Israeli biotech startup Mana.bio has been planning to launch its programmable drug treatment solution for months, and decided to forge ahead in spite of the attacks that happened this past weekend in the country.
The company is employing AI to design lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) with the goal of creating programmable drug treatments. “Mana.bio’s integrated experimental and machine learning platform enables the discovery of smarter, faster, more precise delivery formulations to unlock the field of nucleic acid-based and genetic medicines,” company co-founder and CEO Yogev Debbi said in a statement.
The solution involves RNA-based therapies, which have the potential to treat infectious diseases, cancers and single genetic disorders, but as Debbi explained, RNA molecules are highly volatile. “RNA molecules can’t be administered just like that to the human cells, as they fall apart. They have to be protected by a special package (or carrier) until they are inserted into the cells where they can operate,” Debbi said. Mano creates this special package.
Debbi’s company not only came out of stealth this week, it also announced a $19.5 million seed investment led by Andreessen Horowitz Bio + Health, Base4 Capital, NFX, LionBird and Technion.
He was also set to travel to San Diego for the first of two conferences to deliver papers on his company’s approach to drug discovery when the attack happened. The startup has been in stealth researching this approach for several years before this week’s announcement, and while faster drug discovery is something that could benefit everyone, it was not easy to decide how to proceed under the circumstances.
“We started thinking what’s going to be the impact, and should we do it or not,” he said. “Just to give the context, we’re all devastated in Israel. This is the darkest time at least that I can remember [in my lifetime],” he told TechCrunch.
As it turned out, all flights out of Israel were canceled shortly after the attack, so going to America and presenting the paper was no longer on the table, but he says it’s important to be launching in spite of the current challenges because it’s important work.
“We stayed committed to our goals, to our partners and to patients [who could eventually benefit from this approach] because we’re working in drug development,” he said.
Launching a startup is always going to be tough, especially one in an area as volatile as biotech. Doing it in the midst of a wartime situation adds an unimaginable degree of difficulty, but the company is determined to push through, even under such difficult circumstances.
“It’s really, really hard, and even with all the sadness and all the bad news that you hear all day long, we as a company, we have the privilege and also the commitment to really continue pushing forward and continue business as usual,” Debbi said. “And so this for me, is a very important signal to the team, to the country and to the world.”