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Drug Discovery Start-Up Gains $400M Financing

Glasses, computer screens

(Kevin Ku,

20 Dec. 2018. A 2 year-old company using computational techniques to find protein-targeting drugs raised $400 million in new financing, led by the venture funding arm of Softbank. The new funds are the third venture round for Relay Therapeutics in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Relay Therapeutics discovers new therapies for diseases considered difficult to treat. The company’s technology is built on research into protein movement and dynamics, a different investigation of proteins from conventional work that the company says views proteins largely as static entities. Relay says its drug discovery work interacts with the dynamics of proteins, which combines the structure of protein molecules, with chemistry, biophysics, and computational techniques.

The company says it applies these disciplines to design molecules that influence the behavior of proteins, and find changes in disease-causing proteins as they bind to and interact with these designed molecules. Most drugs targeting proteins aim for their active site, but Relay says its molecules can target any part of the protein. This kind of drug discovery, says the company, requires a large number of lengthy, complex, and iterative simulations, which often requires supercomputer-scale processing.

Relay Therapeutics was founded in September 2017 by a group of academic and business researchers including David Shaw, research fellow in computational biology and bioinformatics at Columbia University, and chief scientist at David E. Shaw Research in New York, along with Mark Murcko, a lecturer in biological engineering at MIT, and founder or advisor to several biotechnology companies.

Joining Shaw and Murcko as Relay’s founders are Dorothee Kern, biochemistry professor at Brandeis University who investigates dynamic processes of biological molecules, and Matthew Jacobson, professor of pharmaceutical chemistry at University of California, San Francisco, who studies computer-aided drug design, particularly in predicting actions of enzymes and regulating energy functions in proteins.

“We are at a unique moment in the evolution of drug discovery,” says Relay’s president and CEO  Sanjiv Patel in a company statement, “where we can realize the promise of integrating ever more powerful experimental and computational discovery tools to tackle previously undruggable protein targets. The success of our early programs validates the potential of our platform to create breakthrough therapies that address a broad range of diseases.”

The new $400 million financing is led by the Softbank Vision Fund, which invests in health technology companies, but also information and financial technology enterprises, as well as consumer-retail businesses. According to the technology research site Crunchbase, the Softbank Vision Fund backs growth-stage companies, usually with investments of $100 million or more. Joining the round are new investors Foresite Capital, Perceptive Advisors, and Tavistock Group, as well as existing investors BVF Partners, EcoR1 Capital, Alexandria Venture Investments, GV, and Casdin Capital.

Science & Enterprise reported on the founding of Relay Therapeutics in September 2016, as well as its first funding round raising $57 million. The company says its two previous financing efforts raised a total of $120 million.

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