Scientist Chris Bahl shut down his academic lab to focus on a biotech startup, AI Proteins, which has raised $18.2 million.


Copyright: – “Will artificial intelligence help build better protein drugs? This scientist quit his job to prove it can.”


Chris Bahl is a self-proclaimed protein geek. He’s spent the better part of 10 years studying the intricate structures of proteins — complex molecular machines responsible for nearly all facets of life, from metabolism to movement. His goal was to create completely synthetic proteins using computer programs, and to open up a new avenue for making medicines.

His work, which relies heavily on recent advances in artificial intelligence and synthetic biology, had taken him from one prestigious protein lab in Seattle to another one in Boston. “Things were going super well,” he said.

But last fall, after a stream of queries from drug companies hoping to partner with him, Bahl decided to cancel his six research grants, close shop at his four-year-old academic lab, and launch a biotech startup to focus on making protein therapies full time. “It was time to fly,” he said.

After a year of working in stealth mode, Bahl’s startup, AI Proteins, emerged on Thursday with $18.2 million in seed funding led by venture capital firms Cobro Ventures and Lightchain Capital. The money will help the startup, where Bahl is president and chief scientific officer, refine its protein creation technology and further progress on a dozen experimental therapies it’s already developing for immune diseases and cancer.

Lightchain, a St. Louis firm that invests in life science and software companies, was shocked by how quickly the startup could design and optimize the potential drugs. “It’s like nothing we’ve seen before. It’s almost unbelievable,” said Drew Dennison, managing director of Lightchain, who is serving as chief executive of AI Proteins. “It feels like there’s no limit to the technology.”[…]

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