Adam Goulburn, partner at Lux Capital, was first stunned by Eikon Therapeutics’ offer to use ultra-microscopes for drug development when founder Eric Betzig asked a simple question: How can you understand life if you do not look at it live?
“It was a simple statement, but it was kind of an opening for me,” Goulburn told TechCrunch.
The environment inside our cells is in constant motion: proteins twist, spin, and shift in place. But this environment, even under most microscopes, remained invisible.
That’s even scientists Eric PetzigAnd Stephen W. Hill And William E. Moerner has developed technologies that allow us to do this “Peer in the Nano” inside living cells An achievement that earned the team the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2014. Betzig, specifically, was the first to develop a super-resolution fluorescence microscope, which allowed to see in detail the motion of single molecules.
This innovation formed the basis for a startup that has been attracting funding since its founding in 2019. Eikon Therapeutics, co-founded by Betzig, is a biopharmaceutical company that has plans to use high-resolution microscopy, data collected by these powered microscopes and a host of other tools. to develop new drugs.
On Thursday, the company announced a $517.8 million Series B round. This follows the $148 million Series A announcement made in May 2021, bringing the company’s total funding to more than $668 million.
New round two investors include funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPP Investments), EcoR1 Capital, UC Investments (Office of the Chief Investment Officer at Regents of the University of California), a wholly owned subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), Stepstone Group, Soros Capital and Schroders Capital, Harel Insurance, General Catalyst, E15 VC, Hartford HealthCare Endowment, and AME Cloud Ventures.
The Column Group, Foresite Capital, Innovation Endeavors, Horizons Ventures and Lux Capital, all of the company’s first round investors, are returning to Series B.
“A lot of people are chatting proprietary Technology, but what Eikon has, in my opinion, is really proprietary,” Goulburn said. “We certainly see its ability to give us a unique advantage in finding new biology.”
There is no doubt that ultra-high-resolution microscopy has enormous biological potential, but how can it be applied to drug development?
One way to think about it is to remember that proteins do most of the work inside our cells: they help send signals, carry out chemical reactions, or move smaller molecules around the body, for example. When we take a drug, we are introducing another component into that busy workforce in the hopes that it will bind to a specific goal, and change what is actually going on inside the body (which, most likely, is causing a problem).
Tools like super-resolution microscopy allow scientists to see exactly what happens when a drug is introduced into a living cell, rather than inferring what happens through other types of experiment. It may also reveal new targets that were not previously visible.
“We have super-resolution single-particle tracking microscopes that can examine cells,” explains Goulburn. “Then if you add millions of cells in a well, and then you add millions of wells, and you add millions of drug-like compounds to that well, you can really start to explore drug discovery, in the living sense of the word, at scale.”
However, Eikon has been focused on “manufacturing” its drug discovery platform — that is, developing a process and tools that allow this detailed protein data to be used to make new drugs, or to better understand existing drugs.
This process is being overseen by some of the best in the business: namely Roger Perlmutter, former head of Merck Research Laboratories, who announced his retirement from Merck in 2020. But with this latest funding round, the company has acquired six more C-suite employees.
Daniel Anderson, former vice president of biology at Recursion Pharmaceuticals, will join as chief scientific officer. Ross Berman, former vice president of engineering at Pacific Biosciences, will join the position of chief technical officer. Alfred Freddy Boye Jr., former Vice President of Corporate and Business Development at Veracyte, will join the role of Chief Financial Officer. Barbara Howes, formerly HR at Pliant Therapeutics, will join as Chief People and Executive Vice President. Ashish Ketterpal, former chief information officer of PACT Pharma, will join as CIO, and Ben Thorner, Senior Vice President and Head of BD&L at Merck Research Laboratories, will join as general counsel and chief business officer.
Goulburn says Eikon’s technology is industry-ready for now. In a press release, John Hall, investment analyst at T. Rowe Price, also noted that Eikon’s research was already “generating large amounts of quantitative information about the dynamic behavior of proteins.”
“It’s, in my opinion, industrial right now,” Goulburn says. “We run drug screens 24/7. It is the vital plant of the future on my mind.”
The company is pursuing four undisclosed target programs and has one undisclosed partner, but Goulburn did not provide details on how those programs are progressing.
With this current round of funding, the company will seek to grow its 100-person team (ideally, double the size, Goulburn says), to accelerate development of its platform and boost discovery programs already underway.