The founders of Pandion Therapeutics have wasted no time in setting up another biotech in the months after a $1.9 billion exit to Merck in spring 2021. With the help of Harvard billionaire professor Timothy Springer, Ph.D., and other academic founders, Jo Viney, Ph.D., and Alan Crane are now putting up the open sign for Seismic Therapeutic with $101 million to start off.
That funding will bankroll preclinical development for two main autoimmune programs and an expansion of Seismic's proprietary machine learning algorithm. With an in-house artificial intelligence and ML program, Seismic thinks it's a step ahead of the biotech competition that has to partner up for those capabilities.
The Watertown, Massachusetts, biotech will go after "both arms" of adaptive immunity, including immunoglobulin- and cell-mediated autoimmunity, the company said.
"It’s a magic moment in machine learning and the application to drug discovery," said Viney, who wears the co-founder, president and CEO hats for Seismic, in an interview. Viney joined the new biotech in October 2021 to team up with Crane, who co-founded Pandion with her in 2017. Within weeks of her coming onboard, Seismic had closed the series A financing, she said.
Viney declined to disclose details on timing of clinical entry, targeted indications and other milestones.
Laying the groundwork for Seismic are multiple former buddies of Viney and Crane. The duo's leadership team is entirely from Pandion. This includes Chief Technology Officer Nathan Higginson-Scott, Ph.D.; Senior Vice President of Immunology Kevin Otipoby; Chief Medical Officer Johny Sundy, M.D., Ph.D.; and Chief Financial Edward Freedman. They're part of a 14-person staff that will double or triple in headcount this year, Viney said.
It appears the cohort of ex-Pandions did not want to stay at Merck after the New Jersey pharma dished out nearly $2 billion to acquire the 2018 Fierce 15 biotech in February 2021. The deal revolved around a phase 1b drug that aims to expand regulatory T cells to treat autoimmune diseases like ulcerative colitis.
“That was my first foray into the startup world, and it was a little bit too short for me," Viney said of her time as co-founder, president and chief scientific officer at Pandion. She is also on the boards of Harpoon Therapeutics, Finch Therapeutics and Graphite Bio.
The two main scientific founders for Seismic are Debora Marks, Ph.D., an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, and Springer. The latter is also a Harvard Medical School professor and is a founding investor in Moderna and Editas. Springer also helped launch 2021 Fierce 15 biotech Tectonic Therapeutic, Scholar Rock and Morphic Therapeutic. Notice the geographic symbolism across Springer's startups.
Lightspeed Venture Partners led the series A, which included seed investors Springer and Polaris Partners. New investors include GV (formerly Google Ventures), Boxer Capital, Samsara BioCapital, founders and management.