The vast majority of FDA-approved drugs target proteins, which makes sense because “they’re the machinery inside cells that make your body work,” says Sujal Patel, co-founder and CEO of Nautilus Biotechnology. What doesn’t make sense, he says, is we haven’t figured out a way to effectively measure proteins the same way we measure genes.
That’s where his company comes in. Nautilus is uncloaking with a $76 million series B round to do for proteomics—the study of proteins—what companies like Illumnina did for genomics.
“Genomics is a field that we have conquered over the last couple of decades,” Patel told FierceBiotech. “Today, if I take a drop of blood, or some cells, and I want to extract the DNA, read the DNA and know what the genome is, it’s very easy to do. Companies like Illumina have commoditized genomic analysis.”
“Proteomics is lagging that sort of commoditization. Proteome analysis is incomplete, very time-consuming and expensive. It’s not very reproducible,” he added.
Nautilus is working on a low-cost platform for analyzing and quantifying the human proteome. The series B haul comes from Vulcan Capital, Perceptive Advisors, Bezos Expeditions, Defy Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, Bolt and Madrona Venture Group and brings the company’s total raise to over $100 million. It will use the cash to ramp up development of the technology and hire workers in various disciplines across science and engineering. It plans to double its team of 50 in the next 18 months, Patel said.
It’s a mission with unique challenges. But Patel, along with his co-founder, Stanford University professor Parag Mallick, Ph.D., thinks the time is ripe to tackle those challenges because of how much technology has advanced.
The platform is designed to have single-molecule specificity: “If there is one molecule in the solution, we want to be able to find it. A key piece of the innovation was making that possible,” Mallick said.
Another piece was machine learning. Instead of tacking it on at the end to analyze measurements, Nautilus incorporates it in the measuring process, he said.
Its first use case, like Illumina’s, will be research applications, the duo said. Once Nautilus gets its platform up and running, it plans to sell it to biopharma companies looking to speed up and improve the success rate of drug development, diagnostics companies and researchers who are studying proteins in different organisms, Patel said.