Sherlock Bio uncovers additional series A money for $49M total

In addition to funding, Baidu Ventures offers access to cloud-computing resources and datasets for training machine learning systems. (Pixabay)

Sherlock Biosciences has hounded down an extra $13.5 million for the series A round it launched late last month, and has brought on investors it says will provide artificial intelligence and deep learning support as it develops new, CRISPR-based molecular diagnostics.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company began with $35 million—half in the form of a $17.5 million grant from the Open Philanthropy Project—plus two gene editing technologies licensed from Harvard University and the Broad Institute, alongside a team of co-founders that includes CRISPR pioneer Feng Zhang, synthetic biologist Jim Collins and Illumina co-founder David Walt.

The additional investments, which bring Sherlock’s total committed capital up to $49 million, were led by Northpond Ventures and Baidu Ventures, a firm that specializes in AI- and data-driven companies. In addition to funding, Baidu offers technical advice as well as access to cloud-computing resources, data sets for training machine learning systems and annotation staff that can help companies build out their models.

“Their support will be vital as we work to harness and direct the power of our SHERLOCK and INSPECTR platforms to develop rapid and more effective diagnostic tests through Engineering Biology and Deep Learning tools that can be performed anywhere, such as testing in the field or home,” Rahul Dhanda, Sherlock’s co-founder, president and CEO, said in a statement.

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The eponymous SHERLOCK, for Specific High-sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter unLOCKing, is one of the company’s core diagnostic technologies, and serves as a method for identifying specific sequences of genetic material in a sample using CRISPR Cas13a. This could include genes present in the Zika virus, among other targets.

Meanwhile, the versatile INSPECTR platform, or INternal Splint-Pairing Expression Cassette Translation Reaction, can be programmed to identify targets from a single nucleotide—and can be performed at room temperature on a paper-based system, without specialized laboratory equipment, the company said.

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Sherlock sees potential applications in oncology, infectious disease and agriculture, in settings ranging from low-resource areas to at-home testing, through its synthetic biology and deep learning work.

But the hopes of your headline-writer—for a possible collaboration in AI-powered drug discovery with IBM—were dashed earlier this month, after Big Blue said it would wind down its Watson efforts in that particular space.

However, while Sherlock has said that part of its series A financing will be directed toward product development, the company is very focused on inking new research partnerships.

Its specific in-house programs remain a mystery for now, and will depend on what the company opts to team up on. The company said it is fairly deep into partnering conversations, but could not yet disclose who those will be.