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Biochemistry Spin-Off Formed, Gains $45M Funding

Martin Burke

Martin Burke (Univ. of Illinois, Urbana)

4 February 2015. Revolution Medicines Inc., a spin-off enterprise based on research in protein chemistry at University of Illinois, is starting up with $45 million in first-round venture funds. The company is founded by Illinois biochemistry professor Martin Burke, and initially financed by Third Rock Ventures, a San Francisco venture capital firm.

Burke’s lab in Urbana, Ilinois studies the ability of low molecular weight chemicals to supplement missing or dysfunctional proteins in the body, particularly the synthesis of chemicals that perform functions similar to proteins. Studies by Burke and colleagues led to a simpler process for synthesizing these complex compounds for therapeutics with a common set of biochemical building blocks.

Among the discoveries in Burke’s lab is a compound that kills yeast cells causing deadly infections, yet apparently without the same toxic effects on healthy cells of amphotericin-B, an anti-fungal drug reserved for life-threatening infections because of those adverse effects. In a paper published in May 2013, Burke and colleagues describe a synthetic derivative of amphotericin that in lab cultures binds to organic molecules found in yeast cells, but avoids similar molecules in human cells. A subsequent paper describes the biochemical activity behind the discovery.

Revolution Medicines, based in Redwood City, California, aims to commercialize the process of synthesizing these chemicals with protein-like properties, offering what it says is a more rapid, rational, and standardized technique of drug design and discovery, rather than traditional one-off methods used up to now. The company holds an exclusive license to Burke’s technology from University of Illinois, and plans to make a synthetic and less toxic alternative to amphotericin-B as its first product.

Burke will serve as chair of Revolution Medicines’ scientific advisory board. The company itself is led by Martin Goldsmith, an academic scientist and senior executive in the biotechnology industry, and a partner at Third Rock Ventures, a venture capital company specializing in life sciences.

Burke tells more about his lab’s technology in the following video.

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