U of T alumni startup Atomwise raises $6 million to leverage artificial intelligence for drug discovery
Developed through Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator and U of T’s Impact Centre
Atomwise has already used its technology to explore possible drugs for treatment of Ebola, replicating in the above image (image courtesy Atomwise)
Atomwise, an alumni startup harnessing artificial intelligence for drug discovery in diseases ranging from malaria to multiple sclerosis, has raised US$6 million in seed funding.
The Wall Street Journal reports that investments came from a collection of science-focused venture capital firms, including Data Collective and AME Cloud. Atomwise also recently announced partnerships with industry players including Merck, Notable Labs and Harvard Medical School following participation in the prestigious Silicon Valley accelerator program, Y Combinator. (Read more about Atomwise at Y Combinator)
“Today medicines take about 12 years and $2.9 billion to develop. By eliminating vast swaths of experiments, we can make the drug discovery process faster, cheaper and better,” said Abraham Heifets, CEO and co-founder of Atomwise (formerly Chematria).
Influential startup-focused blog TechCrunch reported that “the system uses a specialized algorithm to run through millions of molecular structures in order to pin down the most likely combination for certain diseases,” adding that co-founder Alex Levy explained the process as similar to that of a brain’s neural network.
Atomwise received support early on from U of T’s Impact Centre, through its Techno program – part of a vast network of entrepreneurship support at the university, known today as the Banting & Best Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. (Read more about entrepreneurship at U of T)
The Impact Centre's Techno program was created to ensure graduate students and alumni have the skills and mentorship necessary to bring this kind of technology out of the university. Since 2010, Techno has supported the creation and development of over 70 companies, many of which continue to receive mentorship and other support from the Impact Centre team. (Read more about Techno)
Atomwise went on to further develop through Y Combinator in Silicon Valley, where it was named one of the top 10 startups of its cohort by TechCrunch.
“Pharmaceutical companies spend billions trying to discover new drugs,” wrote TechCrunch’s Josh Constantine. “Whether it charged a licensing fee for its technology or monetized its discoveries directly, Atomwise could make a fortune while making us healthier.”
Richard McAloney, director of technology management and entrepreneurship at the Impact Centre, said Atomwise has made tremendous strides since it first joined the U of T program.
“Abraham Heifets and the Atomwise team provide a fantastic example of the Impact Centre’s mission and the goals of our Techno program to bring science to society. I am confident that they will impact the world in a big way,” said McAloney.
Atomwise has also participated in The Next 36 and U of T's Creative Destruction Lab program at the Rotman School of Management and received significant grants from Grand Challenges Canada. The company’s projects on Ebola, malaria, measles and more have been featured in such outlets as Mashable and CTV.
Upon acceptance into Y Combinator, Heifets said he was excited to take on the challenges ahead:
“When you know that people's lives are at stake, it's easy to work hard. That's one of the benefits of working in medicine.”