – while Oakes, who originally set out to be a practicing medical doctor, realized early on he actually wanted to do more with solving the underlying causes of disease, and changed tack to pursue genome editing.

“I set out on this journey to understand how we could, and how we could best actually solve those underlying problems of disease,” Oakes explained in an interview. That led to him pursuing research in Zinc-Finger Nuclease (ZFN)-based genome editing – a precursor technique to CRISPR that was far less specific and much more work-intensive and time consuming. Doudna’s groundbreaking paper on CRISPR was published in 2012, and Oakes immediately saw the potential, so he joined her lab at Berkeley.

Meanwhile, Staahl was looking at treatment for disorders that specifically lead to neural degeneration – something that had not previously been part of Doudna’s lab’s research prior to him joining.

“He spent several years in the lab, developing strategies for neurons, and really trying to bring that technology to a point where it could be deployed as a real treatment for neurodegenerative disease, with Huntington’s as a model,” Doudna told me. “So Ben and Brett met up, they came from very different backgrounds, they had really different scientific training originally, but they hit it off. And they saw a really exciting opportunity to use the kind of technology development that Ben had been doing, and that he was very keen on continuing, and to focus it on this challenge of neurodegeneration.”

The result is Scribe Therapeutics, which has already raised $20 million in a Series A funding round (plus some small amount of earlier seed financing contributed by the founders) led by Andreessen Horowitz . Scribe has been at work on their solution since 2018, but remained mostly quiet about their progress until Oakes felt confident that what they’re presenting is a real, viable technology that can be used to produce therapeutics now. Representative of that progress, the company is also announcing a new collaboration with large drugmaker Biogen, Inc. to collaborate on CRISPR-based medecines for treating neurological diseases, and specifically Amyotriophic Lateral Sclerosis.

That deal is valued at $15 million in upfront commitments, with as much as $400 million or more in milestone payouts to follow, as well as royalties attached to any shipping therapeutics that result. Oakes says it’s a testament to the maturity of their platform that they were able to secure this partnership. But Scribe will also be pursuing development of its own therapeutics in-house, while partnering where it makes sense – a strategy Oakes says is in service of addressing the greatest number of possible disease treatments the startup can manage. And while it’s already generating revenue, and Oakes says he’s in no rush to secure additional funding, he does believe that ultimately they will seek out additional investment in order to help ensure they can treat as many potential conditions as possible, as quickly and safely as possible.

As for the fundamental science behind Scribe, their advantage lies in the work they’ve done to adapt a molecule called CRISPR-CasX, which is a bit smaller than Cas9 and not derived from pathogen molecules, both of which make it better-suited to therapeutics. Scribe has spent the past year-and-a-half turning CasX into the basis of a platform that works better than any CRISPR protein that exists for delivery via adeno-associated virus (the current state-of-the-art in gene therapy delivery), as well as engineering it for greater specificity.

“We built Scribe specifically to do that, to build an engineering core focused exclusively on making the most advanced the very best therapeutic genome editing molecules that we could,” Oakes said.

#andreessen-horowitz, #biology, #biotech, #biotechnology, #crispr, #disease, #emerging-technologies, #genetic-engineering, #health, #jennifer-doudna, #life-sciences, #model, #science, #tc, #technology-development

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Spotify CEO Daniel Ek pledges $1Bn of his wealth to back deeptech startups from Europe

At an online event today, Daniel Ek, the founder of Spotify, said he would invest 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) of his personal fortune in deeptech “moonshot projects”, spread across the next 10 years.

Ek indicated that he was referring to machine learning, biotechnology, materials sciences and energy as the sectors he’d like to invest in.

“I want to do my part; we all know that one of the greatest challenges is access to capital,” Ek said, adding he wanted to achieve a “new European dream”.

“I get really frustrated when I see European entrepreneurs giving up on their amazing visions selling early on to non-European companies, or when some of the most promising tech talent in Europe leaves because they don’t feel valued here,” Ek said. “We need more super companies that raise the bar and can act as an inspiration.”

According to Forbes, Ek is worth $3.6 billion, which would suggest he’s putting aside roughly a third of his own wealth for the investments.

