Almost exactly two years ago, the venture firm Andreessen Horowitz took the wraps off a $200 million “biofund” that aimed to invest at the intersection of biology and engineering and was being led by its (then) new general partner, Vijay Pande.
Pande argued at the time that it was finally possible to invest in software-enabled biotech ideas — without having to wait eons for them to pan out — thanks largely to the growing ubiquity of machine learning and the falling cost of computing.
Evidently, that experiment is playing out as planned. Today, the firm is announcing a $450 million second fund led by Pande — formerly a Stanford chemistry professor — and Jorge Conde, a serial entrepreneur who officially joined the firm a few months ago as a general partner.
If they have their way, Pande says, this is just the beginning, too.
“The opportunity is even bigger than we expected,” he told us yesterday. The reason, he explained: Andreessen Horowitz thinks “engineered biology” is “where information technology was 50 years ago — meaning on the cusp of transforming every industry.”
Certainly, the dozen investments the bio fund has made to date — just eight of which have been announced publicly — underscore Pande’s point.
One of the debut fund’s better-known deals (and the biggest, in terms of dollars invested) is Freenome, a liquid biopsy diagnostics platform. But others of its portfolio companies include Apeel, which makes a kind of plant food-based barrier for fruit that aims to replace wax coatings; a care coordination network called PatientPing that alerts providers when a patient is admitted to an unaffiliated facility; and BioAge Labs, a company that’s trying to find drugs that extend humans’ health span through machine learning and biomarkers that speed up the discovery process.
Though not in Andreessen’s portfolio, Conde — who also joined yesterday’s call — also points to startups like Modern Meadow, which grows leather in labs without cows, and Bolt Threads, which is making gene-engineered fabric akin to spider silk, as other startups making consumer products or textiles using engineered biology.
In fact, say both general partners, the idea isn’t to write checks that are bigger than the bio fund has already been issuing, which range from $2 million to $3 million at the seed stage, and from $5 million to slightly north of $10 million for Series A stage companies.
The idea instead is to write many more checks.
For now, at least, Pande and Conde will be steering them through, too. Asked if the partnership is hiring any additional investors to help with the new fund, both say it is not. They point instead to the roughly 130 employees at Andreessen Horowitz to whom they can turn for support. “We have a huge team underneath us,” says Conde.
Pande hints that they need it, owing to the many founders of interest who they’re meeting.
“We’re in an age where biologists have been programing since they were kids, so they’re a fundamentally different generation of biologists than the previous one,” says Pande, recalling as one example an early meeting with Freenome cofounder and CEO Gabe Otte.
Otte was enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Pennsylvania at the time. “When I asked what machine learning code he was using,” says Pande, “he said he was using the one that he wrote.”
Last year, Andreessen Horowitz raised $1.5 billion for its fifth main fund, positioning it once again as among Silicon Valley’s best-capitalized investors. We didn’t talk with Pande and Conde about a fund six, but based on the rate at which the firm has been fundraising — closing enormous main funds every two years, roughly — another in 2018 seems likely.