Health, Wellness & Biotech

Cellarity’s $121M Raise Signals A Promising Drug Discovery Strategy

Biotech startup Cellarity has raised $121 million in Series C funding, the company said Tuesday.

Investors include  Flagship Pioneering (Cellarity’s founding company), Japanese biotech firm Kyowa Kirin and Hanwha Impact Partners. The round brings total funding raised by the company to $274 million according to Cellarity.

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Cellarity launched out of Flagship Pioneering’s Flagship Labs in 2017 with a different approach to drug discovery.

While most drug discovery starts with finding a novel target for the drug to stick to once it’s in the body, Cellarity observes how a cell transitions as its environment turns from healthy to diseased, then uses machine learning to reverse engineer the process.

This could be key to understanding some of the world’s most devastating diseases. Many ailments can’t be treated because there isn’t a known target a drug can attack, and only recently has there been a push in the scientific community to look for novel targets.

“I think that the reason why we have this 90% failure rate is you get into the clinic and typically it turns out the target X is really not that useful against disease Y,” said Sara Choi, a health-focused partner at Wing VC. “Or, the compounds directed towards those targets do other things that we didn’t expect.”

Drug discovery gets a makeover

Cellarity’s raise is another example of sweeping changes in drug discovery to make the drug-making process more efficient and infallible in clinical trials. Using a machine learning model and data around RNA transcripts, Cellarity can better predict how well a drug will fare during its lifecycle. Most drugs inching their way to market see a failure rate of 90%, after which millions of dollars have been sunk into each.

“Since the cell is a fuller representation of disease, the platform is uniquely designed to drive higher translatability and clinical success, creating important new medicines for internal pipeline development as well as with partners,” said Stephen Berenson, managing partner at Flagship Pioneering, in a statement.

Drug discovery platforms like Cellarity are still nascent, and Cellarity itself has not revealed any drug pipeline.Overall however, these platforms are seeing favor with biotech investors for their promise to make drug investments more predictable. There is still a long way to go—these platforms require a deep understanding of computational biology, chemistry and machine learning. They also require an understanding of -omics, like genomics and transcriptomics, which unlock an ocean of data for biotech.

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