EMERYVILLE – Octant, Inc., a synthetic biology drug discovery company designing small molecule, multi-target drug leads for multifactorial diseases, has raised $30 million in a Series A financing led by venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.
Octant is using the funding to further develop its discovery platform, which targets large numbers of G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) and their downstream signaling pathways to engineer drugs to treat complex diseases. Additionally, Octant is responding to the global call for collaboration by open-sourcing part of its platform under the Open COVID Pledge for use in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recent advancements in genomics, synthetic biology and big data computation are enabling a new era of multi-target drug discovery, or polypharmacology, with potential to redefine treatment of complex diseases, an area the pharmaceutical industry has been leaving behind.
“We formed Octant to transform the treatment of society’s most complex diseases, for example metabolic and neurological diseases, which involve many protein receptors and receptor pathways. Our discovery platform was designed to map and measure the interconnected relationships between chemicals, multiple drug receptor pathways and diseases, enabling us to engineer multi-targeted drugs in a more rational way, across a wide spectrum of targets,” said Sri Kosuri, ScD, co-founder and chief executive officer. “By assaying massive numbers of drug receptor pathways at previously unthinkable scales, we are building what the biology is telling us the future of drug discovery will require.”
The Octant discovery platform uses synthetic biology, genome engineering, next-generation sequencing, functional genomics and computational tools to map the activity of thousands of receptor pathways in human cells, generating data sets and predictive insights that accelerate chemical discovery and optimization. Octant uses genetic barcodes – or fingerprints – to reveal chemical-receptor activity in a pooled fashion, saving time and costs compared to conventional serial discovery approaches. The company’s initial focus is on GPCRs, central players in human physiology and the targets of more than one third of FDA-approved drugs. Octant is pursuing internal programs, as well as strategic partnerships with pharmaceutical partners to tackle disease areas that are proving intractable for traditional single-target drug discovery.
“Drug discovery remains a process of trial and error. Using its deep expertise in synthetic biology, the Octant team has engineered human cells that provide real-time, precise and complete readouts of the complex interactions and effects that drug molecules have within living cells,” said Jorge Conde, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, and member of the Octant board of directors. “By querying biology at this unprecedented scale, Octant has the potential to systematically create exhaustive maps of drug targets and corresponding, novel treatments for our most intractable diseases.”
Octant CEO Dr. Kosuri has been working at the interface of synthetic biology, genomics and computation, and their commercial applications for 20 years. On leave as a tenured professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), he was previously a staff scientist with Dr. George Church at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. He has had key roles developing a number of the genomic technologies widely in use today. Additionally, Dr. Kosuri was on the scientific advisory board at Gen9 and was the first employee at Joule Unlimited. He received his ScD degree in biological engineering at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Dr. Kosuri co-founded Octant with Ramsey Homsany, Octant’s president, who served in key leadership roles at Google and Dropbox from early growth through maturation into multi-billion-dollar companies. Most recently, he served as vice president and general counsel at Dropbox, and before that was vice president and deputy general counsel during his eight-year tenure at Google. He received his JD degree from the New York University School of Law and serves on the Rutgers University School of Engineering advisory board, where he received his BS in biochemical engineering.
“Some of the most valuable drugs in history work on complex sets of drug targets, which is why Octant’s focus on polypharmacology is so compelling,” said Jason Kelly, PhD, member of the Octant Board of Directors and co-founder and CEO of Gingko Bioworks. “Octant is engineering a lot of luck and cost out of the drug discovery equation with its novel platform and unique big data biology insights, which will drive the company’s internal development programs as well as potential partnerships.”
Octant’s scientific advisory board includes Charles S. Zuker, PhD, HHMI professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics, and neuroscience, at Columbia University Medical Center and Vijay Pande, PhD, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz and former Henry Dreyfus professor of chemistry and professor of structural biology and computer science at Stanford University.
In addition to Andreessen Horowitz, 8VC, SV Angel, Allen & Co and several top-tier private investors also participated in the recent financing.