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.

Mark Chee

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.

Kevin Gun­der­son

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.

Qual­i­ty Con­trol in Cell and Gene Ther­a­py – What’s Re­al­ly at Stake?

In early 2021, Bluebird Bio was forced to suspend clinical trials of its gene therapy for sickle cell disease after two patients in the trial developed cancer. As company scientists rushed to assess whether there was any causal link between the therapy and the cancer cases, Bluebird’s stock value plummeted – as did those of multiple other biopharma companies developing similar therapies.

While investigations concluded that the gene therapy was unlikely to have caused cancer, investors and the public may be more skittish regarding the safety of gene and cell therapies after this episode. This recent example highlights how delicate the fields of cell and gene therapy remain today, even as they show great promise.

Brad Bolzon (Versant)

Ver­sant pulls the wraps off of near­ly $1B in 3 new funds out to build the next fleet of biotech star­tups. And this new gen­er­a­tion is built for speed

Brad Bolzon has an apology to offer by way of introducing a set of 3 new funds that together pack a $950 million wallop in new biotech creation and growth.

“I want to apologize,” says the Versant chairman and managing partner, laughing a little in the intro, “that we don’t have anything fancy or flashy to tell you about our new fund. Same team, around the same amount of capital, same investment strategy. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But then there’s the flip side, where everything has changed. Or at least speeded into a relative blur. Here’s Bolzon:

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Law pro­fes­sors call for FDA to dis­close all safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta for drugs

Back in early 2018 when Scott Gottlieb led the FDA, there was a moment when the agency seemed poised to release redacted complete response letters and other previously undisclosed data. But that initiative never gained steam.

Now, a growing chorus of researchers are finding that a dearth of public data on clinical trials and pharmaceuticals means industry and the FDA cannot be held accountable, two law professors from Yale and New York University write in an article published Wednesday in the California Law Review.

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Novavax CEO Stanley Erck at the White House in 2020 (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

As fears mount over J&J and As­traZeneca, No­vavax en­ters a shaky spot­light

As concerns rise around the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines, global attention is increasingly turning to the little, 33-year-old, productless, bankruptcy-flirting biotech that could: Novavax.

In the now 16-month race to develop and deploy Covid-19 vaccines, Novavax has at times seemed like the pandemic’s most unsuspecting frontrunner and at times like an overhyped also-ran. Although they started the pandemic with only enough cash to last 6 months, they leveraged old connections and believers into $2 billion and emerged last summer with data experts said surpassed Pfizer and Moderna. They unveiled plans to quickly scale to 2 billion doses. Then they couldn’t even make enough material to run their US trial and watched four other companies beat them to the finish line.

FDA of­fers scathing re­view of Emer­gent plan­t's san­i­tary con­di­tions, em­ploy­ee train­ing af­ter halt­ing pro­duc­tion

The FDA wrapped up its inspection of Emergent’s troubled vaccine manufacturing plant in Baltimore on Tuesday, after halting production there on Monday. By Wednesday morning, the agency already released a series of scathing observations on the cross contamination, sanitary issues and lack of staff training that caused the contract manufacturer to dispose of millions of AstraZeneca and J&J vaccine doses.

Jenny Rooke (Genoa Ventures)

Ear­ly Zymer­gen in­vestor Jen­ny Rooke re­flects on 'chimeras' in biotech, what it takes to spot a $500M gem

When Jenny Rooke first heard of Zymergen back in 2014, she knew she was looking at something different and exciting. The Emeryville, CA biotech held the promise of blending biology and technology to solve a huge unmet need for cost-effective chemicals — of all things — and a stellar founding team to boot.

But back then, West Coast venture capitalists didn’t see in Zymergen the one thing they were looking for in a winning biotech: therapeutic potential. Rooke, however, saw an opportunity and made her bets. Seven years later, that bet is paying off in a big way.

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Saurabh Saha at Endpoints News' #BIO19

On the heels of $250M launch, Centes­sa barges ahead with an IPO to fu­el its 10-in-1 Medicxi pipeline

Francesco De Rubertis made no secret of IPO plans for Centessa, his 10-in-1 legacy play. Barely two months later, the S-1 is in.

The hot-off-the-press filing depicts the same grand vision that the longtime VC touted when he did the rounds in February: Take the asset-centric mindset that he’s been preaching at Medicxi over the years, and roll up a bunch of biotech upstarts, with unrelated risk profiles, into 1 pharma company that can carry on the development at scale.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Sen­a­tors to NIH: Do more to pro­tect US bio­med­ical re­search from for­eign in­flu­ence

Although Thursday’s Senate health committee hearing was focused on how foreign countries and adversaries might be trying to steal or negatively influence biomedical research in the US, the only country mentioned by the senators and expert witnesses was China.

Committee chair Patty Murray (D-WA) made clear in her opening remarks that the US cannot “let the few instances of bad actors” overshadow the hard work of the many immigrant researchers in the US, many of which have won Nobel prizes for their work. But she also said, “There is more the NIH can be doing here.”

Steffen Schuster, ITM CEO

Ra­dio­phar­ma re­mains hot as Ger­many's ITM rais­es $109M to ad­vance neu­roen­docrine can­cer pro­gram

The world of radiopharmaceuticals has been heating up over the last few years, and Thursday saw another company focused on the field pull in a new nine-figure raise.

Germany’s ITM, or Isotopen Technologien München, scored a $109 million round of loan financing to push forward its precision oncology pipeline and fund late-stage development for its lead program. As part of the agreement, the loan will convert to shares in the event of future financial or corporate transactions, ITM said.