And it would appear his personal cash will be deployed with the help of a close confidant of Ek’s. He retweeted a post by Shakhil Khan, one of the first investors in Spotify, who said “it’s time to come out of retirement then.”

During a fireside chat held by the Slush conference, he said: “We all know that one of the greatest challenges is access to capital. And that is why I’m sharing today that I will devote €1bn of my personal resources to enable the ecosystem of builders.” He said he would do this by “funding so-called moonshots focusing on the deep technology necessary to make a significant positive dent, and work with scientists, entrepreneurs, investors and governments to do so.”

He expressed his desire to level-up Europe against the US I terms of tech unicorns: “Europe needs more super companies, both for the ecosystem to develop and thrive. But I think more importantly if we’re going to have any chance to tackle the infinitely complex problems that our societies are dealing with at the moment, we need different stakeholders, including companies, governments, academic institutions, non-profits and investors of all kinds to work together.”

He also expressed his frustration at seeing “European entrepreneurs, giving up on their amazing visions by selling very early in the process… We need more super companies to raise the bar and can act as an inspiration… There’s lots and lots of really exciting areas where there are tons of scientists and entrepreneurs right now around Europe.”

Ek said he will work with scientists, investors, and governments to deploy his funds. A $1.2 billion fund would see him competing with other large European VCs such as Atomico, Balderton Capital, Accel, Index Ventures and Northzone.

Ek has been previously known for his interest in deeptech. He has invested in €16m in Swedish telemedicine startup Kry. He’s also put €3m into HJN Sverige, an artificial intelligence company in the health tech arena.

#articles, #artificial-intelligence, #balderton-capital, #biotechnology, #business, #daniel-ek, #economy, #energy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #forbes, #founder, #kry, #machine-learning, #northzone, #private-equity, #spotify, #startup-company, #tc, #telemedicine, #united-states

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Does early-stage health tech need more ‘patient’ capital?

Crista Galli Ventures, a new early-stage health tech fund in Europe, officially launched last week. The firm offers “patient capital” — with only a single LP (the Danish family office IPQ Capital) — and promises to provide portfolio companies with deep healthcare expertise and the extra runway needed to get over regulatory and efficacy hurdles and to the next stage.

The firm has an initial $65 million to deploy and is led by consultant radiologist Dr. Fiona Pathiraja. With offices in London and Copenhagen, it operates as an “evergreen” fund, meaning it doesn’t follow traditional five-year VC fundraising cycles.

In fact, Crista Galli Ventures’ pitch is that traditional venture isn’t well-suited to early-stage health tech where it can take significantly longer to find product-market fit with healthcare practitioners and systems and then become licensed by local regulators.

To dig deeper into this and CGV’s investment remit more generally, I interviewed Pathiraja about what she looks for in health tech founders and startups. We also discussed Crista Galli LABS, which operates alongside the main fund and backs founders from underrepresented backgrounds at the pre-seed stage.

TechCrunch: You describe Crista Galli Ventures (CGV) as an early-stage health tech fund that offers patient capital and backs companies in Europe. In particular, you cite deep tech, digital health and personalised healthcare. Can you elaborate a bit more on the fund’s remit and what you look for in founders and startups at such an early stage?

Dr. Fiona Pathiraja: We like founders with bold ideas and international ambitions. We look for mission-driven founders who believe their companies can make a real and positive impact on the lives of people and patients the world over.

We will look for founders who deeply understand the problem they are trying to tackle from all angles — especially the patient’s perspective, but also that of the clinician and relevant regulators — and we want to see that they are building their solutions to solve this. This means they will make an effort to understand the complex and nuanced healthcare landscape and all the stakeholders in it.

In terms of founder characteristics, in my opinion, the best founders will be mission driven, able to tell a compelling story, and motivate others to join them. Grit and resilience are important and several of our portfolio companies were founded around 6-8 years ago and they are doggedly continuing to build.

#biotechnology, #crista-galli-ventures, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #health, #healthcare, #healthtech, #skin-cancer, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

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Alternative protein companies have raised a whopping $1.5 billion through July of this year

Companies like Perfect Day, Impossible Foods, and a host of other startups that are developing replacements for animal farmed goods used in food, clothes, cosmetics, and chemicals have raised a whopping $1.5 billion through the first half of the year.

