It has been a record year as far as venture capital flowing into the sector is concerned. With the curtain about to close on 2018, about $16.5 billion has been raised globally. The positive mood that is currently prevailing among investors has not been lost on Cambridge, Mass.-based Relay Therapeutics Inc.'s president and CEO Sanjiv Patel who told BioWorld last year, following its $63 million series B financing round, that the company will continue to watch the markets for potential opportunities to generate more cash to help advance its oncology pipeline toward the clinic and expand its operations into other promising therapeutic areas. (See BioWorld, Dec. 15, 2017.)
Exactly one year later the company announced it had raised a whopping $400 million in a series C financing, a record amount for this stage of funding, and put an exclamation point on what has been an incredible year for private biotech companies and their ability to attract cash.
The financing was led by the Softbank Vision Fund and included participation from additional new investors including Foresite Capital, Perceptive Advisors and Tavistock Group. Existing investors GV, Casdin Capital, BVF Partners, Ecor1 Capital, an affiliate of D. E. Shaw Research, and Alexandria Venture Investments also participated in the round.
According to Patel, the company is able to visualize proteins in motion, the missing fourth dimension that opens the door to a powerful way of conducting drug discovery. Prior approaches to imaging proteins have been limited to static pictures. The company is at the nexus of increasing computing power and sophisticated experimental methods such as temperature X-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy that allows the creation of high definition images of a protein both in the normal and mutated state, which occurs in disease. This allows researchers to determine if there are any differences in the molecule's behavior.
Given this insight, Patel told BioWorld, it allows them to design small molecules to bind to the protein to stabilize it back to its normal optimal confirmation.
This was the driving force behind the creation of the company two years ago, which exited stealth mode in September 2016, raising $57 million in a series A round. Since that time, the company has been concentrating on very early programs in oncology and protein targets that have previously been considered undruggable.
The validation that this approach works has given impetus to Relay's next phase of development. Proceeds from the series C financing will support the expansion of the company's early stage discovery efforts, advance its existing oncology programs into the clinic and invest in broadening its computational platform and tools.
In addition, their expertise in this exciting new area will allow the company to apply it to other therapeutic areas, Patel noted.
The company is also planning to expand its scientific staff from the present 70 to 100 and it is also preparing to move to a new purpose-built 45,000 sq. ft. facility in the Cambridge, Mass. area next year.
"We are right at the start in the evolution of new drug discovery where we can realize the promise of integrating ever more powerful experimental techniques and computational discovery tools," Patel added.