How can drug developers design therapies around cellular networks rather than a single target?
This is the question Arpeggio Biosciences is looking for an answer – and with a new influx of funds. The Boulder, Colorado-based startup announced the closing of a $17 million Series A funding round on Wednesday, bringing its total funding to date to more than $20 million.
Funding was led by Builders VCwith participation from Khosla Ventures, TechU Ventures, FundersClub, Alice Zhang, Fifty Years, Tencent, ATEM Capital, Formic Ventures, Tau Ventures, Milad Alukozai of BoxOne Ventures and
and Matthew De Silva of Longtail Capital.
Arpeggio is a preclinical therapeutics company whose technology platform is focused on measuring the transcriptome – which refers to the complete set of mRNA molecules expressed by an organism – at scale. It was founded in 2018 by CEO Joey Azofeifa and CTO Tim Reid. The two met at the University of Colorado, where they were completing doctoral studies that dealt with the intersection of machine learning and transcriptomics (the study of the transcriptome).
The startup’s founders launched the company because they were interested in the idea of designing therapies to induce specific effects on the transcriptome, which Azofeifa called “kind of a crazy idea” in a recent interview.
“Usually when we think about drug development, we think about one protein or one enzyme at a time,” he said. “But if there’s one thing the human genome has taught us, it’s that one gene does not equal one disease. It’s really a whole network of very small genetic changes that can lead to something like autoimmunity or cancer metastasis.
Arpeggio has built technology that can monitor the activity of more than 100,000 mRNA transcripts from diseased and healthy cells after they have been exposed to stimuli such as small molecules, biologics or antisense oligonucleotides. The startup uses machine learning to reconstruct biological networks affected by stimuli and link molecules to diseases where they could be therapeutically useful. This technology could illuminate new mechanisms of how drugs work, according to Azofeifa.
The startup will use half of the funds it raised to build its own drug pipeline. He is currently working with contract research organizations to design better molecules to treat mesenchymal tumors, Azofeifa said.
Arpeggio will use the other to expand its partnerships with pharmaceutical companies. Under these partnerships, pharmaceutical companies send drugs to Arpeggio so they can assess the impact those treatments have on the transcriptome, and the startup sells that intelligence back to those drug makers.
The company has partnered with more than 40 pharmaceutical companies so far, incl Forma Therapeutics, Internal medicine and Treventis. The company may also continue to co-develop drugs with its pharmaceutical partners in the future, a scenario in which Arpeggio would collect royalties or milestone payments for drug success, Azofeifa said.
Although there are many drug screening companies such as Recursive pharmaceuticals and Insilico Medicine, Azofeifa claims that Arpeggio is the only one that focuses on the effect drugs have on the transcriptome. Other companies can measure things like whether a drug kills cells or whether it activates the immune system, but he said they don’t “capture the true effect that drugs can have on the entire RNA network.”
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