Protein therapeutics biotech using 'protein barcodes' in drug development secures new financing — led by Jeff Huber
Two years after kicking things off with $5.4 million, a George Church spinout is refilling its coffers to fuel its efforts tackling protein therapeutics R&D.
Boston biotech Manifold Bio announced the new Series A Thursday, led by new VC Triatomic Capital, raising $40 million to advance its internal pipeline and expand its platform capabilities. CEO and co-founder Gleb Kuznetsov tells Endpoints News that the financing should last the biotech close to 2.5 years, depending on how fast the company spends it.
The biotech was Triatomic’s first investment, Manifold said in a statement. The VC was founded by none other than Jeff Huber, the former Google exec and once-CEO of Silicon Valley cancer testing startup Grail before it got bought out by Illumina last year. Huber will be joining Manifold’s board of directors.
The company got its start when Kuznetsov and another co-founder, Manifold’s CSO Pierce Ogden, were graduate students in famed geneticist George Church’s lab. According to Kuznetsov, the pair were very interested in proteins and protein design — which led them to talk to different industry folks about the overall price and therapeutics process, and seeing if there was a way to incorporate more technology into it.
Kuznetsov originally graduated from MIT with a Bachelor’s and then a Master’s in Computer Science and spent a year at Google as a software engineer. Several years later, he went back to MIT for a PhD in Biophysics.
“We didn’t want to just kind of bring forward, you know, a new drug, and, you know, kind of go the standard route of picking one drug and develop it,” Kuznetsov said — referencing a mindset he had seen about “you just kind of dogmatically test one molecule in an animal eventually, and that sort of make it or break it for a program.” That said, that led to Manifold’s whole objective: to use technology to redefine the protein therapeutic discovery process.
The biotech first got off the ground in 2020 with $5.4 million in seed funding.
As for what exactly Manifold does, Kuznetsov said that the biotech wants to address what he called “bottlenecks” in drug creation, with a specific pipeline focus on cancer tumors. One example was targeting — how to get a drug to start killing cancer cells without harming the rest of the patient. Specificity and complexity of which targets a drug go after were also key questions at Manifold.
To tackle these bottlenecks, the biotech uses “protein barcoding” to track its drugs.
“From an engineering perspective, you want to make these engineer molecules navigate this complex mammalian environment and get just to those cancer cells,” the CEO said. After making the drug components in-house, the biotech then adds the protein barcodes — tiny bits of protein that track how the drugs work and how effective the protein therapeutics are. Kuznetsov then gave an example, say a mouse model that has a cancer tumor.
After researchers put the drug candidates into the tumor and analyze the results, they count, using protein barcodes plus some proprietary tech, which of the company’s drug designs end up actually being successful.
Beyond that, Manifold has been investigating combining multiple binders to better target cancer cells that express different combinations of targets. However, the CEO noted that as you add this kind of complexity, the engineering required goes up too.
Kuznetsov also mentioned that he has worked with Church directly for a decade — starting in the geneticist’s lab back in 2012 as a research engineer before starting his PhD in 2014. And because of that relationship, Church meets with Manifold once a month where the founders “basically prioritize what we’re trying to do. And then George brings forth his own view of things,” the CEO noted.
The biotech, currently 15 strong, is planning on doubling in size throughout the Series A.
Kuznetsov added that while the biotech is not currently looking at expanding its pipeline beyond oncology, it is in discussions with a number of other companies for possible partnerships. The biotech also noted that it started working on the Series A just earlier this year — and that it only took a few months to secure investments in light of how the biotech market has performed since January.
New investors for the Series round include Section 32, FPV, Horizons and Tencent. Previous investors that also participated in this round include Fifty Years, Playground Global and FAST by GETTYLAB.