CRISPR simulation upstart taps Celgene, Data Collective for cash

South San Francisco

Agenovir has landed investors befitting its position at the buzzy intersection of CRISPR/Cas9 and Big Data. Data Collective, a Big Data-focused VC shop, led the round with support from Celgene ($CELG), giving Agenovir a roster of financiers that reflects its attempts to use massive in silico simulations and CRISPR/Cas9 to tackle persistent viral infections.

South San Francisco, CA-based Agenovir, which got its start at Johnson & Johnson’s ($JNJ) incubator in the city, is underpinned by research carried out by Stephen Quake at Stanford University. That work, details of which were published in PNAS in 2014, entailed using CRISPR/Cas9 to destroy the genomes of Epstein–Barr viruses. By going after the genome itself, as opposed to trying to prevent active viral replication, Quake and his coauthor Jianbin Wang created an approach with the potential to wipe out virus populations that persist following treatment with traditional antivirals.

Agenovir has taken this therapeutic idea and paired it with an IT-driven method of identifying nucleases with the potential to cleave the genomes of target viruses. The nucleases are designed, engineered and tested in silico, enabling Agenovir to predict the likely effects of candidates--and consequences of any changes to those candidates--at what the company describes as a “massive scale.” Agenovir is yet to publicly disclose many details regarding the process, but it has proven sufficiently compelling to win over some notable names in both biotech and tech.

The involvement of Data Collective in the $10.6 million Series A adds to Agenovir’s tech credentials. Zachary Bogue and Matt Ocko, who list Facebook ($FB) and Uber among their previous investments, set up the fund in 2012 to support the surge in data-focused startups. In doing so, the pair enlisted the financial support and expertise of an initial group of 35 equity partners with hands-on experience of the field. The group has invested in many traditional tech companies but, in pursuing data-driven businesses in general, has also found itself in the biotech sector.

Long read startup Moleculo, another spinout from Quake’s lab, received funding from Data Collective in the brief period between opening its doors and being acquired by Illumina ($ILMN). Organism engineering upstart Ginkgo Bioworks and robotic lab player Transcriptic also list Data Collective as an investor.

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