HONG KONG – Pharmcadd Co. Ltd., a developer of an artificial intelligence (AI) and physics-based drug discovery platform, bagged ₩17.3 billion (US$15.5 million) in its series B funding. This brings the total funds raised since its establishment to $22 million.

Huons Global Co. Ltd., Samyang Holdings Corp., SD Biosensor Inc. and Bionote Co. led the round as strategic investors, while KTB Network Co. Ltd., Daily Partners Co. Ltd., DSC Investment Inc., KDB Capital Corp., Maple Investment Partners Inc. and KB Securities Co. Ltd. took part as financial investors.

“We plan to use the funds not only to launch our U.S. and India-based branches but also to advance Pharmulator, our AI and physics-based drug discovery platform technology and expand our R&D manpower,” Taehyung Kwon, CEO and founder of Pharmcadd, told BioWorld. “The funding will also be used for preclinical studies for candidates in our drug development pipeline.”

Taehyung Kwon, founder and CEO, Pharmcadd

The large number of qualified molecular dynamics simulation and quantum calculation candidates in India was a big determinant in Busan, South Korea-based Pharmcadd’s decision to set up a branch in the country. The company is also planning to set up branches in the U.S. (Boston) and in France.

The funds will also help the company increase R&D and business development hires and participate in and partner with “internationally reputable” networking events.

Pharmcadd will channel the funds toward Pharmulator, its AI drug discovery platform that integrates five core modules, including protein 3D structure prediction, molecular dynamics simulation, quantum calculation, toxicity prediction and AI drug generation.

“We can generate potent but less toxic novel synthetic small molecules through Pharmulator,” Kwon explained. “By employing this platform technology, we can also actively expand collaboration in the proteolysis targeting chimeric (PROTAC), mRNA vaccine and drug delivery system fields.”

Data collection is also something the company does, with Protein Data Bank, Zinc and the European Bioinformatics Institute’s Chembl database being some of the public datasets the company not only downloads but refines and optimizes via in-house molecular dynamics simulation and quantum calculation. Other, more private datasets that it plans to tap are Pharmcadd’s collaborators’ clinical and disease databases.

The latest series B funding follows a ₩4.7 billion series A funding the company completed in July 2020, even amid a downturn in investor sentiment globally due to COVID-19.

Founded in March 2019, Pharmcadd is headed by Kwon, alongside fellow CEO Sangwook Wu, who also serves as the company’s chief technology officer. The pair selected Pharmcadd, or Pharmaceutical Computer Aided Drug Discovery, as the company’s name to reflect their goal of developing drugs using the computer and AI.

The company currently employs 50 people, 34 of whom form an R&D team comprising AI, molecular dynamics simulation, quantum calculation and biochemistry experts from multiple nations. There are also 17 PhDs within the company.

The company maintains a global outlook. “Although Pharmcadd is currently cooperating with other domestic biotech companies, we also hope to collaborate with global partners. We are developing our drugs not only for South Koreans but for the global population at large,” said Kwon.

The company already has achieved part of its goal by discussing the joint development of new drugs with global companies such as Merck & Co. Inc. and Eli Lilly and Co. during its participation in the 2020 BIO International Convention in June 2020 that took place digitally.

The series B funds will also be used for preclinical studies for candidates in Pharmcadd’s own drug development pipeline, which includes candidates in the cancer, novel oral anticoagulants and Alzheimer’s disease spaces.

The company is currently planning preclinical studies for those candidates. “Furthermore, we will engage in the whole process until the drug is licensed out to global biopharmaceutical companies,” said Kwon.

However, one project that is further along is a yet-to-be-named COVID-19 mRNA vaccine that the company is co-developing with Seoul, South Korea-based Eyegene Inc.

“We designed and optimized mRNA sequences for the vaccine, and Eyegene is now leading the project. We plan to file an investigational new drug application to start phase I/IIa trials within the third quarter of 2021,” said Kwon. The vaccine recently demonstrated a similar neutral antibody titer to the vaccine developed by Cambridge, Mass.-based Moderna Inc.

Currently, all the COVID-19 vaccines approved for emergency use in South Korea were developed outside the country. The Astrazeneca plc/University of Oxford-developed candidate was the first to receive approval in February 2021, followed by the Pfizer Inc./Biontech SE and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) candidates in March and April 2021, respectively.

Although Kwon declined to specify whether a series C funding round could be in the books for Pharmcadd, he confirmed that preparations for a listing in South Korea are well underway.

“We are currently prepping ahead of pre-IPO procedures in the fourth quarter of 2021, and plan to undertake due diligence and list within 2022,” he said.

Pharmulator’s five core models