454 Life Sciences, Ion Torrent founder raises $40M for tech-enabled drug development shop

Jonathan Rothberg--Courtesy of Butterfly Network

Jonathan Rothberg, the Yale University entrepreneur who set up 454 Life Sciences and Ion Torrent, has raised $40 million to bankroll his next venture, a tech-enabled drug discovery shop. The startup, LAM Therapeutics, is aiming to leverage advances in genome editing, sequencing, computer science and artificial intelligence to make drug discovery cheaper and more precise.

LAM Therapeutics is far from the first startup to reel off a list of buzzy terms and make a big claim about overhauling drug discovery, but the involvement of Rothberg adds real substance to the hype. Rothberg is perhaps best known for founding 454 Life Sciences and Ion Torrent, developers of genome sequencing technologies that were respectively acquired by Roche ($RHHBY) and Life Technologies in deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Now, the serial entrepreneur is once again looking to apply sequencing and other technologies to drug discovery.

For Rothberg, the startup marks a return to drug development. Rothberg entered the field in 1991 when he founded CuraGen, which went through the ups and downs common to many biotechs before being bought by Celldex Therapeutics ($CLDX) for $94.5 million in 2009. CuraGen was at the forefront of efforts to tap genomics for drug development, but for most of the 25 years since setting up the firm, Rothberg has put his energy into tech projects, with RainDance Technologies rubbing shoulders with Ion Torrent and 454 on his résumé.

The lurch back toward drug development is a reflection of how much has changed since CuraGen was founded. "We built LAM Therapeutics from the ground up to transform the way we develop medicines. We are at an inflection point; DNA sequencing and computer science have both advanced over a million fold since our first attempts to create true genomics-based medicines," Rothberg said in a statement. "Now is the time to tackle our greatest challenges, including rare diseases and cancer, and we have the technological and computation power to get the job done."

LAM Therapeutics has been plugging away at the idea for more than two years, resulting in it having two drugs in Phase I. The drugs are being developed as treatments for lymphangioleiomyomatosis, a rare lung disease that is abbreviated to LAM, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. LAM Therapeutics has publicly provided few details of how it is using technology to discover these drugs and other assets, but the team it has put together has credentials. Henri Lichenstein, a former CuraGen VP, is CSO, while the scientific board is littered with big names from Yale, Harvard and other institutions.

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