That’s according to a new report from The Good Food Institute which is tracking the growth of investments into sustainable foods. The report identified fermentation technologies as a rising third pillar of foundational technologies on which new and established food brands are making products that swap out animal products for other protein sources.

Fermentation technologies, which use microbes like microalgae and mycoprotein, can produce biomass, improve plant proteins and create new functional ingredients, and companies developing and deploying these technologies have raised $435 million in funding through the end of July 2020. It’s an indication of how competitive the market is for food technologies, representing an increase of nearly 60 percent over the $274 million invested in all of 2019, according to GFI.

“Fermentation is powering a new wave of alternative protein products with huge potential for improving flavor, sustainability, and production efficiency. Investors and innovators are recognizing this market potential, leading to a surge of activity in fermentation as an enabling platform for the alternative protein industry as a whole,” said GFI Associate Director of Science and Technology Liz Specht, in a statement. “And this is just the beginning: The opportunity landscape for technology development is completely untapped in this area. Many alternative protein products of the future will harness the plethora of protein production methods now available, with the option of leveraging combinations of proteins derived from plants, animal cell culture, and microbial fermentation.”

Portait of the head of an adult black and white cow, gentle look, pink nose, in front of a blue sky. Image Credit: Getty Images

As the $1.5. billion figure indicates, big-time investors are taking notice. Funds like the Bill Gates -backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Temasek, Horizons Ventures, CPP Investment Board, Louis Dreyfus Co., Bunge Ventures, Kellogg, ADM Capital, Danone, Kraft Heinz, Mars, and Tyson Foods’ investment arm have all backed companies in the industry.

In all, fermentation-focused startup companies raised 3.5 times more capital than cultivated meat companies worldwide and almost 60 percent as much as U.S. plant-based meat, egg, and dairy companies, according to the GFI. 

As the industry has grown up, since Quorn became the first company to use fermentation-derived proteins back in 1985, big industrial companies have started to take notice.

While there are at least 44 startups focused on alternative proteins worldwide, according to the GFI report, large publicly traded companies like Novozymes, DuPont, and DSM are also developing product lines for the alternative protein business.

“Given the breadth of applications, we believe that fermentation could solve many current challenges faced by alternative proteins. On the one hand, biomass fermentation can create nutritious, clean protein in a highly efficient and low-cost way. On the other hand, the potential for precision fermentation to produce value-added, highly functional, and nutritious ingredients is very exciting and could revolutionize the plant-based category,” said Rosie Wardle, an investor with the CPT Capital, which specializes in backing startups developing novel protein production technologies. “From an investment perspective, we are very excited about the white space opportunities in this category, and we are actively looking to increase our investments in the space. This new report from GFI is the first comprehensive overview of fermentation for alternative protein applications and should be required reading for everyone who wants to create a more efficient and less harmful global food system.”

#articles, #bill-gates, #biotechnology, #breakthrough-energy-ventures, #cellular-agriculture, #chemicals, #cultured-meat, #danone, #dupont, #food, #food-and-drink, #head, #horizons-ventures, #impossible-foods, #mars, #meat, #meat-substitutes, #tc, #technology-development, #temasek, #tyson-foods, #united-states

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Ansa Biotechnologies wants to usher in a new era of DNA manufacturing

Daniel Arlow has spent the last eighteen years studying genomics and synthetic biology. The arc of his career has taken the first-time founder of the new startup Ansa Biotechnologies from MIT to the famous Keasling Lab at the University of California at Berkeley and now to the world of startups.

Now, Arlow is ready to tell the world what he’s been working on at Ansa, which is nothing less than the delivery of the next generation of synthetic DNA manufacturing.

His company is bringing to market a new process for making DNA that Arlow said is faster and more accurate than existing technologies.

“DNA read, write, and edit are the core pillars of synthetic biology,” said Seth Bannon, a founding partner at the frontier investment firm Fifty Years, and an investor in Ansa’s recent $7.9 million investment round. “Currently the ability to write DNA is the main bottleneck in the synthetic biology industry. By enabling faster, longer, and higher quality DNA synthesis with their fully enzymatic process, Ansa will help accelerate the entire synthetic biology industry.”

