This biotech startup raised $ 47 million just to make drugs out of fungi

In 1928, a Scottish researcher by the name of Alexander Fleming came back from vacation and discovered that he had mistakenly grown a species called fungus. Penicillium On a Petri dish containing bacteria. The fungus, to Fleming’s surprise, appeared in the bay while maintaining the growth of that bacteria. Further investigation led him to discover the life-saving antibiotic penicillin, which revolutionized the treatment of infectious disease.

Nearly a century later, Hexagon Bio seeks to discover more medicinal uses for the fungus (although at this time, it will be on purpose). On September 15, the company announced that it had raised an A series of $ 47 million, which would help genetically sequester fungi and discover new breakthrough examinations. The next penicillin, the company wanders, is already there, waiting to be discovered.

“We really see [Hexagon] As the first of a new generation of computationally-driven large pharma companies, “Alex Kolicich, a founding partner of the venture firm 8VC who invests in Rounds and Hexagon Bio Board members. “From day one I felt that he had really strong ambitions.” The series one round was led by The Column Group, and was also attended by Two Sigma Ventures.

The Menlo Park-based company was launched in 2017 as a spinout from Stanford University. One of the founding team members is Maureen Hillenmeier, former director of the Natural Products Program from Stanford’s Genome and now CEO of Hexagon. What makes Hexagon Bio unique, Hillenmeyer says, is the company’s multi-disciplinary approach to finding new drug candidates. “We have world-class expertise in both data science and biology, which is difficult to come by,” she says. ”

Hexagon Bio uses these themes to sequence fungal genomes and find out whether they have been altered to protect against disease. The company then studies if any of the altered genes can be used to treat human diseases. This is not a distant idea. Statin, a group of cholesterol-lowering drugs, was discovered by Japanese researcher Akira Ando in 1976, when he discovered that in Penicillium citrinum The fungus allowed it to produce two compounds that can reduce human cholesterol. While this discovery was notable, it took years to scan the fungal genome to find these compounds.

Hexagon Bio intends to speed up the process using artificial intelligence and gene sequencing as part of its fungi screening platform. Regarding the discovery of endo, Hillenmeier says, “We could have learned by reading its genome that this fungus is producing cholesterol.” “” Technological advances mean that it will be possible for hexagons to search for drugs in parts of Endo’s time. “We’re going back [nature] But applying it to AI and data science, ”says Hillenmeier.

The new capital from the Series A round will be used to create a proprietary database for the fungal genome, Hillenmeyer says, as well as hiring people who will discover newly discovered compounds through the clinical pipeline over the next few years Can take. Although Hillenmeyer has not named any of the compounds found so far by the company, she says they are looking for new drugs to treat cancer and infectious diseases, including most drug-resistant fungi. Someday hexagon bio can also grow out of fungi and look for drugs in other types of microbes such as bacteria. But not yet, says Hillenmeyer. “There are an estimated 5 million fungal species on the planet and only 5,000 have been studied so far,” she says. “It’s gonna keep us busy for a while.”