The news: Monod Bio raised $25 million to develop molecular biosensors that light up when they bind their target. The sensors can be designed to detect molecules linked to disease and they also have potential for industrial applications.
The origins: Monod’s protein-based sensors are designed with “Rosetta” protein engineering software developed at the University of Washington’s Institute for Protein Design, which has been spinning out startups over the past few years. Monod and other IPD spinouts have collectively raised more than $1 billion.
The people: Co-founders include Daniel-Adriano Silva, CEO; Alfredo Quijano Rubio, chief scientific officer; and David Shoultz, chief operating officer. They are all veterans of IPD spinout Neoleukin Therapeutics. IPD head David Baker is also a co-founder.
The tech: The sensors emit a bioluminescent signal in the presence of a target. A publication in Nature showcased sensors recognizing the COVID-19 virus and molecules linked to cancer. Another target was Troponin, a molecule released by the body after a heart attack. A recent study in Nature Biotechnology harnessed the tech to detect COVID-19 antibodies.
Going deeper: Monod’s sensors rely on two protein components. One protein shifts from a closed to an open state upon target recognition, enabling it to bind the second protein. When the two bind, the sensor lights up. The light is emitted from luciferase, a light-emitting enzyme. The system is modular: the region that recognizes the target can be swapped out for another.
The targets: The company won’t disclose the targets it is developing. But one target is for health, involving biomarker detection in liquid, likely blood, said Silva. Another is for biotech applications.
What’s next: The 22-person team is putting in place computational and experimental methods for the design and optimization of their sensors, and a system to prepare them for commercialization. One need is to formulate the sensors for stability and optimize their performance.
“The target is to have all these pipelines put in place by the end of the year,” Silva told Startup. The team is also developing a cartridge for samples and a machine to read light from the biosensors.
Monod has operated since last November from CoMotion Labs on the UW campus, but has lined up a new location for its labs. It aims to move in and double its headcount by the end of the year.
The backers: The $25 million seed round was led by Matrix Capital, with participation from the Global Health Investment Corporation, Cercano Management (formerly Vulcan Capital), The Washington Research Foundation, Boom Capital Ventures, Sahsen Ventures, and Pack Ventures. A $6 million raise by the company previously reported by Startup is part of the $25 million.