Could protein engineers have built the next billion pound pharmaceutical company?


Peptone uses science to create the world’s first protein engineering operating system, combining AI and computational molecular physics. Above, a 3D illustration of proteins. Photo: Getty

Life comes to you quickly. At one point, Peptone, a computational biophysics company, had been rejected by more than 150 investors. From now on, it regularly receives approaches and offers to buy back from big institutional names.

The goal of the founders, Dr Kamil Tamiola and Dr Matthew Heberling, is to create better medicines and change the level of healthcare by translating the physics of complex proteins that dictate the functioning of the human body and other materials. .

This idea – a new theory of drug manufacturing – caused them to be reported by others in the market as the UK’s next potential £ 1billion venture.

Peptone uses science to create the world’s first protein engineering operating system, combining AI and computational molecular physics.

The “protein drug discovery engine” enables automated search for non-obvious protein variants with desirable therapeutic properties and cost-effective manufacture. The technology is already in use in a variety of preclinical and late stage protein therapy programs.

“Instead of looking for all these typical things that drug companies are doing, we can go upstream with these molecules and target the very beginning of a cascade of terrible things that make your body react to something. This is the superpower that we have, ”says Tamiola.

For 50 years, scientists have believed that for proteins to function in human cells, they must have structure and be folded. Google’s DeepMind AI tool, AlphaFold, has been seen as a giant leap towards determining the 3D shape of a protein from its amino acid sequence.

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Peptone approaches this problem from a different angle.

“There is a lot of protein in your body that has no structure, but is still biologically relevant,” says Tamiola.

These have so far been very difficult to study. The company’s mission is to facilitate this process and to understand how these types of proteins behave in diseases and life-changing drugs, not just their structure.

Proteins without structure are of particular interest when it comes to how inflammatory diseases, such as asthma or an allergic reaction, affect the body, Tamiola explains.

Combining physics, supercomputing and AI, Peptone’s systems can comb drug trial data and determine exactly where something went wrong – errors are often the result of an anomaly in a protein. Doing this can help prevent drug companies from making the same mistake twice or even resurrecting a drug that was previously thought to not work.

“Our dream is to create a sustainable business that markets a product as an approved medicine,” says Tamiola.

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Peptone raised $ 2.5million (£ 1.8million) from venture capital firms Hoxton Ventures seven months ago, from Hoxton’s second fund. Four weeks after the first fundraiser, the company produced data showing that its product actually worked. Months later, supercomputers are producing even more precise data than previous developments suggested.

“It has become evident that we have a good chance of becoming a pharmaceutical company on our own,” says Tamiola.

The money raised so far is used to build a laboratory in Switzerland, hire staff and possibly buy new computers to develop proprietary experimental techniques. Peptone’s long-term goal is to be able to conduct clinical trials on one’s own back.

Co-founders of Peptone.  Photo: Peptone

Peptone co-founders Dr Kamil Tamiola and Dr Matthew Heberling. Photo: Peptone

“We are professional dreamers. We think, design things in our head, and are patient. People think we’re crazy, but you build something and wait 25 years and find something like the Higgs boson, or you send someone to the moon, ”Tamiola explains.

“It’s a very different approach from the rest of the people in the market. We are not looking for instant gratification.

Another thing Tamiola also does differently from the other founders of the company – if you’re lucky, he might play you a Bach prelude on the piano at a business development meeting. He spent time at home during the pandemic both building the business and honing his baroque music performances, a skill he used to woo potential funders alongside supercomputers and development methods. drugs.

Peptone is entering a market with a lot of money to be made. According to Statista, at the end of 2020, the total global pharmaceutical market was valued at around $ 1.27 billion. This is a significant increase from 2001, when the market was valued at just $ 390 billion.

As for competition, another company in this field, tackling what Tamiola calls “inherently disordered proteins”, is New Equilibrium Biosciences. This company is led by Dr. Virginia Burger and was founded in 2019 to discover drugs to fight cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.

Since the first fundraiser, Peptone has opened a Series A fundraiser, which is currently oversubscribed.

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The startup has also already announced a collaboration with Nvidia (NVDA) at scale to meet the growing demand of the therapeutic protein market and has several other ongoing collaborations.

The founders say that in order to carry out its mission of bringing innovative new drugs to market, it is open to many different avenues, whether through an IPO or a PSPC deal or a merger.

And it’s not just the pharma world that this new technology could help change. “The application of the problem we are tackling goes far beyond just manufacturing drugs,” says Tamiola.

Peptone could potentially use the technology to make a product that helps heal wounds, create a new form of biodegradable detergent or lye, or use it in diagnostic blood tests.

Tamiola says the general theme of the collaborations the company has been discussing so far is the sustainability of goods.

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