Fungi funding: Hexagon Bio snags $61M to test drugs from fungi for cancer, infectious diseases

We all want to be the fungi. Hexagon Bio wants to be the fungi by using those organisms to create new treatments for cancer and infectious diseases, and investors are joining the party with $61 million.

That financing adds to the $47 million series A raised nearly a year ago to the day for a genomics database that discovers refined secondary metabolites and protein targets.

Slow down, what is that? Secondary metabolites, colloquially known as natural products, are small molecules made by bacteria, fungi and plants. About 49% of FDA-approved small molecule cancer drugs and 73% of antibiotics are derived from these secondary metabolites, Hexagon said at the time of its series A. 

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What Hexagon does is identify these natural products and their cognate proteins, the therapeutic targets, using genomic data, machine learning and synthetic biology. The startup claims its database of microbial genomes is "more than twice the size of all public databases" with thousands of new genomes being added each month. 

Hexagon's founding team is full of industry vets familiar with mining databases. Co-founder Brian Naughton, Ph.D., head of data, was a founding scientist at 23andMe, the DNA genetic testing company. Founding CEO Maureen Hillenmeyer, Ph.D., was director of the Genomes to Natural Products program at the Stanford Technology Genome Center.

"To date, the discovery of these small molecules has been limited to a tiny fraction of the earth’s microbes and hampered by a lack of mechanistic understanding of the intended drug targets,” Hillenmeyer said in a statement.

Nextech Invest led the financing. SoftBank and Casdin Capital joined the round with existing investors The Column Group, 8VC and Two Sigma Ventures.