Deep tech, round 2: DCVC Bio bags $350M fund to chase the tip of the life sci­ence spear

It took one trip from San Fran­cis­co to Van­cou­ver for Kier­sten Stead and her DCVC Bio crew to feel con­fi­dent about throw­ing their weight — and cash — be­hind Ab­Cellera.

Kier­sten Stead

CEO Carl Hansen’s aca­d­e­m­ic back­ground and the po­ten­tial of the plat­form, which com­bined ma­chine vi­sion and ro­bot­ics with mi­croflu­idics, were promis­ing. But the site vis­it sealed the Se­ries A deal, where DCVC was the lead and on­ly in­vestor.

“We saw a com­pa­ny that had a high­ly ad­van­taged method for ba­si­cal­ly turn­ing an­ti­body de­vel­op­ment in­to a deep search mech­a­nism, sim­i­lar to what Google might do,” she said.

As Ab­Cellera bur­nish­es its pro­file through an Eli Lil­ly-part­nered an­ti­body de­signed to help end the pan­dem­ic, Stead and John Hamer, the oth­er man­ag­ing part­ner of DCVC Bio, have closed $350 mil­lion to bet on com­pa­nies that sim­i­lar­ly sit at the in­ter­sec­tion of “deep tech” and life sci­ences.

DCVC Bio II, just like its pre­de­ces­sor, will look for ear­ly-stage com­pa­nies. Se­ries A, seed rounds should com­prise the ma­jor­i­ty of the port­fo­lio, but they al­so don’t mind rolling up their sleeves to help spin out a start­up if the op­por­tu­ni­ty aris­es.

John Hamer

The way Stead de­scribes it, these are places where com­pu­ta­tion is an “ab­solute core com­pe­ten­cy” rather than an af­ter­thought or sim­ply a sup­port­ing func­tion.

“Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, our com­pa­nies gen­er­ate their own da­ta, they have their own de­vel­op­ers and they’re build­ing nov­el AI, nov­el al­go­rithms on their pro­pri­etary da­ta to ad­dress re­cal­ci­trant prob­lems across the life sci­ences,” she said.

The team — most of whom worked to­geth­er at Mon­san­to Growth Ven­tures be­fore mov­ing un­der DCVC — is think­ing big. Cit­ing “the triple threat of cli­mate change, an in­creas­ing glob­al pop­u­la­tion and frag­ile glob­al sup­ply chains,” they al­so want to tap in­to agri­cul­ture and in­dus­tri­al biotech­nol­o­gy.

When it comes to ther­a­peu­tics, Stead is be­gin­ning to see the con­flu­ence of dif­fer­ent modal­i­ties from pro­tein degra­da­tion to cell ther­a­pies and gene edit­ing.

Chas­ing those emerg­ing arcs of com­pu­ta­tion and bi­ol­o­gy has brought DCVC Bio to new in­ven­tions in ro­bot­ics and au­toma­tion — think Or­ca Bio’s au­to­mat­ed sys­tem for man­u­fac­tur­ing cell grafts — as well as liv­ing med­i­cines, such as the ge­net­i­cal­ly en­gi­neered mi­crobes at Novome. Phys­i­cal in­tel­li­gent sys­tems will loom large to com­ple­ment soft­ware break­throughs, she pre­dict­ed, while things like re­in­force­ment learn­ing (al­go­rithms that can gen­er­ate their own da­ta) could work around some of the cur­rent con­straints in bi­o­log­i­cal re­search.

Even though phar­ma these days is clear­ly cog­nizant of the need to in­te­grate new com­pu­ta­tion­al tech­nolo­gies, Stead said they face the re­al chal­lenge of re­cruit­ing peo­ple who have ex­pe­ri­ence set­ting up com­mer­cial AI. That’s not to say they don’t play a key role in bring­ing the com­pounds gen­er­at­ed on new plat­forms to­ward the mar­ket; they may just come in lat­er in the process.

“A com­mon thread of en­tre­pre­neurs that we in­vest in and build com­pa­nies with is that they ran X com­pu­ta­tion­al group at X phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­ny but re­al­ized that they couldn’t start from scratch and build it from the ground up,” she said, “and and they were re­al­ly pro­found­ly lim­it­ed by that, and want­ed to start a start­up so that they could do X right, what­ev­er their par­tic­u­lar area of in­ter­est is.”

DCVC man­ag­ing part­ners Matt Ocko and Zachary Bogue said on their blog re­cent­ly the fact that the new fund was raised en­tire­ly dur­ing the pan­dem­ic high­lights the ap­petite for even more. Their first fund has backed some ef­forts to ad­dress the cur­rent health­care cri­sis; it’s time to find “the next set of so­lu­tions to the next set of prob­lems.”

The Price of Re­lief: Ex­plor­ing So­lu­tions to the Ris­ing Costs of On­col­o­gy Drugs

In 2020, The National Cancer Institute estimated about 1.8 million new cases of cancer diagnosed in the United States, while the costs associated with treatment therapies continued to escalate. Given the current legislative climate on drug pricing, it’s never been more important to look at the evolution of drug pricing globally and control concerns of sustainable and affordable treatments in oncology.

Lat­est news on Pfiz­er's $3B+ JAK1 win; Pacts over M&A at #JPM22; 2021 by the num­bers; Bio­gen's Aduhelm reck­on­ing; The sto­ry of sotro­vimab; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

For those of you who attended #JPM22 in any shape or form, we hope you had a fruitful time. Regardless of how you spent the past hectic week, may your weekend be just what you need it to be.

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