Illumina co-founder Mark Chee moves from the genome to the proteome with upstart Encodia
When Mark Chee co-founded Illumina in 1998, the genomics field was just heating up. It had been three years since the first bacterium genome was sequenced, but the Human Genome Project was still years away from completion. That space has since erupted, and now Chee is on to what researchers think is the next big thing: proteomics.
Chee and fellow Illumina veteran Kevin Gunderson co-founded protein sequencing-focused Encodia back in 2015. After keeping quiet for the last few years, the upstart broke the silence on Wednesday to spread the word of its $75 million Series C round, led by Northpond Ventures and Deerfield Management. The funds will be used to commercialize Encodia’s patented protein analysis platform, dubbed ProteoCode.
“Our aim is to deliver a system that enables researchers to probe the immense complexity of the proteome routinely and at a scale that was previously unattainable,” said Chee, who serves as president.
The platform company joins a handful of other biotechs — including SomaLogic and Seer, which reeled in a $55 million round back in July — working on the proteome. For decades, scientists tossed around the idea that instead of looking at DNA or RNA to understand the body and its disorders, you could look at the proteins made by genetic code, which in most cases, ultimately do the damage.
As promising as it sounds, it’s no simple feat: While DNA has four letters and bonds in very specific ways and structures, proteins are formed from up to 20 amino acids and can bond in a countless number of ways, and then change after their creation into a variety of states depending on what bonds to them. There’s also the challenge that DNA and RNA can be replicated and amplified in a lab while proteins can’t.
“The complex chemistry, immense variety, and broad range of concentrations that make proteins compelling targets for study have also made their exploration at depth and scale extremely difficult,” Encodia said in a statement.
Encodia’s protein sequencing approach uses reverse-translation technology that turns peptide sequences into DNA, which can then be read by a DNA sequencer, according to their website.
Aside from Chee and Gunderson, who serves as VP and CTO, the team also includes another Illumina veteran: VP of systems integration Kenneth Kuhn, who started as a scientist at Illumina and worked his way up to senior director over 16 years. Serial entrepreneur and AxioMx founder Michael Weiner has joined the board.
GV, Alexandria Venture Investments, ARCH Venture Partners, Biomatics Capital, Decheng Capital, Tao Capital Partners, and Nan Fung Life Sciences also chipped in to the Series C round.