A BIOTECH startup that only this year raised what is believed to be the largest round of seed funding in South-east Asia has plans to raise additional funding as early as next year, The Business Times has learnt.
Engine Biosciences, a Singapore-based company that has built an artificial intelligence (AI) and genomics network biomedicine platform to enable faster and more effective drug discovery, in January said that it had snagged US$10 million in seed funding, one of the largest rounds in Asia in the tech and biotech industries.
Jeffrey Lu, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Engine Bio-sciences, told BT in a recent interview: "We will likely raise additional funding in 2019. We haven't yet mapped out our detailed financing plans, given that we have a significant runway with our current round."
The round, co-led by Silicon Valley-based venture capital firms DHVC and 6 Dimensions Capital, was participated in by global biopharmaceutical firm WuXi AppTec, EDBI (the investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board), Pavilion Capital (a subsidiary of Temasek Holdings), Baidu Ventures, WI Harper, and Nest.Bio Ventures.
Mr Lu said that the money is being used to expand its team of biologists, data scientists and drug developers across Singapore and the US, enhance its biology and AI platform, and apply its platform for drug discovery efforts across multiple diseases.
"We improve the drug discovery process by using computation or AI and high-throughput biology to scale up the pace of hypothesis generation and experimental validation, analysing larger sets of data for more data-driven discovery, and applying machine and deep learning to our datasets and findings to keep improving our predictive capabilities."
He added that Engine Biosciences can potentially disrupt the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries - through broadening and accelerating drug discovery R&D and employing "precision medicine approaches" so that each patient gets treated by the most effective drug.
Asked about the industry's current pain points, Mr Lu said: "Traditional drug discovery involves many steps, beginning from the discovery phase where researchers work to identify potential new drug candidates that are then optimised and tested in animal models and human clinical trials." The process of discovering and developing a drug traditionally costs close to US$2 billion on average, and over 10 years of R&D, he added.
"There are many opportunities to improve the efficiencies and effectiveness of the drug discovery process. We are working especially in the discovery research phase, which can take several years and a large portion of the total drug development costs."
Asked about the startup's revenue model, Mr Lu said it currently comprises two core elements. The first is to develop candidate drugs from a preclinical to clinical proof-of-concept stage, and then seek partnerships with pharmaceutical companies. These partnerships typically comprise a mix of upfront cash payments, additional milestone-based payments, and royalties.
The second is to forge technology platform-level partnerships with other companies. Engine Biosciences will provide access and use of its platform for discovery research and may develop the subsequent products jointly with its partners. In return, Engine Biosciences will establish risk- and reward-sharing partnerships, which can include upfront cash payments, payments due on milestone achievement, and royalty payments on eventual commercial sales.
Mr Lu said: "Our long-term ambition is to enable more data-driven and computational R&D to transform the paradigm of drug discovery and deliver therapies to patients in need faster."