The target is the system: Condensates biotech aspires to ‘rewrite the rulebook’ on drug discovery
Another biotech has burst into the buzzy but still budding field of biomolecular condensates with $50 million in Series A funding.
Transition Bio, based in both Cambridge, UK, and Cambridge, MA, is looking to bring condensate drug discovery, a field that originated in neuroscience, to cancer. Co-founded by two biophysics professors — David Weitz of Harvard and Tuomas Knowles of the University of Cambridge — the 18-month-old biotech is building a machine learning platform that maps out condensates in what Knowles described as a “phase diagram.”
First observed in worm cells in 2009, condensates are transient droplets that help organize the insides of cells, “bringing together what needs to be together,” Knowles said. But unlike organelles, which separate out a cell’s contents with physical barriers, condensates act like liquids, condensing (hence the name) and dissolving to bring proteins together or set them apart.
“Typically a healthy condensate would be formed in a highly reversible manner, such that when it’s no longer required it can dissolve and not clog up any of the other cellular machinery,” Knowles said.
However, disease-related condensates can malfunction in a number of ways. In some cases, they may gel together so they’re no longer liquid and dissolvable, Knowles said. In others, condensates may bring together the wrong combination of molecules or appear where they don’t in healthy cells.
Using its platform, Transition Bio plans on mapping out the many different conditions that lead to condensate formation and function in cells. By doing so, the biotech hopes it can use machine learning to figure out how to regulate condensates.
“Arguably, much of what we know about what makes a drug-like molecule is based on drugging single proteins,” Knowles said, “so those rules are likely to look very different once we start to drug these very highly multimeric and dynamic systems.
“So we really have to — in some sense — rewrite and rediscover the rule book,” Knowles added.
There are a handful of other condensate biotechs out there, including Dewpoint Therapeutics and Nereid, founded by the biophysicists that penned the initial worm study. In February, Dewpoint, which has partnerships with Bayer and Merck, raised another $150 million hoping to get into the clinic by the end of next year.
For Transition Bio, the next step will be to generate in vivo validation for their condensate system targets, CEO Greg Miller said.
The Series A round was led by Northpond Ventures and included Taiho Ventures, Bristol Myers Squibb, Magnetic Ventures, and Lifeforce Capital, which led Transition Bio’s seed round.