Seattle Institute for Protein Design Director David Baker Launches Biotech Startup in London – GeekWire

IPD Director David Baker. (IPD Photo)

Prolific biotech co-founder and University of Washington scientist David Baker, director of the UW Institute for Protein Design, has started a new venture.

London-based Charm Therapeutics exploits deep learning to discover new compounds against targets in cancer and other therapeutic areas. The company this week announced $50 million in Series A funding.

Baker is a co-founder of science with CEO Laksh Aithani, previously a machine learning engineer at drug discovery company Exscientia and founder of Genei, another compute-based biotech company.

Charm Therapeutics’ deep learning platform, DragonFold, was developed by Baker and Aithani, according to a statement announcing the new company’s launch on Thursday.

DragonFold is designed to find new small molecule therapies against protein targets. These small molecules have the potential to interfere with proteins in the body that control everything from cell division to cell growth.

The tool can predict the co-crystal structure of a protein bound to a small molecule. And as input, it only needs the chemical structure of the small molecule and the sequence of the protein.

A protein (purple) interacting with a small molecule ligand (green) in DragonFold. (charm picture)

Baker’s 100-person lab at UW has been the source of several Seattle-based protein design spinouts. Baker has already co-founded nine companies and advises 18 others, according to IPD’s website.

IPD spin-off companies include Neoleukin Therapeutics, whose fully-designed compound for solid tumors is in early clinical trials; Cyrus Biotechnology, which partners with other biopharmaceutical companies to design drugs, and vaccine company Icosavax, which raised $180 million in its IPO last summer.

Last winter, IPD’s RoseTTAFold deep learning tool, developed by Minkyung Baek and colleagues, won Science magazine’s Breakthrough of the Year award. This tool and another from Alphabet’s DeepMind have amazed scientists with their speed and accuracy and predicted how proteins fold in three dimensions.

But DragonFold is a completely different model than RoseTTAFold or DeepMind’s tool, Aithani told Endpoints News.

Baker’s spin-offs join a growing list of biotech companies leveraging computational tools for drug development. Alphabet created Isomorphic Labs to leverage DeepMind’s software for drug design last December, and last spring Insitro landed $400 million in venture capital funding and Recursion raised $436 million in its Initial Public Offering.

Charm’s Series A funding round was led by F-Prime Capital and OrbiMed. The other participants were General Catalyst, Khosla Ventures, Braavos and Axial.

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