Merck and ARTIS Ventures lead round for biotech aiming to ‘bridge the gap between small molecules and biologics.’
Biotech firm Unnatural Products (UNP) has secured $32 million in Series A funding to support the development of its platform that integrates artificial intelligence with chemistry to develop new molecularly targeted therapeutics. Headquartered in California, UNP focuses on macrocycles and cyclic peptides, which it believes present an opportunity to significantly expand the druggable genome.
Macrocycles are natural compounds found in our bodies, which have evolved to overcome challenges associated cell permeability and oral bioavailability, allowing them to engage complex targets with high specificity. Larger in size, and with favorable drug-like properties, macrocycles can target intracellular sites that are too complex for small molecules, and provide a viable, orally administered alternative to injectable antibody and biologic strategies.
UNP’s platform is built on the principles uncovered by researchers who explored how macrocycles function in nature. Through a combination of parallel experimentation and machine learning, the company is seeking to create entirely new drugs by engineering synthetic molecules that mimic macrocycles.
By leveraging a parallel chemistry and AI-driven platform to design synthetic macrocycles with drug-like properties, UNP aims to mirror the efficacy and selectivity of antibodies in an oral dosage form. The approach aims to address targets that were previously inaccessible or required injectable antibody and biologic strategies.
“Macrocycles are today where antibody therapeutics were a couple of decades ago,” said Cameron Pye, CEO of UNP. “We finally have the technologies to rapidly and reproducibly find and optimize macrocycles against any given target. I believe macrocycles will be as impactful to the pharmaceutical industry as the biologics revolution of the early 2000s.”
The round was led by Merck Global Health Innovation Fund and ARTIS Ventures, with participation from First Spark Ventures, The Venture Collective, Humain Ventures, LongeVC, Not Boring Capital and existing investors. The new funding will be used to further the development of UNP’s platform technology and broadening its scope to delve into novel therapeutic avenues.
“Macrocycles can be the best of both worlds – combining the binding and delivery of peptides with the oral delivery of small molecules,” said Vasudev Bailey, managing partner at ARTIS Ventures.
Merck Global Health Innovation Fund’s Managing Director, Prem Tumkosit, has also joined UNP’s board of directors.
“We look to partner with ‘next horizon’ technologies with the potential to impact patient care,” said Tumkosit. “We invest in the future of drug development by attempting to solve key technical challenges, opening up a world of possibilities that will only lead to better, more targeted solutions for patients suffering from a myriad of conditions.”