Creyon joins wave of AI biotechs with $40M to create 'on demand' RNA-based medicines

Creyon Bio wants to create drugs "on demand" for patient populations that consist of one person with a rare disease, or "millions" of people with common diseases—and a $40 million series A will help get that mission underway. 

The new biotech is the latest to tout artificial intelligence and machine learning as the future of drug development, which inspired investors to buy in. Creyon wants to create oligonucleotide-based medicines using machine learning models that it claims are "orders-of-magnitude more efficient" than traditional trial-and-error screening, the startup said upon unveiling Tuesday. Oligonucleotides, or oligos, are short single strands of synthetic RNA or DNA.

Founders of the San Diego biotech are two Ionis Pharmaceuticals alums: President and CEO Chris Hart, Ph.D., and Chief Scientific Officer Swagatam Mukhopadhyay, Ph.D. Hart was previously executive director of functional genomics at Ionis until founding Creyon in October 2019, according to his LinkedIn bio. Mukhopadhyay jumped to Creyon in January 2020 after serving as principal computational biologist at Ionis. 

Creyon—a name that appears to be a play on the iconic Crayola crayons, also as evidenced by the stenciled design of its logo—will build an internal pipeline of meds across a variety of drug modalities. This includes antisense oligonucleotides, small interfering RNA, DNA and RNA editing systems and others, the startup said.

The biotech, which also has a location in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, thinks it can eventually create precision medicines on demand so there is "no gap between diagnosis and treatment," Mukhopadhyay said in a statement. 

Joining Hart and Mukhopadhyay are Chief Strategy Officer Nathan Billings, Ph.D., and Chief Technology Officer Monica McArthur, Ph.D. Billings previously was director of intellectual property at Indigo, an agriculatural tech company, and McArthur spent nearly nine years at Google, where she ended as a senior staff software engineer. 

The seed and series A financing included DCVC Bio, Lux Capital, Casdin Capital, Alexandria Venture Investments and BioBrit. 

While AI and machine learning have typically been more associated with medical technology, like diagnostics and screening tools, it's made a surge into biotech through startups like Exscientia and Quris. 

One of the top medtech initial public offerings of 2021, with a $350 million raise in October, Exscientia has penned AI pacts with multiple drug developers, including a Sanofi tie-up worth billions of dollars. Google's owner, Alphabet, is also jumping into the drug discovery world with an AI company named Isomorphic Laboratories to partner with drugmakers. More recently, AI was at the center of the launch of Seismic Therapeutic, an autoimmune-focused biotech from Pandion Therapeutics' founders.