Phenomic AI, a biotech using AI/ML to reveal drug targets that emerge from cell-cell interactions and drive novel antibody drug discovery for challenging diseases, today announced the official launch of the company with US$6 million seed financing. The financing was led by CTI Life Sciences Fund and joined by AV8 Ventures, Luminous Ventures, and Viva BioInnovator. Current investors, Garage Capital, Hike Ventures, and Cantos Ventures, also joined the round. The proceeds of the financing will support preclinical studies for two validated cancer drug targets discovered with the company’s platform as well as discover and advance additional drug targets into the company’s pipeline. Phenomic AI also announced the appointments of Dr. Michael (Mike) Briskin, as Chief Scientific Officer (CSO), and Nobel Laureate James (Jim) P. Allison, Ph.D. and Padmanee (Pam) Sharma, M.D., Ph.D., to the company’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), bringing significant expertise in immunotherapy discovery and development.

“In two years, the Phenomic team has made impressive progress in building their platform and using it to find new drug targets in the tumor stroma. The appointments of Mike, Jim, and Pam, leaders in immuno-oncology, further highlight the exceptional advancements of Phenomic.”

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“Cells do not exist in isolation in the human body, and the interactions between different cell types in disease states carries significant information that Phenomic has unlocked for drug discovery,” said Shermaine Tilley, Ph.D., Managing Partner, CTI Life Sciences Fund. Ruchita Sinha, General Partner at AV8, further commented, “In two years, the Phenomic team has made impressive progress in building their platform and using it to find new drug targets in the tumor stroma. The appointments of Mike, Jim, and Pam, leaders in immuno-oncology, further highlight the exceptional advancements of Phenomic.”

The tumor stroma has been increasingly recognized as a complex barrier, composed of many different cell types and other factors, such as fibroblasts and the extracellular matrix, that prevent immune therapies from working effectively. A major challenge in discovering drugs for the tumor stroma has been screening targets against more physiologically relevant models, such as organoids that incorporate the many cell-types needed to simulate the stroma. To address this challenge, Phenomic’s platform uses deep-learning tools for image and genetic analysis to deconvolute effects of target inhibition in multi-cell assays. By factoring in multi-omics analysis of tissue data and reverse translation of clinical datasets, Phenomic’s approach seeks to ensure model and mechanism relevance early in the drug discovery process.

“Building on our foundational machine-learning tools, we can now process and extract information from the interactions between different cell types at the scale and speed necessary to power drug discovery,” said Sam Cooper, CEO of Phenomic AI. “We’ve rapidly identified novel targets in the tumor stroma and have confirmed that they are heavily upregulated in specific solid tumors. With the support of our new and current investors and the addition of Mike, who brings deep drug discovery expertise, we are launching the company with significant momentum to advance novel antibodies into preclinical studies that could improve the effectiveness of cancer treatment.”

Dr. Briskin has more than 25 years of industry experience, including founding and running discovery research at Jounce Therapeutics, leading translational studies for inflammation and oncology at Merrimack Pharmaceuticals, and performing early discovery work for Entyvio® (vedolizumab) at LeukoSite (acquired by Millennium Pharmaceuticals). He currently serves as chairperson of the SAB of Obsidian Therapeutics.

“Cancer and fibrotic diseases are driven by the dysregulation of local cellular environments, where multiple cell types are engaged in complicated, uncontrolled interactions, and teasing apart each cell type’s contribution has previously been a tremendous challenge,” said Dr. Briskin, CSO of Phenomic AI. “By combining insights from Phenomic’s proprietary platform, along with additional technologies based on primary human cell data, we anticipate that we will be able to quickly build out a meaningful pipeline of new antibody drugs targeting the tumor stroma and other diseases driven by multi-cellular pathologies. Furthermore, having the expertise from Jim and Pam, who are translational researchers at the frontline of immuno-oncology drug development, will provide tremendous insights into the biology and clinical strategies for our targets of interest.”

Dr. Allison was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2018 for his pioneering and unrelenting research in cancer immunotherapy, which led to the U.S. FDA approval in 2011 of ipilimumab, a significant life-extending therapy for late-stage metastatic melanoma. His current work is focused on identifying new targets to further unleash the immune system and eradicate cancer. Dr. Sharma is a leader in immuno-oncology clinical trials and drug development, with translational research focused on identifying mechanisms of response and resistance to immunotherapy. Dr. Sharma is currently exploring combinations of immunological therapies and other drugs in preclinical models as well as early-stage clinical trials to potentially overcome specific resistance pathways and improve clinical outcomes for cancer patients.