Vancouver startup gets $40 million to marry the power of Cryo-EM and AI


Skyline of the City of Vancouver’s Stanley Park_ Courtesy of Frank Crymble, Getty Images

Combining the powerful imaging capability of cryo-electron microscopy with the smart wife of AI, Vancouver-based startup Gandeeva Therapeutics now has $40 million to fund the honeymoon.

The union has one main goal: to accelerate discovery and development to get effective drugs to patients faster.

“For decades, we have known that understanding the language by which proteins are folded and function in the native context of the cell is fundamental to deciphering biology. Altered protein function is implicated in almost all diseases,” noted Dr. Sriram Subramaniam, Founder and CEO Gandeeva.

Previous approaches to studying the building blocks of the body have used X-ray crystallography. But the process is cumbersome and inefficient in that the scientist must pack proteins together in a crystal to approximate shape and size with X-ray beams. Some molecules cannot be crystallized or are changed by the process.

Cryo-Em solves those cumbersome speed bumps. Instead of crystallization, the technique simply requires freezing protein solutions and blasting them with electrons to produce microscopic images capable of reconstructing the 3D shape of the molecule.

Understanding the shape of a protein is essential because it determines its behavior. Gandeeva CEO Subramaniam proved his point when his team unveiledD Atomic-level images of the SARS-Cov-2 Omicron variant spike protein. The analysis revealed how changes to the protein help it evade antibodies to spread more efficiently across the world, despite vaccination and previous infection.

With the power of AI at her side, Gandeeva believes these high-resolution images combined with AI that can predict how proteins fold will be the ticket to finding the right targets to have a real impact on disease treatment. . By pursuing the right targets, he hopes to avoid the pitfalls and dead ends that often arise in drug R&D.

Currently, in a six-year leased facility outside of Vancouver, the initial focus is to develop the functionality of Gandeeva’s platform. Biotechnology has yet to reveal the initial focus of the disease, but oncology may be the first born.

Subramaniam has spent most of his career working for the NIH as chief of biophysics at the National Cancer Institute. He left there to pursue his dreams of a cryo-EM platform at the University of British Columbia, where he became chair of cancer drug design.

Gandeeva’s Series A was led by Lux Capital and LEAPS by Bayer. LEAPS has been busy announcing two more seed investments over the past week. Bayerthe investment arm of play a role in Megagenomi’s $175 million Series B round last Tuesday and aid lead the $80 million Series A for Cellino Biotech. The former uses AI to create next-generation gene-editing therapies, while the latter focuses on regenerative stem cell therapies.

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