New AI drug discovery powerhouse Xaira rises with $1B in funding

If you asked an AI to generate a brand-new drug discovery biotech with a team of some of the biggest names in the biz for you, it couldn’t dream up one like Xaira Therapeutics.

The company emerged Tuesday with $1 billion in committed funding—that’s billion with a B—incubated by Arch Venture Partners and Foresite Labs with none other than Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Ph.D., former chief scientific officer at Genentech, at the helm.

Beyond the two incubators, the financing included F-Prime, NEA, Sequoia Capital, Lux Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners and others.

“This creates an enormous opportunity for us to rethink drug discovery entirely. For this reason, Xaira is the largest initial funding commitment in ARCH history,” said Robert Nelsen, Arch Venture Partners’ managing director, in a Tuesday evening statement.

Headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area, Xaira will combine machine learning, data generation and therapeutic product development to build a platform for drug discovery. The company was co-founded by David Baker, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and director of the Institute for Protein Design at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Also on staff will be the researchers who developed models for protein and antibody design called RFdiffusion and RFantibody in Baker’s lab.

The biotech will use these models to develop new ways to connect biological targets and engineered molecules to human diseases.

Also part of the new company will be technologies and personnel who were spun out of Illumina’s functional genomics R&D effort, plus a proteomics group from Interline Therapeutics.

“In starting Xaira, we have brought together incredible multidisciplinary talent and capabilities at the right time to reimagine our entire approach, from drug discovery to clinical development,” said Vikram Bajaj, Ph.D., Foresite Labs CEO and managing director of Foresite Capital.

Tessier-Lavigne will be at the top of the chain. He most recently served as president of Stanford University, but resigned last year after allegations of research manipulation were confirmed by a panel review. The allegations were originally reported in the student newspaper, The Stanford Daily. The review found no evidence that Tessier-Lavigne was aware of the research misconduct that had been occurring in his lab.

“In my previous roles, I witnessed an earlier generation of technologies fundamentally change drug discovery, delivering new medicines that alleviate the burden of disease for many patients,” Tessier-Lavigne said in a statement.

“Now, witnessing how AI is impacting other industries and the considerable progress in applications of AI in biology, I believe we are poised for a revolution. Xaira is in a strong position to both advance fundamental AI research and translate these advances into transformative new medicines, and I am excited to have the opportunity to lead the team.”

Also joining the Stanford alum is Hetu Kamisetty, Ph.D., previously of Facebook parent Meta and the Institute for Protein Design, and Arvind Rajpal, Ph.D., who ran large molecule drug discovery at Roche’s Genentech.

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., Nobel laureate Carolyn Bertozzi, Ph.D., and former Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky are just a few of the who’s who of industry veterans who will sit on Xaira’s board.