Privately held Pepticom Ltd., of Jerusalem, completed a $5 million series A fundraising, allowing it to use artificial intelligence (AI) in helping research centers, pharma and agriculture companies discover advanced peptide-based drug candidates.
"The vision that drew everyone is the potential to disrupt the peptide discovery market using a technology that is able to cover a huge chemical space while de-risking the next stages of development," Maayan Elias, Pepticom's business development officer, told BioWorld.
The series A will help the company develop new AI models to help in the search for new candidates. Saving time and money in the process is part of Pepticom's vision. Using AI, with biology and pharma technology at its core, to search a vast set of possible solutions reduces the risk of failing in a development effort.
Weeding out the nonviable molecules early in the process is key. The company can examine a chemical space of 1,030 possible molecular options in a search by examining the three-dimensional structure of a target protein.
"The platform combines several algorithms with force field chemistry and molecular mechanics in a reinforcement learning methodology, machine learning/AI, in order to search the space and identify the best peptide drug candidates for a certain problem disease," Elias said.
Discovering innovative peptides is nearly impossible without a natural ligand to start with, Elias continued, as current display techniques can cover 10^9-13 of the possible solution space, which leaves many potential drugs undiscovered. Pepticom's computational technology, she added, can cost-effectively cover up to 10^30 possible solutions.
Pepticom's platform is already active in several projects, including in-house ventures and agricultural companies, including Adama Agricultural Solutions for crop protection research, the University of Oxford, and Targetex Biosciences.
As a class, peptide drugs can work on different targets for various diseases, mainly metabolic disease, autoimmune disease and oncology, Elias said. They comprise small proteins composed of natural and non-natural amino acids and have higher specificity than regular drugs, bringing with them a better safety profile and fewer side effects, she added. The biggest peptide discovery and implementation is insulin but other natural hormones that have been discovered and modified include oxytocin, gonadotropin-releasing hormones, vasopressin and glucagon-like peptide 1.
Other companies in the peptide discovery market include Peptidream Inc., of Kanagawa, Japan, which disclosed a new peptide-drug conjugate (PDC) collaboration agreement with Novartis AG, of Basel, Switzerland, in July. Peptidream will use its Peptide Discovery Platform System technology for the identification of macrocyclic/constrained peptides for use as PDCs against multiple targets of interest selected by Novartis. Novartis will have exclusive rights to the program peptides for radionuclide payloads/conjugates and certain small-molecule payloads/conjugates, for both therapeutic and diagnostic uses. Peptidream has also collaborated with Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., Eli Lilly and Co., Genentech Inc. and Shionogi & Co. Ltd.
Pepticom was founded eight years ago by PhD grads from Hebrew University from various disciplines. It was the Pepticom management team that took the company from the basement stage to the completion of the series A and signing several collaboration deals with leading companies, Elias said. Pepticom, whose name is derived from "peptides combined with advance technology," now has six employees, but it plans on hiring more in the near future. Current management includes Immanuel Lerner, a company co-founder and biologist who has worked in neurobiology, immunology and cancer research, and Amit Michaeli, another co-founder and the designer of the company's technology. Michaeli has been a researcher at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The company's chief biologist is Shaul Mezan, who has a PhD from Hebrew University in brain RNA metabolism and circadian rhythms. Mezan manages the company's research lab at Hebrew University.
Pepticom's technology was licensed from Yissum, which is Hebrew University's technology transfer company.
The series A was led by the Chartered Group, a private equity company focused on development in Europe and Asia.