The ongoing COVID19 crisis forced biotech-oriented venture capitalists (VC) to somewhat slow down the pace of their usual deal-flow -- according to data by PitchBook biopharma venture deals in 2020 are down roughly 16% compared to last year.
However, there is still a lot going on in drug discovery and healthcare, and here I would like to specifically focus on artificial intelligence (AI)-driven biotech and health tech startups who managed to raise notable rounds in 2020, so far (based on our report “A Landscape of Artificial Intelligence (AI) In Drug Discovery and Development”). The deals are ordered by the amount of money raised
San Francisco-based data-driven drug discovery company Insitro has recently raised $143M in Series B financing, led by Andreessen Horowitz, CPP Investments, and others. Founded in 2018 and led by a computer science star and Coursera co-founder Dr. Daphne Koller, Insitro already secured a strategic drug discovery collaboration with Gilead last year. The company is focused on advancing the development of ML-driven disease models predictive of human clinical outcomes and applying those models for Insitro’s first two therapeutic areas in liver and CNS diseases.
In March, Tempus announced it received $100M in Series G Financing. The investors include Baillie Gifford, Franklin Templeton, NEA, Novo Holdings, and funds and accounts managed by T. Rowe Price. The company’s main focus is advancing precision medicine and applying AI in healthcare, and it claims to possess the largest clinical and molecular data library. With the additional funding, Tempus continues to expand its operations to various diseases areas, including diabetes, depression, and cardiology. Since its foundation in 2015, the company has raised a total of $620M.
In May, Exscientia, a British drug discovery company, announced it raised $60M in Series C round. The round was led by Novo Holdings, Evotec, Bristol Myers Squibb, and GT Healthcare Capital. Exscientia uses AI for small molecule drug design via a combination of strategies, including structure-based and phenotypic screening approaches. The company already has a drug candidate in phase 1 clinical trial for the treatment of the obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Together with Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma, Exscientia developed and brought the drug to clinical trials in one year, a success the company attributes to its AI-driven platform. Exscientia has multiple research collaborations with pharma giants, including Bristol Myers Squibb, Bayer, Sanofi, and others. The new funding round will help Exscientia expand into the USA market.
Owkin, a French-American biotech startup applying AI and Federated Learning to medical research, pulled significant investments in May and June, having brought in a total of $43M. This funding included $25M from Bpifrance, Cathay Innovation, MACSF, and $18M from Bpifrance and Mubadala Capital. Their AI-powered collaborative platform Owkin's Studio implements an alternative approach to healthcare data storage that is used by the big tech companies, such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. Owkin’s task is to decentralize research and to make it more collaborative. The company’s technology approach allows training the algorithms from disparate sources (research laboratories, biotech companies), without needing to collect data together in one source, thereby eliminating intellectual property risks.
Deep Genomics is a Toronto-based start-up, which raised $40M in Series B round in January. The round was led by Future Ventures with participation of Amplitude Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Magnetic Ventures, and True Ventures. The round is to supports the advancement of the Deep Genomics’ AI-based drug discovery platform and the development treatment for rare genetic diseases. The Deep Genomics software, Saturn, is used to identify and better understand drug targets, especially targets that are thought to be undruggable. Deep Genomics can design new drugs and animal models.
In January, South Korean medical startup Lunit raised $26M in Round C to extend their product worldwide. The round was led by Korea’s Shinhan Investment, followed by InterVest, IMM Investment, Kakao Ventures, and China’s Legend Capital of Lenovo Group. One of the company’s AI-enabled solutions is Lunit INSIGHT MMG for breast cancer detection -- it can analyze mammography images and predict the disease with 97% accuracy. Another product is Lunit INSIGHT CXR for chest X-ray diagnostics.
BenchSci is a Toronto-based start-up founded in 2015, which raised $22M in Series B for expanding their antibody search platform. The round was led by F-Prime Capital, with participation from Northleaf Capital Partners and others. BenchSci is focusing on selecting “right” antibodies for experiments that significantly reduce the failure rates. Over 30 thousand scientists already used BenchSci’s AI-Assisted Antibody Selection to plan their experiments. The company recently launched an AI-assisted reagent selection tool, which encompasses such reagents as antibodies, RNAi and recombinant proteins.
A New-York-based start-up Immunai raised $20M in seed funding from Viola Ventures and TLV Partners. Immunai intends to map the entire immune system with AI and single-cell analysis. Immunotherapies have been a hot topic in drug discovery in recent years, but it still needs more data to make therapies more efficient and safe. Immunai profiles hundreds of immune cell types, collecting data that will support biomarkers and better therapies discovery. The company already partners with 10 medical centers and biotech companies.
A Toronto-based AI-powered biotech Cyclica has closed Series B round of $17M in June. The round was led by Drive Capital with participation from Chiesi Farmaceutici, GreenSky Capital, and members of Cyclica's management team. The company has an ambitious plan to “create the biotech pipeline of the future” and will use the money to deliver results. Cyclica focuses on polypharmacology approach, and designs lead molecules with a focus on minimizing adverse effects, while providing an understanding of the lead candidates’ activity through integrated systems and pharmacogenomics (the study of the role of the genome in drug response). One of the Cyclica’s business strategies is to establish multiple joint drug discovery programs with fledgling biotech start-ups and academic spin-outs.
Qure.ai is another healthcare start-up that analyses medical imaging data. In February, this India-based company raised $16M of financing, the round led by Sequoia Capital India. With this funding, the company intends to expand R&D and further advance its AI-based solutions: qER and qQuant tools for interpreting head Computed Tomography (CT) scans; qXR tool for detecting abnormal chest X-rays in tuberculosis and, recently, in Covid-19.
PharmEnable is a Cambridge based start-up that leverages the power of AI and medicinal chemistry to create new drugs. The startup has received $2,4M from Cambridge Enterprise, as well as the University of Cambridge Enterprise Fund VI, and will spend it to evolve the business model, and initiate drug discovery programs in oncology, neurodegenerative diseases, and other areas.
A US-UK startup PostEra secured $2.3 M in funding to expand its AI technology to design optimal routes for chemical synthesis, thus speeding up the drug discovery efforts. Their Synthesis Laboratory tools were first to outperform chemistry specialists in reaction results prediction. In collaboration with numerous industry and academic partners globally, PostEra has also started a notable open science initiative COVID Moonshot project -- read our recent interview with Aaron Morris, Co-founder and CEO at PostEra to learn more about it.
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