Verge Genomics, a startup company whose goal is to integrate artificial intelligence (AI) into pharmaceutical development, announced today that it received $32 million in Series A financing led by Draper Fisher Jurvetson. With this round of funding, the company has officially raise over $36 million since its creation.
The company was founded by Alice Zhang and Jason Chen in 2015, two former students from University of California-Los Angeles. Zhang, who was 3 months short of finishing her MD/PhD program, saw a flawed drug discovery system that she is currently attempting to change. The current development process takes approximately 12 years and $2.6 billion to get one drug approved for sale, with the process costing companies $1.4 billion.
Zhang, the company’s 29-year-old CEO, has the goal of creating the first fully automated drug discovery platform. Using AI and machine learning, she hopes the company can create a system capable of generating treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, and others with no existing cure. With its team of 14 current employees, Verge Genomics has computer scientists working on machine learning as well as researchers developing and testing drug. The group is made up of very established industry veterans and scientists. Zhang is not alone in her attempts of introducing machine learning to the pharmaceutical industry, however, with 75 other startups and 18 pharmaceutical companies throwing their hats into the ring.
The algorithms used by Verge aim to analyze diseases like Alzheimer’s by mapping out the hundreds of genes that play a role in the disorder, and to use human studies rather than animal trials. Being that drugs that work in mice often fail in humans, the system will prevent this false representativeness in studies. Using a brain tissue from a deceased donor who had Alzheimer’s, Verge RNA sequences the sample to measure gene activation and behavior. This allows the researchers to hopefully find the root of the disease and bridge the gap between genomics and disease.
The company will be using the recent funding to work with Alzheimer’s and ALS, with 6 current drugs in the end of the development stage. This money will also go into expanding the list of diseases Verge is working to treat.
Alice Zhang, CEO of @VergeGenomics, is using machine learning to identify the next generation of treatments for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Her research won her a spot on our 2018 list of #InnovatorsUnder35. Read more about her work: https://t.co/5Qs2xeBM22 #TR35
— MIT Tech Review (@techreview) June 28, 2018