SAN MATEO — BigHat Biosciences, a biotechnology company developing safer, more effective antibody therapies for patients using machine learning and synthetic biology, has raised a $75 million Series B funding round, led by Section 32, with participation from new investors Amgen Ventures, Bristol Myers Squibb, Quadrille Capital, Gaingels, GRIDS Capital, among others. The investment brings BigHat’s total funding to date to $100 million.
[Photo above: BigHat Biosciences co-founders Peyton Greenside, CSO (L) and Mark DePristo, CEO (R)]
Prior investors Andreessen Horowitz, 8VC, and AME Cloud Ventures also contributed to this round, which will be used to scale the capacity of Milliner, an integrated AI/ML- wet lab platform, advance therapeutic programs toward human clinical trials, aggressively hire drug discovery and development talent and to accelerate strategic collaborations with flagship partners.
More than 200 antibodies and other biotherapeutics are approved today as part of a global biologics market expected to grow to $421 billion by 2025. Next-generation antibody therapies promise improved safety and efficacy for patients. Developing these advanced molecules can be difficult, costly, and slow with conventional techniques. BigHat’s AI-enabled antibody design platform, Milliner, offers the essential technologies to quickly and reliably create these breakthrough therapies.
BigHat is using Milliner to design safer, more effective antibody therapies to treat some of the world’s most intractable conditions, from chronic illnesses to life-threatening diseases. At BigHat, every therapeutic program starts with a design blueprint and antibodies generated in our discovery engine or supplied by a partner. These initial molecules are then iteratively transformed into best-in-class next-generation therapies on the Milliner platform through sequential design-build-test cycles. BigHat’s machine learning models design hundreds of variants that are built and tested in our lab using the latest synthetic biology technologies in each cycle. These measurements include biophysical properties and impact on disease activity for every variant using cell-based or other functional assays that replicate in vivo disease processes. This new data is used to update the AI/ML models so that over multiple cycles, these models learn to create antibodies that match our design blueprint.
“BigHat is ushering the next wave of personalized medicines with a sophisticated AI platform integrated with a next-generation lab that addresses the complexities and inefficiencies associated with biologics discovery,” said Steve Kafka, PhD, Managing Partner of Section 32 and newly-appointed BigHat Board Member. “Section 32 is delighted to support BigHat’s mission and their quest to rapidly deliver safer and more effective antibody therapies for people suffering from today’s most challenging diseases.” Longtime Alphabet executive and Section 32 Managing Partner, Andy Harrison, co-led this Series B financing and will join as a Board Observer.
”Completion of the first stage of Amgen’s research collaboration with BigHat demonstrated the ability of their platform to quickly and significantly optimize next-generation single-domain antibodies, validating the platform as a path to generating target binders with improved properties compared with the original repertoire identified by traditional technologies,” said Philip Tagari, VP of Research at Amgen. “We’re excited to participate in the funding round to assist in the continued development and deployment of BigHat’s approach.”
The company was founded in 2019 by CEO Mark DePristo, a University of Cambridge biochemistry Ph.D., former Head of Genomics for Google.AI, and Co-director of Medical Genetics at Broad Institute, with CSO Peyton Greenside, a Stanford biomedical informatics Ph.D. and 2018 Schmidt Science Fellow. Since that time, BigHat has reached significant business and scientific milestones, including:
- Fit-for-purpose High Speed Wet Lab: scaled capacity of BigHat’s MillinerTM platform ten-fold since the Series A raise to design, synthesize, and characterize over four hundred antibodies weekly. In March 2022, BigHat acquired Frugi Biotechnology to integrate customized cell-free protein synthesis (CFPS) technology into its platform. Additionally, mammalian cell line capabilities and functional assays were incorporated.
- Internal Pipeline: five discovery programs spanning oncology, inflammation and infectious disease are underway, leveraging the platform to design ultra high-quality next-generation antibodies.
- Partner Collaboration: in January, BigHat completed the first stage of a research collaboration with Amgen. BigHat is leveraging a synergistic partnering strategy focused on difficult antibody design challenges.
- Leadership + Board Growth: in March 2022, serial entrepreneur Rob Chess was added to BigHat’s Board of Directors, augmenting the company’s drug discovery and development expertise. In 2021, Elizabeth Schwarzbach, a University of Pennsylvania pharmacology PhD with over 20 years of pharma, biotech, and academic drug discovery and development experience, joined as CBO.
- Talent & Expansion: currently the company has 37 employees and moved into a dedicated lab and office space in San Mateo, CA. Team size is expected to double in the next 12-18 months.
- AI/ML technology: recent work developing active learning methodologies in collaboration with NYU was published in a paper titled, “Effective Surrogate Models for Protein Design with Bayesian Optimization,” and accepted to the 2022 International Conference for Machine Learning (ICML). BigHat developed numerous proprietary training data sets and deployed both generative and active learning models.
- Investment and Grants: in addition to its $5 million seed and $19 million Series A rounds, BigHat was awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The company received Amgen’s 2021 Golden Ticket to MBC BioLabs, was named to Business Insider’s 24 top biotech companies list, awarded the UCSF Health Award and named Therapeutics Innovation of the Year by the BioTech Breakthrough Awards.
“The scale and flexibility of the BigHat platform allows us to partner with companies anywhere along the therapeutic discovery continuum as well as pursue internal therapeutics programs to address major unmet needs across a variety of diseases,” said BigHat co-founder and CEO Mark DePristo. “Combining internal programs and partnerships enables us to bring as many assets to market as quickly as possible. All while capturing a wealth of data to continuously improve our AI/ML models and wet lab techniques, making future campaigns faster and better. The BigHat team is excited and ready to put this Series B funding to excellent use.”