More than 100 biotech researchers, industry executives and government officials met at the White House today for a summit focusing on America’s bioeconomy — the range of products, services and data derived from biological processes and bioscience research.
“The bioeconomy is already an integral part of the general economy,” White House chief technology officer Michael Kratsios told the attendees. “In 2017, revenues from engineered biological systems reached nearly $400 billion.”
He cited figures from SynBioBeta suggesting that the private sector alone invested more than $3.7 billion in early-stage biological engineering and manufacturing tech companies during 2018.
“But we are not only here because of what biotechnology has done — we are invested in what biotechnology is going to do,” Kratsios said.
A Seattle startup that took root at the University of Washington has closed a $2.8 million seed round for a drug discovery platform that can sort through millions of protein interactions at once.
A-Alpha Bio’s genetically engineered protein analysis technology, known as AlphaSeq, has the potential to speed up the process of evaluating drug candidates. That’s what attracted interest from investors including OS Fund, which led the seed round, plus AME Cloud Ventures, Boom Capital, Madrona Venture Group, Sahsen Ventures, Washington Research Foundation and a number of angel investors.
Grail, a biotech company with early backing from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, says it’s raised $300 million in an oversubscribed Series C financing round. Gates and Bezos got in on a $100 million Series A round in 2016, and since then, total investment has risen to $1.5 billion.
Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai have produced identical primate clones using the same procedure that brought Dolly the sheep into the world more than two decades earlier.
The procedure, known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, involves removing the nucleus of an egg cell and replacing it with nuclear material from a body cell.
Chinese researchers described the experiment in a research paper published today by the journal Cell.
Viome, the wellness monitoring service founded by Seattle-area tech entrepreneur Naveen Jain, has raised $15 million this month in an investment round, according to documents filed today with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The equity sale boosts the first commercial venture brought to life by Jain’s BlueDot innovation factory.
Jain deferred comment on the details of the investment today, but in an April interview, he said Viome was just the kind of technological moonshot BlueDot was designed to foster.
“Our moonshot here is, can we create a world where chronic illness becomes a matter of choice?” he said at the time.
Cyrus Biotechnology is getting an $8 million infusion for its cloud-based protein modeling and design toolkit, thanks to a Series A financing round.
The investment round was led by Trinity Ventures, with participation from OrbiMed Advisors, SpringRock Ventures, the W Fund and individual investors, the Seattle-based venture said today in a news release.
Cyrus Biotech’s primary product, Cyrus Bench, is a software package based on Rosetta, a protein-modeling platform that was created at the University of Washington. Rosetta lets researchers twist and turn virtual models of protein molecules to create novel configurations. (It’s even spawned a video game for citizen scientists called Foldit and a screensaver called Rosetta@Home.)
Protein-folding has been compared to solving puzzles, or building molecular-scale keys for cellular locks. A protein molecule with the right shape could block a virus from invading a cell, or unlock a therapy for disease.
A stack of card-sized gizmos that test the effects of drugs, toxins and weightlessness on human kidney cells is due to take a ride to the International Space Station as early as next year – and researchers at the University of Washington can’t wait.
“Use of the human kidney-on-a-chip here on Earth has already taught us a lot about kidney function and kidney diseases,” Jonathan Himmelfarb, director of the Kidney Research Institute and a professor at the UW School of Medicine, said today in a news release.
“The opportunity to study how physical cues emanating from loss of gravitational forces affect kidney cellular function has the potential to improve the health of people living on Earth, as well as prevent medical complications that astronauts experience from weightlessness,” he added.
Six medical pioneers were inducted into the newly created Washington Life Science Hall of Fame today, and although some of them have passed away, all of them have contributed to lifesaving technologies that are still works in progress.
Take Karl William Edmark, for example: The founder of Redmond-based Physio-Control invented a direct-current heart defibrillator that was first used to save the life of a 12-year-old girl in Seattle in 1961. Edmark, who was a cardiovascular surgeon as well as a lifelong inventor, died in 1994. But the devices he developed have been repeatedly improved and miniaturized since then.
The improvements were an important factor behind the advent in 1970 of Seattle’s Medic One, a pioneering emergency medical service. Just today, the Medic One Foundation and the Seattle Fire Department announced the city’s official launch of PulsePoint, a smartphone app that alerts citizen responders when someone needs CPR in their vicinity.
“If you’re going to have a cardiac arrest, do it right here in Seattle,” said Cam Pollock, Physio-Control’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, who accepted the Hall of Fame honors on Edmark’s behalf.
The Hall of Fame was established this year by Life Science Washington (which was previously known as the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association) to honor the state’s pioneers in biotech and biomedicine.
Synthetic genomes and gene editing are big things today, but the next big things in biotechnology could be proteins that are designed and edited on computers – and are then synthesized to produce novel types of medicines, materials and molecular machines.
“It’s the right time for this field,” David Baker, director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Protein Design, said Monday at the EXOME Life Science Disruptors conference. The event was presented by Xconomy at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
Baker is a pioneer in protein design, going back to the invention of the Rosetta protein modeling software more than a decade ago. Rosetta spawned the Foldit video game, which has attracted hundreds of thousands of protein-folding players. It has also spawned a commercial spin-out known as Cyrus Biotechnology, which is turning Rosetta into a commercial-grade, cloud computing platform.
“We are currently doing projects with eight companies, have four companies about to start a paid beta test … and a growing wait list to enter the beta, currently two companies,” Cyrus Biotech CEO Lucas Nivón told GeekWire in an email. “The next big events on Cyrus’s horizon are the official launch of beta in mid-May, and the launch out of beta into initial release in the June/July time frame.”