Arlow likens the state of the industry now to the early days of programming. “If it took three weeks to compile your code or recompile your code to make a simple change you could never make any progress in developing software for the computer,” Arlow said. And that’s the state for programmable biology these days.

“It took a really long time to test your idea after it was designed. It forces you to plan things out much more carefully and to be less spontaneous and less agile,” he said. 

Using Ansa, companies can have DNA made based on their specific requirements at a speed and scale that Arlow said other companies in the market can’t match.

Currently, DNA molecules are made using a thirty year-old chemical method that has limitations on the length of molecules that can be made. By contrast, Ansa’s biologically inspired DNA synthesis method means that the company can make long molecules directly, without the risk of errors that can result from patching pieces of genetic material together.

The company has developed an enzyme that basically adds bases to a DNA molecule. The company basically has a cut and paste function that serves to unblock DNA and then allows another base to be attached.

It’s also important to note that Arlow’s company is doing synthesis as a service rather than selling bioprinters that can enable any researcher to make their own DNA.

“One of the reasons we’re developing our business as a DNA synthesis service… as opposed to making a printer… is because that gives us a much greater ability to vet orders for biosecurity risk before we manufacture them,” Arlow said.

Other companies like DNA Script (from France) and Nuclera (a Cambridge, UK-based company) are going to market with bioprinters that they’re selling directly to research labs, according to Arlow.

All of these businesses are the next iteration of companies like Twist Bioscience, that are manufacturing DNA to power the synthetic biology revolution (something that TechCrunch Disrupt attendees have been hearing a lot about).

Ansa hasn’t shipped any DNA yet, but the company will soon be taking orders to begin competing in a market that Arlow estimates is over $1 billion today and is growing quite rapidly.

“Writing is really the bottleneck,” Arlow said. “The business we’re in is selling to R&D.. the faster we can crank out the DNA the better it is. Part of the reason why we’re still pretty bad at engineering biology is because it takes so long to build a new design. My hope is by building more we’ll get better at designing because we’ll be able to see what works and what doesn’t work.”

 

#articles, #biology, #biotechnology, #dna, #dna-script, #emerging-technologies, #fifty-years, #genomics, #mit, #seth-bannon, #synthetic-biology, #tc, #twist-bioscience

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Synthetic biology startups are giving investors an appetite

There’s a growing wave of commercial activity from companies that are creating products using new biological engineering technologies.

Perhaps the most public (and tastiest) example of the promise biomanufacturing holds is Impossible Foods . The meat replacement company whose ground plants (and bioengineered additives) taste like ground beef just raised another $200 million earlier this month, giving the privately held company a $4 billion valuation.

But Impossible is only the most public face for what’s a growing trend in bioengineering — commercialization. Platform companies like Ginkgo Bioworks and Zymergen that have large libraries of metagenomic data that can be applied to products like industrial chemicals, coatings and films, pesticides and new ways to deliver nutrients to consumers.

The new products coming to market

In fact, by 2021 consumer products made with Zymergen’s bioengineered thin films should be appearing at the Consumer Electronics Show (if there is a Consumer Electronics Show). It’s one of several announcements this year from the billion dollar-valued startup.

In August, Zymergen announced that it was working with herbicide and pesticide manufacturer FMC in a partnership that will see the seven-year-old startup be an engine for product development at the nearly 130-year-old chemical company.

#arvind-gupta, #biotechnology, #bolt-threads, #chemicals, #consumer-products, #emerging-technologies, #food, #geltor, #ginkgo-bioworks, #greentech, #healthcare, #impossible-foods, #indiebio, #life-sciences, #lygos, #manufacturing, #mayfield-fund, #memphis-meats, #seth-bannon, #solazyme, #solugen, #startup-company, #startups, #synthetic-biology, #tc, #venture-capital, #zymergen

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Mission Bio raises $70 million to help scale its tech for improving the development of targeted cancer therapies

California-based startup Mission Bio has raised a new $70 million Series C funding round, led by Novo Growth and including participating from Soleus Capital and existing investors Mayfield, Cota and Agilent. Mission Bio will use the funding to scale its Tapestri Platform, which uses the company’s work in single-cell multi-omics technology to help optimize clinical trials for targeted, precision cancer therapies.

