Inspired by science CEOs, Seattle startup lands $9.75 million to create drug discovery platform – GeekWire

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Talus co-founders, CTO Lindsay Pino (left) and CEO Alex Federation (right). (Scree Pictures)

A biotech startup born from an academic research project and inspired by emerging companies led by scientific founders is growing in Seattle. Talus Biosciences raised $9.75 million in new funding to advance its drug discovery platform to find compounds that affect gene activity.

Talus’ platform enables the discovery of compounds that affect transcription factors, key proteins that interact with DNA and turn genes on and off. Many transcription factors are implicated in cancer, which results from aberrant gene activity, and other diseases.

The company is in the “early exploration” stage of forming partnerships with biopharmaceutical companies and is also working on its own drug targets, the CEO said. Alex Federationbiochemist and computational biologist.

Twin Federation Lindsay Pino, who has a background in biochemistry and machine learning, to found the company in 2020, fueled by a $255,000 small business grant from the US National Science Foundation and $1.5 million in venture capital funding from pre-seed led by Fifty Years.

The couple forged the company from a research project started when Pino was a graduate student at the University of Washington and Federation was a postdoctoral fellow at the Altius Institute for Biomedical Sciences, a nonprofit research institute. nonprofit from Seattle that focuses on understanding gene regulation.

They were inspired to start Talus by the growing number of biotech companies, many in Seattle, with leaders who developed their company’s technology, Federation said in an interview with GeekWire.

In Seattle, “there’s this different culture of founder-driven companies, like tech companies typically are,” Federation said.

The company announced on Monday that it recently landed $2.75 million in small business grants from the U.S. National Institutes of Health and $7 million in venture capital funding led by NFX.

Talus has 13 employees and recently recruited a COO, michelle briscoewho was previously president and CEO of Brooks Applied Labs, a Seattle-area analytical chemistry company.

From research project to startup

Talus’ origins date back more than four years, when Federation and Pino were interns at Altius and UW. There, the pair collaborated on a way to purify and analyze transcription factors.

Many transcription factors are considered “indurable,” the Federation said. When isolated from the cells, “they sort of collapse. You can’t do structural biology. You can’t do the normal experiments that you would in drug discovery.

The federation helped develop a way to purify transcription factors while keeping them intact. His method also allowed the simultaneous processing of hundreds of samples, in small plastic wells on plastic plates.

Talus COO Michelle Briscoe. (Photo of scree)

At the same time, Pino helped develop a way to quantify proteins in samples. She improved on a traditional method called mass spectrometry, which normally mainly detects the most prevalent proteins in a sample. She applied a machine learning approach to filter out signals from the most prevalent proteins to reveal more complete data about the proteins in a sample.

With their method, Federation and Pino can more accurately assess which transcription factors are stuck on DNA. And they may ask how drugs affect transcription factors, such as whether they remove them from DNA and affect their ability to cause disease.

The pair published their findings in 2020 in Cell reports. The Talus team has spent the past two years perfecting their methods, making them faster and more robust.

Talus can now purify proteins from hundreds of samples in twenty minutes and run the data through its software to show how potential drugs affect the collection of proteins that regulate gene activity. Many researchers call this set of proteins “the regulome”.

“For every part of the regulome and every drug we test, we get a completely complete matrix,” the Federation said. “We can see how each drug affects each protein in each experiment.” And it helps researchers understand if their compound has an effect on gene activity and disease.

The platform is called MARMOT, for “Multiplexed assays for the rational modulation of transcription factors”.

The Company’s potential drug targets include transcription factors implicated in childhood cancer and adult solid tumors.

Areas of intervention of Talus Bioscience. (Image of scree)

Inspired by Seattle Science co-founders

After finishing their studies at Altius and UW, Pino and Federation embarked on other projects. Pino began postdoctoral studies in Philadelphia and Federation took a job at Seattle biotech company SEngine Precision Medicine, which markets a test to analyze tumors at the molecular level. “We parted ways,” the Federation said.

But the couple stayed in touch and continued to talk about the potential of the technology they had developed.

“We were in the middle of COVID so not much else to do. And we asked, ‘why don’t we try to do this for real?’ And that’s when Talus was born,” Federation said.

Pino and Federation were more familiar with biotech models in which venture capital firms build a management team and find a seasoned CEO, a trend more common on the East Coast, Federation said.

But in Seattle, the pair were inspired by SEngine and companies like A-Alpha Bio, spun off from the UW Institute for Protein Design, led by CEOs who helped develop the underlying technology. Other Seattle companies led by science founders include Parse Biosciences, Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence spin-out Modulus Therapeutics, and IPD spin-out Monod Bio.

“Over time, we were able to meet some of these people and learn that this [scientific founder-led model] is increasingly common in biology,” the Federation said.

A thorough knowledge of their technique allows Federation and Pino to communicate effectively with potential partners and collaborate closely with other scientists. “We have been so deeply embedded in this technology that we can understand how it should be built and how it should grow,” Federation said.

Participants in the seed funding round include FundersClub, Fifty Years, Boom Capital, Milad Alucozai (BoxOne Ventures) and Y Combinator. Angel investors include biotech executives Alok Tayi, Robert Wetzel, Alice Zhang, Ethan Perlstein and Matt De Silva.

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