Several startups focused on AI-powered drug discovery have closed multi-million-dollar funding rounds this year, including Causaly, BenchSci, Iktos, TandemAI and Protai. Another one joined the list on Monday.
Genesis Therapeutics announced the close of a $200 million Series B funding round, taking the Burlingame, California-based company’s total funding to date to more than $280 million. The round was co-led by Andreessen Horowitz and an undisclosed “U.S.-based life-sciences-focused investor.”
Other investors that participated in the round include BlackRock, NVentures (Nvidia’s venture capital arm), Menlo Ventures, Radical Ventures, Rock Springs Capital, Fidelity Management & Research Company and T. Rowe Price Associates.
Founded in 2019 as a Stanford University spinout, Genesis is developing an AI platform dubbed Genesis Exploration of Molecular Space, or GEMS for short. The platform is designed to produce small-molecule drug compounds “for difficult-to-treat diseases across a wide variety of difficult protein targets,” said Ben Sklaroff, the startup’s chief technology officer, in a recent interview.
Genesis is not yet disclosing which specific targets it is going after, but he noted that the company’s drug pipeline is currently focused on oncology.
The startup’s physics-centric AI platform is what sets it apart from its competitors, Sklaroff argued. Genesis has “deep expertise” in physics-based methods for computational chemistry, which the company combines with its proprietary machine learning engine, which builds foundational 3D models for analyzing protein-ligand complexes, he explained.
“Traditionally, machine learning has been a very effective way to speed up calculation in our field — but it has been limited to basically interpolating between known chemical matter because it doesn’t have a strong understanding of physics. And the physical methods are relatively good at being able to derive some of these relationships between molecules from first principles, but they have difficulty generalizing to new protein targets they haven’t seen before, as well as are often extremely slow to run,” Sklaroff said.
By combining its homegrown AI engine with its extensive knowledge in physics-based computational chemistry, Genesis “brings the best of both worlds to small molecule drug discovery,” he declared.
Some pharma giants have been attracted to this approach. The startup snagged a drug discovery deal with Genentech in 2020, and it inked another one with Eli Lilly last year. The Eli Lilly deal is worth $690 million, including $20 million upfront with the rest dependent on reaching milestones across a range of therapeutic areas.
As for how the startup plans to deploy its new funds, COO Will McCarthy said it will use the money to transition into its clinical testing phase. He declined to give a timeline on when Genesis expects to become a clinical-stage company but said it will happen “in the not-too-distant future.”
The startup will also use some of its new financing to expand its AI platform to look at new targets across different therapeutic areas, McCarthy added.
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