Funding News: AI-Powered Drug Discovery Startup and Auto Safety Firm Raise Fund

Handol Kim, CEO of Variational AI. (Variational AI photo)

The news: Variational AI, a Vancouver, British Columbia-based company that leverages artificial intelligence to help develop new small-molecule drugs, has raised $ 3.5 million in seed funding.

The technique : Variational AI Enki The software generates new molecular structures using its algorithms trained on a set of molecules screened against drug targets from experimental and computer sources. The six-employee company focuses on the generation of small molecules and has partnerships with an undisclosed public biopharmaceutical company, the University of British Columbia and others.

Field: Advances in biomedical science and artificial intelligence have combined to spawn drug design and discovery efforts in recent years. Researchers train their machine learning engines on databases of drugs and their targets to help create new or improved compounds.

The people: CEO Handol Kim co-founded the company in 2019 with CTO Jason Rolphe and three of the company’s machine learning researchers, Ali Saberali, Mehran Khodabandeh and Zaccary Alperstein. Kim previously co-founded three other companies in the fields of mobile marketing and AI.

Take advantage of new tools: As part of its software, Variational AI will take advantage of tools developed by Alphabet’s DeepMind and the University of Washington Institute for Protein Design, led by David Baker. The tools have amazed scientists with their speed and accuracy in predicting protein folding. “We can rely on the innovations of Deepmind / Baker Lab since they shed light on new targets. Our approach generates new molecules that bind to these targets – so that helps us, ”Kim told Geekwire in an email.

Scramble with big players and newcomers: Companies that harness AI for drug discovery are focusing on different strategies. Seattle-based Cyrus Biotechology and A-Alpha Bio focus on therapeutic proteins with technology derived from IPD. Pharmaceutical companies have shown interest in new protein folding tools, and Alphabet this month launched Isomorphic Laboratories to exploit them in the discovery of small molecule and protein drugs.

Variational AI uses an approach similar to InSilico Medicine, Genesis Therapeutics and Valence Discovery, Kim said. Its software goes beyond extracting key compounds from existing databases, and instead generates new compounds with potentially improved properties. Variational AI gets the job done with less starting data, Kim said. Instead of licensing its platform, Variational AI aims to develop and license its own compounds.

Donors : Flying Fish Ventures, Alliance of Angels and A&E Investments led the funding round, with the participation of corporate advisers Lip-Bu Tan and Amarjit Gill. The new funding builds on $ 1 million (CAD) from the Digital Technology Supercluster, an innovation center funded by the Canadian government, and $ 210,000 (CAD) from angel investors and the Seed Fund. University of British Columbia (Saberali and Alperstein were graduate students of UBC).

The future: Digital variational AI will use the new funds to accelerate its discovery programs for COVID-19, cancer and other diseases and to hire employees in medicinal chemistry, chemistry and machine learning. It will also recruit a scientific council.

More offers:

Sumreen Rattan, CEO of Moment Energy. (Photo of energy of the moment)

Clean energy startup Moment Energy has raised $ 3.5 million. Wondering what will happen to all those batteries as electric vehicles wear out? Moment Energy has a plan: The Vancouver, BC-based startup is creating energy storage systems from recycled vehicle storage batteries.

“Moment Energy is uniquely positioned to address three important and rapidly growing global challenges: waste electric vehicle (EV) batteries, growing demand for energy storage and the global lithium shortage,” said Sumreen Rattan , co-founder and COO, in a press release. The other co-founders are Gabriel Soares and Gurmesh Sidhu, who previously worked with Rattan to design and create electric racing vehicles as part of a program at Simon Fraser University.

Version One Ventures led the round with the participation of Fika Ventures, Garage Capital and MCJ Collective.

PreAct Technologies has raised $ 13 million for technology to predict vehicle crashes and protect occupants. The Portland, Oregon-based startup uses near-field sensors to help sense a vehicle’s surroundings and respond, such as deploying airbags earlier and adjusting seat positions. The technology was originally developed to protect military vehicles from missiles.

PreAct also recently won a $ 1 million investment from New York State in a competition administered by NextCorps, a Rochester, NY-based business accelerator. The company plans to establish a manufacturing base in the state.

The funding round was led by State Farm Ventures, with participation from Elev8.VC, Gotham Partners, Traylor Capital, Stargazer Ventures and others. Funding is based on a $ 1.6 million round in December.

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