ENGINE Biosciences, a biotech company that applies machine learning as well as large-scale biology testing to discover precision medicine-based therapies for cancer and other diseases, has raised $57 million in an oversubscribed Series A funding round led by US-based healthcare focused venture capital firm Polaris Partners. This brings the startup’s total funding to date to $70 million.
New investors include Invus Group and a Singapore-based “world class premier institutional investor”, the company said. Existing investors, including 6 Dimensions Capital, WuXi AppTec, DHVC, EDBI, Baidu Ventures, Vectr Ventures, Goodman Capital, WI Harper, and Nest.Bio also participated. The round will value the startup at about US$82 million, said data-intelligence platform VentureCap Insights.
Having started operations in 2016, Engine uses technologies such as gene editing, data science and machine learning to identify errors in the complex genetic codes of diseases. This allows them to “fix” these errors with precise therapeutic solutions, the biotech said in a statement on Wednesday.
The company, which has offices in Singapore and Silicon Valley, does this through two platforms. First, is NetMAPPR, a sort of search engine that identifies specific gene combinations and drug targets that are integral to diseases. Its researchers can then use its CombiGEM platform to test these gene combinations simultaneously in diseased cells.
Co-founder and chief executive of Engine Biosciences Jeffrey Lu said that the technologies enable researchers and drug developers to uncover the gene interactions and biological networks underlying diseases faster and at a greater scale than conventional methods. It can be at least 10 to 100 times more efficient than traditional methods.
He added that many breakthrough tools to edit, program and modulate biology have been emerging and maturing in recent years. These are innovations that the biotech capitalises on for its therapeutics.
But what differentiates Engine Biosciences is its ability to efficiently identify disease-driving errors in a person’s genetic code by searching more broadly with NetMAPPR, then test how these can be addressed by therapeutics at a large scale.
New funds will be used to expand its portfolio of precision oncology therapeutics, prepare for its first clinical programmes, and scale its proprietary technology platform. The startup has been progressing its “novel biology findings” into drug discovery programmes and proprietary small molecule inhibitors, it added.
Engine’s growing and advancing pipeline of targeted therapies for genetically-defined patient populations has shown promise in treating liver, ovarian, colorectal, and breast cancers, it said. These cancers contribute to approximately 2.5 million deaths every year.
The startup also plans to double its headcount to about 60 people by the end of next year, focusing on expanding its machine learning, laboratory and chemistry teams.
Amy Schulman, managing partner at Polaris Partners, said that the startup’s “distinct combination of biology, technology, and drug discovery”, combined with its global perspective, could allow the company to realise the “promise of artificial intelligence in drug discovery”. This would allow it to tackle a wide variety of diseases, she added.
She has joined the Engine Biosciences board of directors.
Leon Chen, chief executive and founding partner of investor 6 Dimensions Capital, said that there is a “tremendous need” in the field to find the right drug targets for patients, and Engine has a “unique capability” in finding these.
“We believe Engine’s AI-enabled technology platform has the potential to discover new biology targets and disease-causing links amongst known targets,” he said.
| About WI Harper Group:
WI Harper is a pioneer and leading cross-border venture capital firm investing in early and expansion stage companies globally. With offices in San Francisco, Beijing, and Taipei, the firm actively oversees more than $1 billion in assets under management. Since inception nearly three decades ago, WI Harper has invested in over 400 startups and has successfully experienced more than 100 IPO and M&A exits.
We look for innovative companies and visionary founders in healthcare, technology and sustainability fields where there are high synergies and meaningful value added cross selling opportunities. While our healthcare team is presently honing on bioinformatics and digital biology, our technology team is focused blockchain, big data, analytics, artificial intelligence, AR/VR, IoT, robotics, drones, autonomous driving, as well as digital media and green energy projects.