Octant sets sail for new era of drug discovery with $80M funding, Bristol Myers partnership

Data-driven therapeutics company Octant Bio is exploring new frontiers of drug development with $80 million in-pocket and a freshly signed Big Pharma partnership.

Octant—a historical instrument used to navigate the oceans—is a fitting name for company founded on the idea of antedisciplinary science, or science that precedes the organization of new disciplines. With this philosophy, the company believes that its synthetic biology advances can chart a course for a new kind of biotech.

It's clearly convinced Catalio Capital Management, a firm with five successful IPOs to its name since it was founded in 2020. Catalio led Octant's series B funding round, which also included Bristol Myers Squibb and existing investors Andreessen Horowitz Bio Fund, Allen & Co. and 50 Years VC. The $80 million brings Octant’s total capital raised to date to $115 million.

The money will fuel the expansion of Octant’s next-generation drug discovery platform, centered on developing programmable biology and chemistry to build precision medicines for complex diseases. The company is working to generate extensive data that will help map out the links between drug candidates, genetics and biochemical mechanisms of human cells.

Bristol Myers has gone one step further on Octant's adventure by signing up to a partnership that will see the biotech’s deep mutational scanning technology used on a set of inflammation-related targets set by the Big Pharma.

“Immunogenetics and immunopharmacology are among the most complex areas in biology and drug discovery, with potential to impact countless patients,” Sri Kosuri, CEO and co-founder of Octant, said in an April 21 news release. “We're thrilled to work with Bristol Myers Squibb, a leader in immunology and genetics-driven drug development, to apply Octant's platform and leading, proprietary mutagenic scanning technologies to Bristol Myers Squibb’s foundational work for the benefit of patients around the world.”

It’s not just Octant setting sail—others have jumped onboard. George Petrocheilos, Catalio’s co-founder and managing partner, is joining Octant’s board as a director, while Catalio’s head of research, Diamantis Xylas, M.D., is joining as an observer, along with Bristol Myers' head of small molecule drug discovery, Mike Ellis, Ph.D.

Rick Artis, Ph.D., is taking the reigns as the biotech’s first chief scientific officer, responsible for chemistry function and drug discovery and development programs. Before joining the company in December 2021, Artis served as a senior vice president of chemistry for Annexon Biosciences and has held past roles at Chorum Pharmaceuticals, Elan, Plexxikon, Genentech and Syntex.   

World-renowned synthetic biology and functional genomics expert Feng Zhang, Ph.D., also recently joined Octant’s scientific advisory board. Mr. Zhang pioneered the development of genome editing tools, and studies the genetics and epigenetics of human diseases and disorders.

With fresh funds, a raft of industry expertise and the backing of a major pharma player, the Emeryville, California-based biotech is set to explore the outer edges of synthetic biology for some time to come.