Health, Wellness & Biotech

Pleno Raises $40M To Seek Out New Disease Targets

Illustration of petri dishes with various viruses.

Pleno, a San Diego-based startup aimed at speeding up disease diagnosis and treatment, announced on Wednesday it raised $40 million in Series A financing.

Health care-focused Deerfield Management led the round with participation from Foresite Capital. Altogether, Pleno has raised $55 million in funding, per Crunchbase data.

Pleno’s platform parses through different patterns in biologic information, whether it be the cell, DNA and RNA, or tissue. Using those patterns, it can identify targets for drug development or diagnoses. For example, COVID-19 antibody diagnostics tests often look for the spike protein in the virus, which makes the virus look different from anything else in the body.

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“Genotyping and sequencing have enhanced our understanding of the molecular drivers of disease and its response to treatment, particularly in oncology,” said Dr. Vikram Bajaj, managing director at Foresite Capital. “Yet the cost and increasing complexity of these centralized measurements cause health care disparities.”

Finding the cure

Indeed, the lack of available targets in diseases has brought drug making to a standstill. Most pharmaceutical companies are working to create drugs based on targets discovered years ago, often by accident, that haven’t quite worked out. And there are still diseases for which we don’t know of any targets, making it impossible to treat them. 

Pleno leverages the “omics,” a broad range of biological sciences such as genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics or metabolomics. These fields of studies are treasure troves of data, and this data can be tapped to reveal patterns in diseases at earlier stages so they may be detectable and treatable earlier. Thanks to the broad application of genomics, data collection in the biotech space has exploded—between 2017 and 2018, funding in data-focused drug discovery startups increased 190%. 

Artificial intelligence also is playing a big role in this space. Leveraging data and machine learning, AI platforms can scan for these patterns and pluck out targets scientists can then use as their North Star for a drug to attack.

“There’s so many undruggable targets, it’s crazy,” said David Crean, a biotech investor and managing general partner at Cardiff Advisory. “It’s over 90% of targets that are undruggable, and through AI maybe we’ll be able to figure out how to actually drug them and how to actually treat them.”

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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