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Precision Cancer Meds Company Raises $43M in Early Funds

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(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

26 May 2021. A company combining computational genetic analysis and precision medicine discovery for cancer therapies is raising $43 million in its first venture round. Engine Biosciences, a three year-old enterprise in Singapore and San Francisco, is discovering genetics-driven precision cancer treatments based on research at MIT, Harvard University’s Wyss Institute, Mayo Clinic, and University of California in San Diego.

The Engine Biosciences technology uses computational biology for analyzing interactions among the 20,000 genes in the human genome, to find genetic errors associated with cancer. The company says it employs machine learning and other data science tools to find the often-hidden interactions responsible for cancer-causing mutations. Engine Biosciences taps into a wide range of databases as well as its own experimental findings for its analytical tools.

Those findings are merged with combinatorial genetics that analyze hundreds of thousands of data points, produced by Crispr, a gene editing technique derived from bacterial defense mechanisms. Research by Engine Bio’s scientific founders indicates how combinatorial genetics enable systematic experimentation on genetic combinations and dissection of complex gene networks, leading to a better understanding of complex biological processes.

“Many breakthrough tools to edit, program, and modulate biology have emerged and matured in recent years,” says Engine Bio co-founder and CEO Jeffrey Lu in a company statement released through BusinessWire. “The fundamental question continues to be whether we know the disease-driving errors in the genetic code of biology to direct these tools, including therapeutics.”

Small molecules for precision medicine

The company says its analytical process drives its drug discovery work, including in its own in-house labs. Engine Bio says since its founding, the company applied its processes to discovering promising targeted therapy candidates for treating liver, ovarian, colorectal, and breast cancer. Its work so far produced a number of small molecules for precision cancer therapies.

Engine Bio’s technology is based on research by its scientific founders Timothy Lu at MIT, James Collins at the Wyss Institute, Prashant Mali at UC San Diego, and Hu Li at the Mayo Clinic. Science & Enterprise reported most recently on Lu’s work in May 2018 on design of a sensor chip small enough to be swallowed, which in tests with pigs shows it can detect indicators of disease in the gut and transmit its readings to an external device. Lu and colleagues at his Synthetic Biology Lab study combinatorial genetics, which Engine Bio adapts for drug discovery and development process.

Engine Biosciences is raising $43 million in its first venture funding round. The round is led by Polaris Partners in Waltham, Massachusetts. Polaris’s Innovation Fund invests in early stage companies based on academic research. Joining the round is new investor Invus and Engine Bio’s current investors 6 Dimensions Capital, WuXi AppTec, DHVC, EDBI, Baidu Ventures, Vectr Ventures, Goodman Capital, WI Harper, and Nest.Bio. The company raised $10 million in its seed round in 2018.

Amy Schulman, managing partner at Polaris Partners is joining Engine Bio’s board of directors. “Engine’s distinct combination of biology, technology, and drug discovery, as well as its global perspective,” says Schulman, “may well enable the company to be particularly capable of realizing the promise of artificial intelligence in drug discovery and tackling a wide variety of diseases.”

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