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Start-Up Designs RNA Drugs on Demand, Raises $40M

Chemical atom model

(Fernando Zhiminaicela, Pixabay. https://pixabay.com/illustrations/chemical-molecular-atom-medicine-3086130/)

8 Mar. 2022. A new company is applying artificial intelligence and other computational techniques to quickly design and discover RNA components for precision therapies. Creyon Bio Inc., a two year-old enterprise in San Diego, began operating today in public, and raised $40 million in its seed and first venture funding rounds.

Creyon Bio is creating a process for designing treatments for disease on demand, with specified precise therapeutic targets, mechanisms of action, and safety profiles. The company aims to short-cut conventional trial-and-error screening and optimization processes in drug discovery that can take months, and instead design new therapies from scratch. Creyon Bio’s technology is based on oligonucleotides, short sequences of nucleic acids including RNA. The company says oligonucleotide-based medicines, or OBMs, can be building blocks for a range of treatments involving RNA: antisense oligonucleotides that alter RNA to reduce or modify protein expression, small interfering RNA to silence genes, gene-editing molecules, and single-strand aptamer targets.

Creyon Bio says its process applies machine learning algorithms and other techniques from computational biology and chemistry to design OBMs. These algorithms, says the company, connect its custom-made datasets from biophysics and chemistry to models of efficacy and safety. “Our unique datasets,” says Swagatam Mukhopadhyay, Creyon Bio’s co-founder and chief scientist in a company statement, “are optimized for efficiently building generalizable machine learning models, and we constantly refine our models through active learning. The Creyon platform ultimately allows us to create safe and effective OBMs with exceptional efficiency, building a world where there is no gap between diagnosis and treatment.”

Rare and more common diseases

The company has not yet specified therapeutic targets or pipeline. But Creyon Bio’s co-founder and CEO Chris Hart suggests the company can address both rare diseases and more common disorders with specific molecular targets. “Our mission is to design and offer predictably safe and effective options for patients with any disease amenable to OBM therapies,” notes Hart. “No matter how rare or common their condition, no matter the size of the patient population, we believe that the Creyon platform is creating a fast, efficient, and equitable path to engineering new medicines for patients.”

Creyon Bio is raising $40 million in early funds divided between seed and first venture rounds. The financing is led by Silicon Valley technology investors DCVC Bio in Palo Alto and Lux Capital in Menlo Park. Taking part are Casdin Capital, Alexandria Venture Investments, and BioBrit. Creyon expects to use the funds to refine the company’s technology, hire staff, and start building a pipeline.

The goal of rapid drug design on demand with artificial intelligence may be difficult to achieve. Insilico Medicine in Hong Kong, another company using algorithms to design drugs from scratch, needed 18 months to discover a new oral treatment for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Much of that time, as reported by Science & Enterprise in Feb. 2021, was devoted to preclinical lab and animal tests.

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