Mission Bio’s single-cell multi-omics platform is unique in the therapeutic industry. What it allows is the ability to zero in on a single cell, observing both genotype (fully genetic) and phenotype (observable traits influenced by genetics and other factors) impact resulting from use of various therapies during clinical trials. Mission’s Tapestri can detect both DNA and protein changes within the same single cell, which is key in determining effectiveness of targeted therapies because it can help rule out the effect of other factors not under control when analyzing in bulk (ie. across groups of cells).

Founded in 2012 as a spin-out of research work conducted at UCSF, Mission Bio has raised a total of $120 million to date. The company’s tech has been used by a number of large pharmaceutical and therapeutic companies, including Agios, LabCorp and Onconova Therapeutics, as well as at cancer research centers including UCSF, Stanford and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

In addition to helping with the optimization of clinical trials for treatments of blood cancers and tutors, Mission’s tech can be used to validate genome editing – a large potential market that could see a lot of growth over the next few years with the rise of CRISPR-based therapeutic applications.

#articles, #biology, #biotech, #biotechnology, #california, #cancer, #cancer-research, #crispr, #drugs, #health, #labcorp, #life-sciences, #science, #stanford, #stem-cells, #tc, #ucsf

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Mammoth Biosciences lands exclusive license to new CRISPR proteins that could boost gene editing precision

CRISPR pioneer Mammoth Biosciences has secured an exclusive license to a new family of CRISPR proteins, from UC Berkeley, which covers R&D and commercialization across all potential fields. This is a significant addition to Mammoth’s intellectual property holdings, since this new family of CRISPR proteins, known as the Casɸ family, is roughly half the size of Cas9, the protein that effectively launched CRISPR to begin with.

In CRISPR, size actually matters quite a lot – the smaller size of Casɸ could help this new protein family excel in areas including the exact precision of gene editing, as well as easing delivery for use in actual living cells, and combining different target edits in a so-called ‘multiplex’ arrangement.

In July, a peer-reviewed paper published in Science detailed the discovery of Casɸ and outlined its potential advantages for use in CRISPR gene editing. Casɸ was discovered in bacteriophages, which is a type of virus that infects and replicates within bacteria – their literal translation is “bacteria eater.”

Increasing accuracy in CRISPR-based genetic editing has been an ongoing goal in the industry, with various approaches conceived and developed to help mitigate what is known as “off-target” activity, or unintended edits and genetic modifications that can occur when using the original Cas9-based editing approaches.

Mammoth Biosciences was founded by CRISPR co-discoverer Jennifer Doudna, and Douda’s lab at UC Berkeley is the source of the new discovery. This definitely helps strengthen its portfolio, and could lead to significant potential upside to the business through eventual commercialization.

#biology, #biotech, #biotechnology, #crispr, #genetic-engineering, #health, #life-sciences, #mammoth-biosciences, #science, #tc, #uc-berkeley

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Atomwise’s machine learning-based drug discovery service raises $123 million

With a slew of partnerships with large pharmaceutical companies under its belt and the successful spin out of at least one new company, Atomwise has already proved the value of its machine learning platform for discovering and commercializing potential small molecule therapies for a host of conditions.

Now the company has raised $123 million in new funding to accelerate its business.

“Scaling the technology and scaling the team and scaling what we’ve been doing with it,” says chief executive officer Abe Heifets when asked about what comes next for the eight year old business.

Atomwise has already signed contracts worth $5.5 billion with corporate partners that include Eli Lilly & Co., Bayer, Hansoh Pharmaceuticals, and Bridge Biotherapeutics. Smaller, earlier stage companies like StemoniX and SEngine Precision Medicine are also using Atomwise’s tech.

Now the company will look to capture more of the value of drug discovery for itself, looking to develop and commercialize its discoveries by taking over more of the development process and working with manufacturers at a later stage, according to Heifets.

Atomwise tipped its new strategy last year when it announced a partnership with Velocity Drug Development and a $14.5 million investment to create x-37, a spinoff that’s developing small molecule therapies for endodermal cancers, which include cancers of the liver, pancreas, colon, stomach, and bladder.

