AI, Venture

Andreessen drums up a $450M fund to back their vision for engineering biology

Image: Vijay Pande, Andreessen Horowitz.

Andreessen Horowitz believes that AI and machine learning are creating a new biotech world with a lot less guesswork involved. And today they have a fresh $450 million fund to invest in the emerging field.

Jorge Conde

Two years ago, Stanford’s Vijay Pande took the first step with a $200 million inaugural fund. Then a few months ago Jorge Conde joined as a new partner in the small group, signaling today’s announcement. Conde jumped to Andreessen from Syros, where he was chief strategy officer. And he got out just ahead of a disastrous presentation a few days ago at ASH on weak results for their lead drug, which tanked the stock.

The partners told TechCrunch that they have the same basic strategy for this new fund, investing $2 million or $3 million in promising seed companies and upping that to the $5 million to $10 million mark for the launch round in search of engineered products.

In a blog post, they explained their vision of the new world ahead, and the inspiration behind their investment strategy.

To hear them tell it, machine learning holds the key to a much more rational biotech world, where computational power will be able to point precisely to therapeutic and related breakthroughs. Pande has been doing some of the work at Stanford, where he’s been experimenting with using data points to predict toxicology for drugs. The intuitive aspect of drug development, based on years in the lab, he believes will fade away.

From their blog:

We’ve made 12 investments to date, spanning early detection of cancer, heart disease, and longevity to patient coordination and advances in food science removing the need for pesticides while increasing shelf life. What they all share in common — what we look for — is something that came in to accelerate the industry, much like Moore’s Law did for computing… and for the a16z bio funds, that something is the ability to engineer biology. This is the point at which bio advances beyond empiricism — time-consuming, incomplete, unpredictable — and becomes more of an engineered discipline, allowing us to plan along a roadmap, make incremental innovations, and progress in a very systematic way. It’s the point at which you can build a viable, scalable company, not just a research project.

To be sure, they’re backing small steps in that direction right now.

Andreessen’s investments so far span companies like Freenome — a liquid biopsy diagnosis tech — and Cardiogram’s app to detect atrial fibrillation using the data gathered by an Apple watch. Apeel is developing a natural coating to extend the shelf life of food. PatientPing keeps physicians updated on all the various points of care their patients use.

That leaves a wide healthcare scope for these two as the pioneers in AI and machine learning ramp up new biotech projects.

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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