BioPharma, Pharma, Artificial Intelligence

Harvard spinout Nabla Bio lands $11M to bring AI technology to antibody design

Nabla Bio emerged from the lab of famed Harvard scientist George Church last year, and its antibody discovery technology has already led to five partnerships with pharma and biotech companies. The startup just closed an $11 million seed financing that will support further development of its technology.


Software is key to how therapeutic antibodies are discovered today. The founders of Nabla Bio say the next generation of antibodies will be designed rather than discovered, and these designs will be aided by artificial intelligence. The Harvard University spinout has raised $11 million to further develop its technology platform.

Nabla’s seed financing announced Monday was co-led by Khosla Ventures and Zetta Venture Partners.

According to Boston-based Nabla, current approaches to antibody drug research are expensive and time consuming. The startup has developed technology that uses AI to guide the modeling and design of proteins. Nabla said its its high-throughput technology generates a predictive “biophysical fingerprint” for 1 million antibodies in a single step. That capability is combined with proprietary approaches that adapt natural language processing algorithms—like the ones used in digital assistants such as Alexa and Siri—to understand how nature builds proteins. In addition to reducing the time and cost of antibody development, the approach also helps scientists improve how they design proteins, which in turn boosts the chance that these proteins go on to become successful drugs.

“Therapeutic antibody design is not just about binding to targets, and insufficient protein engineering is estimated to be responsible for a large fraction of clinical trial discontinuations and failures, especially for large molecule biologics that will play an increasingly prominent role in the clinic,” Khosla Ventures Partner Alex Morgan said in a prepared statement. “As therapeutics become more complex with more functional domains, the role of AI in development will become critical.”

The Nabla technology was developed by co-founder and CEO Surge Biswas, who was a student in the lab of renowned Harvard geneticist George Church, academic co-founder of the startup. The company formed last year, according to Massachusetts corporation records. According to Dylan Reid, principal of Zetta Venture Partners, the startup has five collaborations with unnamed large pharma and biotech companies. Nabla is based in the Pagliuca Harvard Life Lab, a wet-lab and co-working space for Harvard-affiliated life sciences startups.

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A Deep-dive Into Specialty Pharma

A specialty drug is a class of prescription medications used to treat complex, chronic or rare medical conditions. Although this classification was originally intended to define the treatment of rare, also termed “orphan” diseases, affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the US, more recently, specialty drugs have emerged as the cornerstone of treatment for chronic and complex diseases such as cancer, autoimmune conditions, diabetes, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS.

Nabla said it will use its new capital to accelerate the development of its technology. The other participants disclosed in the company’s seed financing were Fifty Years and Cantos Ventures.

The field of antibody research is growing as more antibody drugs reach the market, some of them becoming blockbusters. Companies that support antibody discovery work have also grown. Players in this space include AbCellera Biologics and Adimab. Ligand Therapeutics is in the antibody discovery space with its Omniab division. Last month, Ligand announced plans to spin off that antibody business as a separate, potentially publicly traded, company. In a September corporate presentation, Ligand said that the $150 billion antibody drug market of today is projected to grow to more than $250 billion in five years.

Photo: Kelvin Ma/Bloomberg, via Getty Images