“We have something like 750 projects running today around the world,” says Heifets. “These comprise more than 600 unique targets and that’s with a vast range of partnerships.”

The power of Atomwise’s drug discovery platform is its ability to harness machine learning to structure new proteins that have never existed — and ensure that they’re able to reach precise target receptors to accomplish a desired task.

Here, the x-37 spinoff is especially illustrative. One line of research the company is conducting into molecules that can target the PIM3 protein receptor. If a drug can block PIM3, it can kill cancerous endodermal cells, according to Heifets. However, if the molecules bind to another, similar target, PIM1, the therapy can cause heart attacks and kill patients.

“This is a challenge and empirically was considered undruggable,” says Heifets. Atomwise’s company screened 11 billion potential molecules against the targets to come up with 500 potential therapies. They’re now working on refining the therapy to bring something to market.

And x-37 is only one of the companies that Atomwise has created to commercialize various new molecules. There’s also Atropos Therapeutics, Theia Biosciences and vAIrus.

Atomwise is far from the only company to think that the application of machine learning technologies to drug discovery is a winning combination. Menten.ai is a company that’s taken the new technology developments one step further and added quantum computing to the mix to come up with new drugs.

“The market opportunity we’re going after is four times the value of the entire pharma industry today,” said Heifets. “Here’s what that’s about. There’s 20,000 human genes and only 4% have ever been drugs. Another 16% have been evidenced. But the opportunity of drugging the undruggable is way bigger than the entire pharma industry.”

Unlocking that opportunity is going to take lots of capital. That’s why B Capital and Sanabil Investments combined to lead Atomwise’s Series B round. It’s also why companies like DCVC, BV, Tencent, Y Combinator, Dolby Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures and two, undisclosed, insurance companies have invested in the company’s latest round.

 with a goal to commercialize high potential candidates through the drug development process. The company plans to continue to expand its work with corporate partners, which currently include major players in the biopharma space including Eli Lilly and Company, Bayer, Hansoh Pharmaceuticals, and Bridge Biotherapeutics, as well as emerging biotechnology companies like StemoniX and SEngine Precision Medicine. Atomwise has signed approximately $5.5 billion in deal value with corporate partners to date.

To date, Atomwise has worked with 750 academic research collaborations addressing over 600 disease targets, to model and screen over 16 billion new molecules for virtual screening. These molecules have generated 17 pending patent applications and several peer-reviewed publications. There are 285 active drug discovery partnerships with researchers at top universities around the world, and recently announced 15 research collaborations with global universities to explore broad-spectrum therapies for COVID-19, targeting 15 unique and novel mechanisms of action.

“New technologies are enabling better and faster R&D for the life science industry,” said Raj Ganguly, co-Founder and Managing Partner at B Capital Group . “The advancements Atomwise has made with its computational drug discovery platform have effectively cut months or even years off of the R&D lifecycle. More importantly, however, they are solving biology problems previously believed to be unsolvable by researchers and delivering that capability to everyone from academics to big pharma. We’re excited to continue to partner with the Atomwise team on its mission to develop new, more effective therapies.”

For lead investor, B Capital, the Atomwise investment is part of a thesis around lowering the cost of care and improving outcomes.

“Companies like Atomwise that are improving the cost curve are in the same vein of bringing therapies to market faster and cheaper. Which means you can improve access and improve costs and address things like rare diseases,” said Adam Seabrook, a principal at B Capital focused on healthcare.

#ame-cloud-ventures, #articles, #atomwise, #b-capital-group, #bayer, #biotechnology, #chief-executive-officer, #disease, #drug-development, #drug-discovery, #health, #healthcare, #insurance, #life-sciences, #machine-learning, #partner, #quantum-computing, #raj-ganguly, #series-b, #tc, #tencent, #y-combinator

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Mammoth Biosciences’s CRISPR-based COVID-19 test receives NIH fundings through RADx program

CRISPR tech startup Mammoth Biosciences is among the companies that revealed backing from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Rapid Accleration of Diagnostics (RADx) program on Friday. Mammoth received a contract to scale up its CRISPR-based SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic test in order to help address the testing shortages across the U.S.

