Harvard spinout Nabla Bio nabs $11M for AI-driven antibody design

After a decades-long tenure as the so-called father of synthetic biology, George Church, Ph.D., has developed something of a Midas touch when it comes to biotech and medtech startups.

 Among the latest of the serial entrepreneur’s projects is Nabla Bio, which is developing an artificial intelligence-powered drug design platform to engineer next-generation antibody therapeutics and which counts Church as its academic co-founder.

Church and his team have gotten an early boost for the year-old company, with the close this week of an $11 million seed funding round. Khosla Ventures and Zetta Venture Partners co-led the financing, while Fifty Years, Cantos Ventures and other unnamed VC backers also joined in.

With the funding, Nabla Bio will be able to “design better antibodies using our AI-first drug design platform, expand our team and advance our current partnerships,” said Surge Biswas, Ph.D., the startup’s co-founder and CEO.

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As the Nabla team continues developing the platform, they’ll be combining AI-driven protein language modeling—a technique pioneered by Biswas in Church’s Harvard lab—with high-throughput multiplex antibody assay technology.

The platform’s ultimate goal is to create new antibody drugs that are specifically engineered both to address particularly challenging clinical targets and to be commercially viable, according to Frances Anastassacos, Ph.D., another of Nabla’s co-founders.

It’ll do so with the help of AI technology and wet-lab experimentation. The platform will analyze billions of antibody sequences and structures to build a “biophysical fingerprint” for 1 million new antibodies at a time, predicting the designs that’ll bind most securely to target pathogens. From there, the novel antibody sequences will undergo multiplex testing, with the results fed back into the platform’s AI to churn out a smaller number of synthetic antibodies comprising only the most promising qualities.

“Surge and his colleagues in George Church’s lab at Harvard were the first to apply modern natural language processing to protein modeling, and in five collaborations with large pharma and biotech, Nabla has shown that they have a best-in-class technology for multi-property protein optimization,” Dylan Reid, principal at Zetta Venture Partners, said in a statement. “This transformative approach will dramatically improve the quality of antibodies moving into the clinic and accelerate development.”

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Not only is Nabla far from Church’s only ongoing initiative using synthetic biology to improve commercially available therapeutics, but it’s not even the first one this year to rake in millions in early-stage funding.

In April, Rejuvenate Bio—which originated in co-founder Church’s lab—locked down $10 million in a series A round to advance its gene therapy to treat aging-related conditions like heart failure, kidney failure, Type 2 diabetes and obesity in humans, as well as heart disease in dogs.