Hexagon Bio, a Menlo Park, California–based company trying to develop drugs from natural defense compounds secreted by fungi, has raised $47 million in series A financing. The funds will be used to further develop the company’s drug discovery platform and to build out its discovery team, CEO Maureen Hillenmeyer says.
The 26-person company just hired oncology drug discovery expert Tod Smeal to be its chief scientific officer.
Hexagon, one of C&EN’s 10 Start-Ups to Watch in 2018, uses a combination of genomics and computational biology to find fungal toxins that might serve as starting points for drugs for cancer and infectious diseases.
Hillenmeyer says there are about 5 million species of fungi, many of which protect themselves by secreting potent toxins that can enter other cells. An example of this is penicillin. But as fungi develop these toxins, they also mutate the protein target within their own cells to prevent accidental self-poisoning.
Humans and fungi have about 6,000 genes in common, so by searching the millions of fungal genomes for toxins and the mutated target protein, Hexagon scientists can suggest which human protein the toxin would target and then develop the toxin into a drug.
About 5,000 fungal genomes are already sequenced and available, so Hexagon is sequencing many of the remaining genomes and feeding those data through its computational system.
Hillenmeyer says the firm is still sifting through anticancer candidates. But fungal toxins check two important boxes in drug discovery: they’re effective, and they can enter cells.
In addition to its work in oncology, Hexagon is also looking for antifungals to treat secondary infections.
This story was updated on Sept. 17, 2020, to correct the location of Hexagon Bio. The firm is based in Menlo Park, California, not Cambridge, Massachusetts.