Alice Zhang's 'all-in-human' AI and genomics upstart scores a $98M Series B
Just a few months after California AI and genomics player Verge Genomics partnered with Eli Lilly in a $700 million-plus biobucks deal for 4 neurological programs, the biotech has finished raising its next financing round — netting $98 million in equity funding with Lilly jumping on board as a new investor.
The South San Francisco-based, neuroscience-focused company announced the completion of the Series B this morning, which was led by BlackRock-managed funds and supported by some new big-name investors such as Eli Lilly, Merck’s Global Health Innovation Fund and Vulcan Capital. Some existing investors joined in as well, including ALS Investment Fund and Tao Capital Partners.
According to Verge, the $98 million from the round will be used to advance lead programs into the clinic and grow their pipeline with discovery, preclinical and clinical programs.
Hiring more employees is also on Verge’s to-do list, as the biotech currently has 32 employees — and the plan is to double that in the next 12-18 months.
The biotech has been focused on its discovery and preclinical platform, where it seeks to distinguish itself with an “all-in-human” approach.
To summarize, the biotech sequences genomes derived from human brain samples — and in the case of ALS, spinal samples as well. These sequences then get fed into Verge’s machine learning software, which is where AI comes in — and from that data, it suggests potential drug targets.
Why go the human sample route, instead of the more common mice or lab rats?
In short, “The overall idea is that we can not only use technology to accelerate drug development itself, but then develop drugs that are more likely to succeed in humans, because we’re starting in humans,” Verge CEO and founder Alice Zhang told Endpoints News.
“Verge has become one of the first AI-enabled drug discovery companies to discover a novel target and develop it internally into a proprietary clinical candidate entirely using its platform,” the biotech touted in its press release. And according to Zhang, that drug candidate is its lead candidate in ALS — which the biotech hopes to have in the clinic sometime next year. That candidate is a PIKfyve gene inhibitor, which Verge said back in July has shown a connection to ALS.