After two years of development at Flagship Pioneering, start-up Metaphore Biotechnologies emerged on May 16 with $50 million of series A funding. It plans to tackle autoimmune and metabolic diseases plus cancer.
Metaphore’s approach to drug discovery is to mimic and improve on pharmacophores—abstractions that describe the steric and electronic features needed for bioactive molecules to interact with a biological target and unlock a response in the body.
“It all started actually with us asking the question: what if we could mimic any molecular interaction in a programmable way?” says Lovisa Afzelius, Metaphore’s CEO and cofounder.
The company boils down the key interaction points of these pharmacophores and then builds a “mold.” This computational framework narrows down the potential molecular solutions from the vast chemical space available, making the optimization problem an easier one to solve. When building new compounds inside this mold, researchers use machine learning to optimize the rest of the molecule for better pharmacological performance by selecting for properties such as improved affinity and selectivity. The start-up will combine both computational and experimental approaches in a feedback loop in its search for new therapeutic candidates.
Afzelius says that Metaphore is advancing a broad pipeline of drug candidates toward the clinic, though she declines to disclose any details about the timelines. The company has a size of 30 people and is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.