Flagship launches Metaphore with $50M to mimic the molecular version of the owl butterfly

Owl butterflies amazingly ward off foes by disguising themselves as owls, thanks to wings that mirror the eyes of the woodland air predators.

Flagship Pioneering is looking to build a new class of therapies using the molecular version of that same strategy, launching Metaphore Biotechnologies with $50 million to tap into the potential of “biomimicry.” The overarching goal is to replicate the work of pharmacophores, chemical combination codes that guide the interaction between molecules that spur downstream behavior. 

Metaphore’s “MIMiC” platform takes molds of these pharmacophores and duplicates them, using machine learning to create novel compounds that can be aimed at specific targets and disease areas. The platform should theoretically allow Metaphore to develop treatments with whatever modality best suits the targets. 

“[W]e have developed a way of creating a mold around that molecular butterfly ... and with that mold, we can then start populating it with molecular fragments so that we get new versions,” CEO Lovisa Afzelius, Ph.D., said in an interview with Fierce Biotech. The roughly 30-person company will first aim the platform at developing treatments for autoimmune, metabolic and oncology indications. But Afzelius wouldn’t elaborate on when the first clinical candidates would be ready to spread their wings, saying only that the company was moving “rapidly towards the clinic” and working on a number of projects in parallel.  

Afzelius joined Flagship in 2020 after spending more than two years as a senior vice president at one of the firm’s companies, Repertoire Immune Medicines. She’s since been the co-founder and CEO at two other Flagship launched companies, Alltrna and Apriori Bio. Joining her at Metaphore is President Amanda Kay, who started as an operational partner at Flagship in January. Kay and Afzelius both previously worked together at Pfizer. 

Afzelius wouldn’t comment on Metaphore’s future fundraising plans or how much work $50 million affords the company, but described the sum as a “very solid financial enablement.” 

“And it allows us to bring forward ... this sort of broad range of pipeline projects moving forward,” she said.