Mammoth’s CRISPR-based approach could potentially offer a significant solution to current testing bottlenecks, because it’s a very different kind of test when compared to existing methods based on PCR technology. The startup has also enlisted the help of pharma giant GSK to develop and produce a new COVID-19 testing solution, which will be a handheld, disposable test that can offer results in as little as 20 minutes, on site.

While that test is still ind development, the RADx funding received through this funding will be used to scale manufacturing of the company’s DETECTR platform for distribution and use in commercial laboratory settings. This will still offer a “multi-fold increase in testing capacity,” the company says, even though it’s a lab-based solution instead of a point-of-care test like the one it’s seeking to create with GSK.

Already, UCSF has received an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA to use the DETECTR reagent set to test for the presence of SARS-CoV-2, and the startup hopes to be able to extend similar testing capacity to other labs across the U.S.

#articles, #biology, #biotech, #biotechnology, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #crispr, #fda, #genetic-engineering, #health, #mammoth-biosciences, #national-institute-of-health, #science, #startup-company, #tc, #tech-startup, #united-states

0

Bit Bio’s “enter button for the keyboard to the software of life” nabs the company $41.5 million

Bit Bio, the new startup which pitches itself as the “enter button for the keyboard to the software of life” only needed three weeks to raise its latest $41.5 million round of funding.

Originally known as Elpis Biotechnology and named for the Greek goddess of hope, the Cambridge, England-based company was founded by Mark Kotter in 2016 to commercialize technology that can reduce the cost and increase the production capacity for human cell lines. These cells can be used in targeted gene therapies and as a method to accelerate drug discovery at pharmaceutical companies.

The company’s goal is to be able to reproduce every human cell type.

“We’re just at a very crucial time in biology and medicine and the bottleneck that has become really clear is a scalable source of robust human cells,” said Kotter. “For drug discovery this is important. When you look at failure rates in clinical trials they’re at an all time high… that’s in direct contradiction to the massive advancements in biotechnology in research and the field.”

In the seventeen years since scientists completely mapped the human genome, and eight years since scientists began using the gene editing technology known as CRISPR to edit genetic material, there’s been an explosion of treatments based on individual patient’s genetic material and new drugs developed to more precisely target the mechanisms that pathogens use to spread through organisms.

These treatments and the small molecule drugs being created to stop the spread of pathogens or reduce the effects of disease require significant testing before coming to market — and Bit Bio’s founder thinks his company can both reduce the time to market and offer new treatments for patients.

It’s a thesis that had investors like the famous serial biotech entrepreneur, Richard Klausner, who served as the former director of the National Cancer Institute and founder of revolutionary biotech companies like Lyell Immunopharma, Juno, and Grail, leaping at the chance to invest in Bit Bio’s business, according to Kotter.

Joining Klausner are the famous biotech investment firms Foresite Capital, Blueyard Capital and Arch Venture Partners.

“Bit Bio is based on beautiful science. The company’s technology has the potential to bring the long-awaited precision and reliability of engineering to the application of stem cells,” said Klausner in a statement. “Bit Bio’s approach represents a paradigm shift in biology that will enable a new generation of cell therapies, improving the lives of millions.”

Photo: Andrew Brookes/Getty Images

Kotter’s own path to develop the technology which lies at the heart of Bit Bio’s business began a decade ago in a laboratory in Cambridge University. It was there that he began research building on the revolutionary discoveries of Shinya Yamanaka, which enabled scientists to transform human adult cells into embryonic stem cells.

“What we did is what Yamanaka did. We turned everything upside down. We want to know how each cell is defined… and once we know that we can flip the switch,” said Kotter. “We find out which transcription factors code for a single cell and we turn it on.”

Kotter said the technology is like uploading a new program into the embryonic stem cell.

Although the company is still in its early days, it has managed to attract a few key customers and launch a sister company based on the technology. That company, Meatable, is using the same process to make lab-grown pork.

Meatable is the earliest claimant to a commercially viable, patented process for manufacturing meat cells without the need to kill an animal as a prerequisite for cell differentiation and growth.

