How WhiteLab Genomics Is Using AI to Aid Gene & Cell Therapy Development
French biotech company WhiteLab Genomics has raised $10 million in funding for an AI platform designed to aid the discovery and development of genomic therapies.
Founded out of Paris in 2019, recent Y Combinator (YC) graduate WhiteLab Genomics provides gene and cell therapy companies with predictive software simulations to expedite the design of gene and cell therapies. Gene therapy, for the uninitiated, is an emerging treatment that involves replacing missing or defective genes in cells to correct genetic disorders, while cell therapy is about altering a cell or sets of cells to trigger an effect throughout the body.
Thousands of diseases, including cystic fibrosis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s stem from flaws in an individual’s DNA, and emerging research in gene and cell therapies may eventually treat such conditions at their source, supplanting the need for drugs or surgery.
However, such therapies are costly to develop with no guarantee that they’ll work. Current methodologies in developing new gene and cell therapies typically involves a trial-and-error approach, according to WhiteLab Genomics’ CEO and co-founder David Del Bourgo, whereby scientists make a scientific hypothesis and test it in a lab: if successful, it progresses to the next stage, but if it’s unsuccessful, they go back to square one with a different hypothesis. And this is where WhiteLab Genomics enters the fray, with a computational approach that meshes machine learning and deep learning techniques to process multiple scientific hypotheses at once, looking at different genetic variants “to predict the best molecular design for the therapy” based on the objectives.
“Gene and cell therapies still suffer from poor efficacy, immunological secondary effects and very high development cost,” Del Bourgo explained to TechCrunch. “We provide customers with exhaustive predictive models combining genetics and computational biology in order to design and select the top candidates to be tested in the lab.”
As with just about any AI models, WhiteLab Genomics uses myriad datasets to train its algorithms spanning genomic, RNA, oncologic and protein repositories, in addition to “an exhaustive set of documentation” such as public scientific and clinical research data.
“We also partner with specialized institutions to enrich the models with additional non-public data,” Del Bourgo added. “We train and validate our algorithms on well-characterized datasets that are interconnected within our Knowledge Graph Database. These included public databases, proprietary data and datasets from our partners. It predicts biological features from new genetic sequences to build new therapeutic vectors and generates new therapeutic constructs.”
In terms of the kinds of treatments WhiteLab Genomics is helping to develop, Del Bourgo said that the company is currently working on projects including DNA-based therapies for metabolic conditions such as lysosomal diseases, as well as cell stem therapies for blood diseases such as sickle cell disease and immuno-gene therapies to treat cancers.
Elsewhere, a number of companies are using AI to aid drug discovery, such as BenevolentAI, which has raised sizeable investments from the VC world, while there’s TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield winner Cellino, which recently raised $80 million to develop cell therapies using AI. WhiteLab Genomics is similar, but it’s working with both gene and cell therapy companies.
It’s also worth noting that WhiteLab Genomics represents a growing roster of French startups to successfully infiltrate the YC ranks. Of the 40 European companies in WhiteLab Genomics’ Winter ’22 cohort, five were French, a figure that rose to eight out of 34 for the Summer ’22 tranche — the second highest number from the whole of Europe.
With $10 million in the bank from French investor Omnes Capital and biopharmaceutical heavyweight Debiopharm, WhiteLab Genomics is now well-financed to build out its platform and double-down on its partnerships with the scientific realm, which so far has included notable collaborations with the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) and Genethon Laboratories, among other pharmaceutical and biotech companies.