It was 2012, and Doug Chapnick was fed up with traditional biochemistry research.
That kind of thinking first led him to a Department of Defense-funded project, which involved white powders and Rube Goldberg-esque experiments, and then to founding a biotech company called BioLoomics, which is trying to develop new protein degraders via directed evolution, or lab-based natural selection, in human cell experiments.
On Tuesday morning, BioLoomics announced an $8.7 million seed raise led by Innovation Endeavors, the Silicon Valley VC started by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
Famed Harvard University geneticist George Church also serves as a scientific advisor to the Boulder, CO-based company.
After finishing his PhD at the University of Colorado a decade ago, Chapnick sought out a non-traditional postdoc job at the university as the lead researcher on a research grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that aimed to develop a system to quickly identify bioterrorism threats.
“They would send us white powders — these bioterrorism threat simulants — and then we would stitch together existing technologies to make essentially a Rube Goldberg device … to figure out the mechanism of action of these drugs in 30 days,” Chapnick said. “You didn’t need to know anything about the drugs. You could make a bunch of measurements and say what it does and maybe what an antidote is.”
Over the years, those experiments evolved into what would become BioLoomics, which Chapnick describes as a “SynBio hardware-software company.” The biotech uses a machine learning program to look at millions of single cells — each essentially an individual experiment with the antibody — which are then picked, sorted and labeled with unique molecular barcodes.
“In one day, we go from a pot of 10 million tries of how an antibody should work to five- or six-barcoded that we know exactly, and we can track what that sequence does,” Chapnick said.
While the DARPA grant mostly dealt with small molecules (pills, powders and the like), BioLoomics will focus on protein degraders in cancer. Chapnick said the company has an early pipeline, and it also sees drug discovery partnerships as a major future business.
Chapnick said BioLoomics’ goal is to make a degrader from an antibody in one month; right now, BioLoomics has done so in about six months.
Last year, Innovation Endeavors hired Joel Dudley — formerly the CSO at Tempus and a lead researcher in a Mount Sinai study that found problems with Theranos’ blood tests — to steer its biotech investments. Dudley joined the BioLoomics board as part of the seed round.
Dudley said that Innovation Endeavors invested $4 million in BioLoomics. Dudley, who lives outside of Boulder, highlighted that the company was Innovation Endeavors’ second investment in the city after co-leading a $17 million seed round for Think Bioscience in July.
“Everybody’s only looking at the Bay Area and Boston — and maybe San Diego — for these kinds of companies,” Dudley said. “But I think it’s interesting that there are these other clusters emerging, and Boulder is one of the more interesting ones.”
Other investors in BioLoomics’ seed round included Horizons Ventures, TechU Ventures, Boom Capital Ventures, Hummingbird Nomads Fund, Cooley’s GC&H, BoxOne Ventures and Viswa Colluru — the founder of Boulder-based Enveda Biosciences and a scientific advisor to BioLoomics.
This content was originally published here.