Home Cellular health 14 drug discovery startups to watch, according to top VCs

14 drug discovery startups to watch, according to top VCs

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2021 was the year drug development startups in Europe shifted into a different gear. They raised $1.6 billion – nearly three times the 2020 figure – as VCs backed a some startups with large checksincluding huge funding rounds for companies like owkin and Exscientia, while BenevolentAI agreed to Europe largest transaction ever by Spac.

Investors are beginning to sense the opportunity to leverage AI to develop new drugs and treatments, spurred by pandemic-driven digitalization and increasingly favorable regulatory conditions in Europe. Pharmaceutical megaliths have also started paying attention to startups in the space, and earlier this month Exscientia got a huge $5.2 billion contract with Sanofi.

But which early stage startups do investors have on their radar heading into 2022? Sifted asked five VCs which (non-portfolio) companies they were monitoring.

Antoine Papiernik, Chairman and Managing Partner of Sofinnova Partners

Papiernik’s portfolio includes biotechs Mnemo Therapeutics, Noema Pharma and Tissium

Nucleoma therapy

Nucleome Therapeutics decodes the dark matter of the human genome to discover new ways to treat disease. The dark matter genome contains more than 95% of disease-linked genetic variants and its value remains untapped, representing a significant opportunity for drug discovery and development.

Lifted: N / A
Based: 2019
Last round: N / A
The head office : Oxford, United Kingdom

Proxygen

Proxygen develops therapies for cancer and other life-threatening diseases by reprogramming cellular proteins with special drugs called molecular glue degraders. Molecular glue degraders are considered one of the most promising therapeutic innovations of recent decades due to their potential to pave the way for targeting proteins known to be key drivers of disease.

Lifted: N / A
Based: 2020
Last round: Grant, February 2020
The head office : Vienna, Austria

Stage biotechnology

Scenic Biotech is at the forefront of the discovery of genetic modifiers for drug intervention. Its innovative platform, Cell-Seq, enables a comprehensive overview of genetic modifiers for many different disease phenotypes to select the best targets.

Lifted: $7.2 million
Based: 2017
Last round: €3.1 million grant, June 2020
The head office : Amsterdam, Netherlands

Therapeutic Hemab

It is an emerging biotechnology company that develops new treatments for rare and underserved bleeding disorders.

Lifted: $55 million
Based: 2019
Last round: $55 million, Series A, July 2021
The head office : Copenhagen, Denmark

TreeFrog Therapeutic

TreeFrog Therapeutics is developing a technology that enables the mass production and differentiation of stem cells. Its technology platform provides an end-to-end, scalable solution that dramatically improves the quality of therapeutic cells and reduces treatment costs.

Lifted: $85.8 million
Based: 2018
Last round: €3.5 million grant, December 2021
The head office : Bordeaux, France

Julia Hawkins, General Partner of LocalGlobe

Hawkins portfolio includes Oxford Nanopore biotech, AccuRx health platform and Yulife wellness app

Julia Hawkins, General Partner of LocalGlobe

BioCorteX

BioCorteX applies AI to design new therapies, improving current drugs by hacking into the microbiome (genetic information). This team may have found a way to make the microbiome therapeutic opportunity addressable and scalable.

Its founders, Nik Sharma and Mo Alomari, believe that BioCorteX-enhanced therapies based on drug-microbiome interactions will usher in a new era in pharmaceuticals. For example: resistant cancers can be treated by modifying the microbiome of patients before chemotherapy.

BioCorteX has already developed four AI engines that produce a flywheel effect delivering multiple potential therapeutics. These engines have already produced and validated 100,000 previously unknown drug-microbiome interactions.

Lifted: undisclosed
Based: 2021
Last round: undisclosed
The head office : London, UK

Therapeutic Charm

The startup’s founder, Laksh Aithani, started his first AI venture in college, before becoming a machine learning engineer at Exscientia working on the development of the predictive modeling platform.

Charm is powered by DeepMind’s AlphaFold, an AI system that has been trained on the sequences and structures of 100,000 proteins, mapped by scientists around the world. Today, AlphaFold can predict the structure of a protein just by its amino acid sequence.

The startup relies on AlphaFold to develop small molecule therapeutics targeting pathogenic proteins whose 3D structure is unknown.

Lifted: undisclosed
Based: 2021
Last round: undisclosed
The head office : London, UK

Tanel Ozdemir, life sciences investor at AlbionVC

Ozdemir’s portfolio includes biotechnology Epsilogen, Quell Therapeutics and PanAngium Therapeutics

Tanel Ozdemir, life sciences investor at AlbionVC

Enara Organic

Enara is a cancer immunotherapy and vaccine company spun off from leading UK research institutions including the University of Oxford and Cardiff University. The startup is taking an intriguing platform approach to developing next-generation T-cell receptor-based therapies and vaccines that fight cancer by targeting a previously inaccessible repertoire of antigens on tumors.

The company is backed by investors such as SV Health and RA Capital, and has already signed a partnership agreement with pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim.

Lifted: $17.5 million
Based: 2016
Last round: $17.5 million Series A, November 2019
The head office : Oxford, United Kingdom

Catherine Boule, managing partner at Karista

Boule’s portfolio includes health technologies Incepto Medical, Acticor Biotech and Tissium

Catherine Boule, managing partner at Karista

Alderaan Biotechnology

This startup is developing high-potential treatments for cancer patients. His programs relate to the elimination of regulatory T cells and the hyper-activation of natural killer cells in the tumor microenvironment – ​​both of which are emerging as new immunotherapy modalities.

Lifted: $22 million
Based: 2017
Last round: €18.5m Series A, January 2020
The head office : Paris, France

Osivax

Osivax is developing a universal influenza vaccine for current and future influenza infections. One candidate is in phase 2a clinical development and the startup is leveraging the same technology for the development of a universal vaccine against all existing and emerging coronavirus infections.

Lifted: $49.6 million
Based: 2017
Last round: €15 million grant, July 2020
The head office : Lyon, France

Aboleris Pharma

The startup develops new immunomodulators for immune-mediated diseases. The company has two programs: a monoclonal antibody that will soon reach the Phase 1 clinical stage and the cytokine IL-34. These novel treatments offer exciting new approaches for patients at risk for graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) or those with autoimmune diseases.

Lifted: €2.5 million
Based: 2019
Last round: €2.5 million seed, Nov 2020
The head office : Nantes, France

Michael Treskow, Partner at Eight Roads

Treskow’s portfolio includes drug discovery startups Owkin and biotechs Insilico Medicine and Silexon

Michael Treskow, Partner at Eight Roads

LabGenius

The startup has an interesting comprehensive approach to protein discovery, starting with the field of inflammation, using unsupervised learning AI.

Lifted: $28.7 million
Based: 2012
Last round: $15 million, Series A, October 2020
The head office : London, UK

Nuclear

Nucleai supports drug development with AI-based image analysis of pathology data to discover predictive biomarkers.

Lifted: $11.5 million
Based: 2017
Last round: $6.5 million, Series A, July 2020
The head office : Tel Aviv, Israel

causality

Causaly keeps scientists abreast of information in publicly available research, helping them understand what has already been discovered and tested, and what remains unknown.

Lifted: $22.9 million
Based: 2018
Last round: $17 million, Series A, May 2021
The head office : London, UK

Kai Nicol-Schwarz is a journalist at Sifted. He covers health tech and community journalism, and tweets from @NicolSchwarzK