Engine Biosciences raises $10 million in Southeast Asia’s largest institutional seed round

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Life sciences startups in Asia are getting another boost with the $10 million investment in Engine Biosciences — a biotech company that’s applying machine learning to genomics for drug discovery.

With its headquarters in both Singapore and San Francisco, the company has managed to attract some impressive investors from both the U.S. and Asia. The round was co-led by Danhua Venture Capital and 6 Dimensions Capital, with additional participation from WuXi AppTec, EDBI, Pavilion Capital, Baidu Ventures, WI Harper and Nest.Bio Ventures.

Founded by a who’s who of researchers, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors Timothy Lu and Jim Collins; Mayo Clinic Assistant professor Hu Li; and University of California San Diego assistant professor, Prashant Mali, Engine is leveraging experts in synthetic biology and drug discovery to create a new way to build and test novel medicines.

According to a statement, the company will use the money to continue developing its drug discovery platform, expand the executive and scientific team in Singapore and the U.S. and begin pre-clinical studies internally and with partners — which already include undisclosed research institutions and an unnamed Fortune 500 company here in the U.S.

Combining parallel biological experimentation with machine learning to develop therapies, Engine is building a system for new drug discovery that is faster and cheaper to test than existing methodologies, the company claims.

“The biopharmaceutical industry needs better approaches for R&D to deliver therapies to patients in need faster. Legacy approaches mean that in many cases, we still have a weak understanding of what drives disease and correspondingly, how to treat or prevent it,” said Engine Biosciences co-founder and CEO Jeffrey Lu, in a statement. “Engine’s data-driven platform allows researchers to not only uncover the critical gene interactions underlying diseases, but also test therapies that specifically target these interactions in a faster, cheaper and more precise fashion than currently possible.”

So far, the technology is being used for drug repositioning, which creates new applications for existing drugs; target discovery, which looks at potential biological factors for disease; precision medicine through targeting specific genes; and pathway analysis.

Already the company has seen proof-of-concept successes around treatments for cancer, neurodegenerative, autoimmune disorders and skin disorders.

“The lack of insight into complex and multi-factorial biological processes within cells contributes to the high failure rate across the drug development cycle. Engine Biosciences has pioneered a new approach to address this by generating novel data and insights that are highly relevant to the biological process,” said Dr. Leon Chen, founding CEO of 6 Dimensions Capital and a member of Engine’s board of directors. “We expect the company’s AI platform will lead to insightful information in complex diseases’ pathways that was not previously possible using traditional wet lab-centric biology research and we are excited to support the team with our investment.”