With $8M seed round, Protai leverages the proteome to speed up drug discovery – TechCrunch

Technology is an increasingly important part of the complex drug discovery and testing process, and with advances in processing power and algorithms, it is exploiting new areas of analysis. Proteomics, the field of proteins and their interactions, is next, and Protea is a startup they’re working on after raising $8 million in a seed round.

Diseases cause diverse phenomena in the body at different levels of regulation. Suppose the disease causes cell death in the liver – why? Because cells produce a lot of this compound. why? Because the inhibitor molecules do not bind to the proteins that activate the production machinery. why? Because the RNA coding for the protein is damaged. why? and so on and so on.

Protea’s place in that group is above the genome and transcription level, where genetic factors can be identified, and below the layer of cells and systems, where problems become more apparent as symptoms.

To start, the company collected what it claims is the largest protein database, about 50,000 samples from 6,000 research papers, and formatted the messy data (natural language AI was helpful here) so that it could serve as a single source of information.

“The idea is that instead of analyzing a small sample of a study, you want to analyze all the data that’s out there about a specific disease, but it’s apples and oranges because the proteins have been collected and sequenced from a variety of conditions, tools, protocols, and controls,” explained CEO and co-founder Eran Seger.

Image credits: naturally

By putting them all together they can produce a high-level ‘map’ of proteins and their interactions in the context of a particular disease. It’s always good to know more about what’s going on at the molecular level.

“Our improvements in biological interpretation are leading to better drug targets and candidate drugs,” Seger said. “In proof-of-concept for lung cancer, we have identified several high-value targets that we are currently pursuing in the Independent Drug Program, along with other markers that will help expand the use of known drugs in this indication. “

Protea founders Kirill Pevzner (left) and Eran Seger

Protea founders Kirill Pevzner (left) and Eran Seger. Image credits: naturally

The company hopes to be able to expand the drug discovery and testing process from tissue testing to final clinical testing.

A recent development in the world of proteins that could change how all of this works is the use of AI-assisted models to determine the structure and function of proteins generally known only by their signature sequences of amino acids.

AlphaFold models from DeepMind and RoseTTAfold from the University of Washington are able to accurately predict the structure of proteins based on their sequence, something previously only possible with expensive lab tests. It is shaking up entire systems that were based on old methods.

Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder Kirill Privzner said progress is welcome: “We are incorporating structural proteomics tools, such as AlphaFold, into our solution in two main ways. The first is to improve prediction of protein-protein interactions. The second is in drug-targeted interactions. Both allow us to develop and improve the best drug solutions. for our goals.”

The $8 million seed round, led by Grove Ventures and Pitango HealthTech (as seed rounds often do) will go toward developing the new platform, building partnerships, and other programs.

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