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David Baker, head of Seattle’s Institute for Protein Design, launches London biotech startup – GeekWire


IPD director David Baker. (IPD Photo)

Prolific biotech co-founder and University of Washington scientist David Baker, head of the UW Institute for Protein Design, has launched a new company.

Charm Therapeutics, based in London, harnesses deep learning to uncover new compounds against targets for cancer and other therapeutic areas. The company this week announced $50 million in Series A financing.

Baker is a scientific co-founder along with CEO Laksh Aithani, previously a machine learning engineer at drug discovery company Exscientia and founder of Genei, another computationally-powered biotech company.

Charm Therapeutics’ deep learning platform, DragonFold, was developed by Baker and Aithani, according to a statement announcing the launch of the new company Thursday.

DragonFold is designed to find new small molecule therapeutics against protein targets. Such small molecules have the potential to interfere with proteins in the body that control everything from cell division to cell growth.

The tool can predict the co-crystal structure of a protein bound to a small molecule. And as input it needs only the chemical structure of the small molecule and the sequence of the protein.

A protein (purple) interacting with a small molecule ligand (green) in DragonFold. (Charm Image)

Baker’s 100-person lab at the UW has been the source of multiple protein design spinouts based in Seattle. Baker has previously co-founded nine companies and advises 18 others, according to IPD’s website.

IPD spinouts include Neoleukin Therapeutics, whose fully-engineered compound for solid tumors is in early clinical trials; Cyrus Biotechnology, which partners with other biopharma companies to design drugs, and vaccine company Icosavax, which raised $180 million in its IPO last summer.

Last winter, IPD’s deep learning tool RoseTTAFold, developed by Minkyung Baek and her colleagues, took home Science magazine’s Breakthrough of the Year award. That tool and another by Alphabet’s DeepMind, stunned scientists with their speed and accuracy at predicting how proteins fold into three dimensions.

But DragonFold is a completely different model than either RoseTTAFold or DeepMind’s tool, Aithani told Endpoints News.

Baker’s spinouts join a growing list of biotech companies leveraging computational tools for drug development. Alphabet spun out Isomorphic Labs to leverage DeepMind’s software for drug design last November, and last spring Insitro landed $400 million in venture funding and Recursion pulled in $436 million in its IPO.

Charm’s Series A funding round was led by F-Prime Capital and OrbiMed. Other participants were General Catalyst, Khosla Ventures, Braavos and Axial.


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