At first blush, our investment in OneThree Biotech may seem out of place. We don’t have history as biotech or life sciences investors. But we do have lots of history working with founders who are using the latest in software and computer science to redefine how business gets done. As an investor, I want to back talented founders with counterintuitive points of view who are deploying powerful tech to fundamentally change large markets. That can be anything from a mobile technology that manages access to your home, the first cloud-native platform to enable a rethinking of the 401(k) market, or a fusion of AI and enterprise messaging to improve IT support. In OneThree’s case, it’s the deployment of artificial intelligence to bring much-needed efficiency and visibility into the desperately slow and jaw-droppingly expensive process of discovering and developing new drugs.
It only took one meeting to learn that Co-Founder Neel S. Madhukar, Ph.D. is that rarest of breeds — a brilliant scientist and a remarkably intuitive and clear-thinking business person. Neel and fellow Co-Founder Olivier Elemento, Ph.D., who is the Director of the Englander Institute for Precision Medicine at Cornell and a global leader in the field, are taking a big swing at OneThree, and they are well suited for it. The team is rounded out by fellow co-founders Coryandar Gilvary, Ph.D., a computational biologist and expert in machine learning, and Bradlay Pryde, a former tech startup CEO with a successful exit and experience building tech entities across multiple industries.
While many will argue there is already an overabundance of AI platforms trying to change the nature of drug discovery, nearly all of these existing companies are, in the words of many pharma and biotech researchers, black box technologies working to discover and predict outcomes without surfacing the underlying biology. Neel and Olivier started from the premise that if they could uncover why a compound has an impact on a given therapeutic condition they could unlock an enormous amount of both scientific and economic value. By understanding the mechanism of action of a compound — something that is left undone by the dozens of AI platforms that are screening huge volumes of compounds and predicting efficacy — OneThree is helping researchers design clinical trials that are radically more efficient and thus bringing valuable new therapeutics to market more quickly. And by changing the economics of the trials process, OneThree has the potential to unlock a whole new collection of compounds that might previously have been hard to justify putting into trials.
With OneThree, we believe the paradigm of discovery and trials in oncology first, and other therapeutic areas later, is moving away from throwing spaghetti against the wall to throwing darts at a bullseye. Neel is an objectively exceptional scientist who emerged as the star Ph.D. candidate from Olivier’s lab, one of the leading centers in the world for this sort of work. He possesses a unique amount of business intuition and market instincts, as well as being a top-notch communicator and evangelist for this important work.
We did not make this investment in the hopes and prayers of untested science. OneThree has already shown a powerful impact with a couple of compounds that were stuck in the midst of inefficient trials. The promise to expand that impact more broadly is a prospect that we feel wonderful about enabling with our capital. We are honored to be working with this team who has already drastically reduced the amount of time needed to generate validated insights — in one case, from four-plus years to a matter of months.
We are also grateful that, more immediately, OneThree is extending its resources in an effort to aid COVID-19 research. If you are (or know of) an academic or industry researcher working on small molecules treating COVID-19, the team is offering free compound toxicity screening using its validated AI platform.
Please find additional core details about the company below as we officially welcome the OneThree Biotech team to the Primary family!
At its core: Redesigning drug discovery through biology-driven AI
Its mission: Expedite the drug discovery process to uncover potential treatments for life-threatening illnesses in a matter of months, not years.
How: The company is initially focusing on uncovering the mechanisms of action (i.e. the biochemical process through which a drug produces its effect) for targeted cancer therapies, enabling the more efficient design of clinical trials and an increased likelihood of trial success.
Why now: As the pharma industry moves towards more targeted therapies and thus the need to develop a larger than ever volume of drugs, the existing R&D model is not sustainable. Pharma needs new technologies that will enable lower-cost development and trial processes to line up with the innovation and opportunity that is created by precision medicine.
The “it” factor: With roots at Cornell Tech/Weill Cornell Medical Center, the founding team has unique skills and market credibility in addition to access to unique resources that will support the realization of the OneThree model. And the early work has shown extraordinary promise — in one proof of concept a biopharma company achieved in three months what they had previously spent four years unsuccessfully investigating, thus unlocking the keys to developing a potential breakthrough treatment for certain types of brain cancer.