Decentralising biotech – Molecule raises $12.7 million in seed funding

Opening up longevity research with collaborative communities that share the risks – and the rewards.

The decentralised science platform Molecule has announced it has raised $12.7m in seed funding. Led by Northpond Ventures, the round included participation from Shine Capital, 1kx, Fifty Years, KdT Ventures, BACKED VC, Inflection VC, Chris Leiter, Balaji Srinivasan, Zee Prime Capital, The LAO, L1 Digital, Boom Capital, Compound VC, Koji Capital, Pillar VC, Seedclub Ventures, Speedinvest, Healthspan Capital, BoxGroup, among others. This leave Molecule one step closer to its aim of creating a more equitable future for researchers and patients.

Longevity.Technology: While the biopharma industry has come a long way, many challenges remain, such as difficulty in aligning incentives of key stakeholders. Additionally, while many therapeutics are discovered in academic labs, funding in academia is preferentially allocated to established researchers and research fields, and this can be to the detriment of early career researchers and higher risk projects. The result is an ecosystem where potentially impactful research goes unfunded, and incentives for collaboration are often missing.

Molecule aims to address these incentive problems and funding gaps. by creating an open ecosystem that assists researchers in raising funds for impactful research projects in a community-driven way. With Molecule, diverse communities (including patient groups, researchers, charities, VCs and pharma companies) can fund, own and govern therapeutic intellectual property. This provides novel incentives for collaboration, investment, and risk-sharing. The result is that communities, such as patient groups, can choose which projects get funded, and later own the therapeutics that treat their disease.

The Molecule ecosystem is based around three components:

  • Communities – physicians, scientists and patients collaborating to form funding groups in specific therapeutic areas such as rare diseases and Alzheimer’s disease. These groups are structured as Decentralized Autonomous Organisations (DAOs) which allow for community governance and shared financial decision-making. Molecule seeds DAOs in impactful therapeutic areas, such as VitaDAO, a community of 5,000+ members focused on aging and longevity that has funded >$2m in projects in academic labs across the world.
  • New Intellectual Property primitive – Molecule has created a new legal primitive for intellectual property (IP) ownership called IP-NFTs that allows communities to invest in early stage research IP. IP-NFTs allow researchers to fundraise without needing to patent early or create a start-up.
  • A marketplace to enable direct investment into researchers’ work: Molecule is building a marketplace for biotech IP. Researchers at any career stage submit projects for funding, increasing discoverability of neglected research areas, and addressing key funding gaps.

The result is innovative therapeutics are brought to market in a more efficient, transparent and equitable way.

‍”Many of the most impactful therapeutics are discovered in academic labs, yet development and translation of these assets toward the clinic remains difficult,” said Patrick Malone, MD PhD, Associate at Northpond Ventures. “Molecule’s marketplace and IP-NFT framework will address many of the pain points inherent in the funding and commercialization of early-stage biotech IP, ultimately benefiting the most important stakeholder in the Molecule ecosystem – the patient. Northpond is excited to partner with Molecule and lead their seed round.”

Molecule: what’s to come

The capital raised will be used to grow Molecule’s marketplace with hundreds of research projects, expand the team, build out the company’s protocol and tech layer into an open infrastructure, as well as providing grants to patient-centric biotech DAOs to expand its DeSci ecosystem. Molecule also hopes to out-license the first NFT-based IP to industry, demonstrating for the first time patient-led translational drug development.

‍“Scientific research today suffers from a myriad of funding and intermediation issues, making it a ripe candidate for disruption by blockchain-based infrastructure,” said Lasse Clausen, Founding Partner of 1kx. “We’re incredibly excited for Molecule to improve capital & social coordination for the massive life science industry by enabling markets for drug development and turning all stages of intellectual property into liquid assets.”

“Many of us are tired of hearing about NFT monkeys selling for millions,” said Seth Bannon, Founding Partner at Fifty Years. “‍Molecule is using the NFT framework for something truly important: helping incredible scientific research transition from the lab bench to the benefit of all. Molecule’s work will help more life-saving drugs get to patients. That’s an application of web3 that’s easy to get excited about.”

To truly decentralise adoption, Molecule is also building accelerator frameworks for the frictionless launch of biotech DAOs targeting specific diseases of high unmet need, such as rare diseases and mental health. The company sees a future where scientists raise funds from incentive-aligned communities that wish to support them, and where patients themselves have governance over how therapeutics are researched, developed and accessed.‍

“The operational complexity, significant time, and prohibitive cost required to develop biotechnology therapeutics has led to an industry that is dominated by capital providers and captured by pharmaceutical companies,” said Mo Koyfman, Founder and General Partner of Shine Capital. “Molecule is flipping biotech on its head, bringing stakeholders together at inception to initiate projects, keeping scientists at the center of their innovations, and pushing projects forward that typically would not see the light of day in the current market structure. Molecule has the opportunity to change the face of biotech forever by helping to bring novel drugs and therapeutics to those who are most invested in them. Molecule and its visionary team can finally ensure that we privilege innovation in healthcare.”

The journey since inception

Since its pre-seed in early 2020, Molecule’s team has grown to 22 members spread across the US, South-Africa and Europe, operating in a semi-remote fashion. Over these past few years, the company has funded a first group of projects, and helped build the first biotech DAO – VitaDAO – which has deployed $2m+ to fund longevity research to date, including research at the Scheibye-Knudsen Lab (University of Copenhagen), Viktor Korolchuk’s Lab (University of Newcastle) and the Evandro Fang Lab (University of Oslo) all using Molecule’s IP-NFT framework. Molecule’s hope is that DeSci will provide a Copernican shift in access to therapeutics, of similar magnitude to what DeFi has become for traditional finance.

“Programmatic IP rights represented as NFTs are a breakthrough innovation with the potential to solve some of humanity’s most pressing (incentive) problems,” said Alexander Lange, Founding GP at Inflection VC. “We believe that Molecule is a category defining project which will inspire a wave of innovators bringing the concept of collective ownership and liquid IP markets into various areas of R&D. We’re grateful for having been part of Molecule’s journey since inception and couldn’t be more excited about what’s to come.”

Photograph: Molecule