Other companies have relied on fetal bovine serum or Chinese hamster ovaries to stimulate cell division and production, but Meatable says it has developed a process where it can sample tissue from an animal, revert that tissue to a pluripotent stem cell, then culture that cell sample into muscle and fat to produce the pork products that palates around the world crave.

“We know which DNA sequence is responsible for moving an early-stage cell to a muscle cell,” says Meatable chief executive Krijn De Nood.

If that sounds similar to Bit Bio, that’s because it’s the same tech — just used to make animal instead of human cells.

Image: PASIEKA/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images

If Meatable is one way to commercialize the cell differentiation technology, Bit Bio’s partnership with the drug development company Charles River Laboratories is another.

“We actually do have a revenue generating business side using human cells for research and drug discovery. We have a partnership with Charles River Laboratories the large preclinical contract research organization,” Kotter said. “That partnership is where we have given early access to our technology to Charles River… They have their own usual business clients who want them to help with their drug discovery. The big bottleneck at the moment is access to human cells.”

Drug trials fail because the treatments developed either are toxic or don’t work in humans. The difference is that most experiments to prove how effective the treatments are rely on animal testing before making the leap to human trials, Kotter said.

The company is also preparing to develop its own cell therapies, according to Kotter. There, the biggest selling point is the increased precision that  Bit Bio can bring to precision medicine, said Kotter. “If you look at these cell therapies at the moment you get mixed bags of cells. There are some that work and some that have dangerous side effects. We think we can be precise [and] safety is the biggest thing at this point.”

The company claims that it can produce cell lines in less than a week with 100 percent purity, versus the mixed bags from other companies cell cultures.

“Our moonshot goal is to develop a platform capable of producing every human cell type. This is possible once we understand the genes governing human cell behaviour, which ultimately form the ‘operating system of life’,” Kotter said in a statement. “This will unlock a new generation of cell and tissue therapies for tackling cancer, neurodegenerative disorders and autoimmune diseases and accelerate the development of effective drugs for a range of conditions. The support of leading deep tech and biotech investors will catalyse this unique convergence of biology and engineering.”

 

#arch-venture-partners, #biology, #biotechnology, #blueyard-capital, #cambridge-university, #cancer, #crispr, #director, #disease, #drug-development, #drug-discovery, #foresite-capital, #founder, #grail, #juno, #life-sciences, #meatable, #operating-system, #stem-cells, #tc, #united-kingdom

0

Emerging from stealth, Octant is bringing the tools of synthetic biology to large scale drug discovery

Octant, a company backed by Andreessen Horowitz just now unveiling itself publicly to the world, is using the tools of synthetic biology to buck the latest trends in drug discovery.

As the pharmaceuticals industry turns its attention to precision medicine — the search for ever more tailored treatments for specific diseases using genetic engineering — Octant is using the same technologies to engage in drug discovery and diagnostics on a mass scale.

The company’s technology genetically engineers DNA to act as an identifier for the most common drug receptors inside the human genome. Basically, it’s creating QR codes that can flag and identify how different protein receptors in cells respond to chemicals. These are the biological sensors which help control everything from immune responses to the senses of sight and smell, the firing of neurons; even the release of hormones and communications between cells in the body are regulated.

“Our discovery platform was designed to map and measure the interconnected relationships between chemicals, multiple drug receptor pathways and diseases, enabling us to engineer multi-targeted drugs in a more rational way, across a wide spectrum of targets,” said Sri Kosuri, Octant’s co-founder and chief executive officer, in a statement.

Octant’s work is based on a technology first developed at the University of California Los Angeles by Kosuri and a team of researchers, which slashed the cost of making genetic sequences to $2 per gene from $50 to $100 per gene.

“Our method gives any lab that wants the power to build its own DNA sequences,” Kosuri said in a 2018 statement. “This is the first time that, without a million dollars, an average lab can make 10,000 genes from scratch.”

Joining Kosuri in launching Octant is Ramsey Homsany, a longtime friend of Kosuri’s, and a former executive at Google and Dropbox . Homsany happened to have a background in molecular biology from school, and when Kosuri would talk about the implications of the technology he developed, the two men knew they needed to for a company.

“We use these new tools to know which bar code is going