Peter Thiel joins funding round for peptide drug player in latest swing at emerging biotech market
For venture capitalists working in early-stage biotech, failures are more common than victories as investors search for novel pathways to treat well-trodden therapeutic areas. For the big-name investors, that’s equally true — but if your name’s Peter Thiel, a certain gravity and high expectations come with your money.
Billionaire tech entrepreneur and Facebook co-founder Thiel has joined a $35.4 million Series B round for Peptilogics, a peptide drug design and development biotech, as the company looks to expand on its lead anti-infective candidate and target more drugs for market.
Thiel’s Founders Fund, which has recently made a series of high-profile splashes in the emerging biotech field and previously signed on as an investor at Peptilogics for an earlier round, joins round leader Presight Capital. Peptilogics intends to use its latest round to continue fine-tuning its drug discovery engine and advance its pipeline candidates, most notably PLG0206, a novel anti-infective.
Peptilogics’ “computational” platform pre-specifies targets for its drug discovery, then works backward through biomedical data to identify molecules — and later therapeutics — to hit those targets, the company said in a release. That strategy has caught investors’ eyes as the potential for novel pathways for highly competitive therapeutics areas grows.
“Peptilogics’ approach challenges traditional drug discovery methods by starting with a defined target drug profile and working backwards to design optimal, novel molecules,” Presight Capital’s Fabian Hansen said in a release. “We believe that scalable rational design, not random screening, is the future of drug discovery and Peptilogics is well-positioned to lead the way.”
That interest has certainly caught the eye of Thiel, who has made a series of splashy entries into the field in recent years — some of them more successful than others.
As recently as late November, Thiel shelled out $125 million as part of a Series C funding round to fuel development at ATAI Life Sciences, a Berlin-based biotech that has assembled a portfolio of companies with psychedelic and non-psychedelic approaches to depression, anxiety and addiction.
And it’s not just funding, either: Also in November, Thiel jumped aboard as a board member at AbCellera, a company partnering with Eli Lilly on Covid-19 antibody development, as the company chases a genetically engineered mouse model that can develop human antibodies.
The fate of those recent moves has yet to be seen, but at least one big Thiel investment has recently gone belly up — a common ritual for sure in the world of emerging biotech. Back in August, anti-aging player Unity Biotechnology flopped a major Phase II study in osteoarthritis pain, jeopardizing the future of a company that once scored $200 million in venture funding from the likes of Thiel and Amazon helmsman Jeff Bezos.
The company promised to be one of the first to effectively test the theory that clearing out old “senescent” cells could reduce symptoms associated with aging, but the major trial failure cast doubt on Unity’s promise in that field. This month, ARCH Venture Partners’ Bob Nelsen, one of Unity’s co-founders back in 2011, announced he would step down from the board, joining president and co-founder Ned David, who is stepping down at the end of the year, and another board member, David Lacey, who is also departing.