Scala Biodesign, a biotech startup based in Tel Aviv, is leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and computational methods to revolutionize the field of protein engineering. With $5.5 million in seed funding, Scala Biodesign aims to make existing drugs more practical and effective by systematically tweaking their molecular structures.
Scala Biodesign, a Tel Aviv-based biotech startup, is using AI and computational approaches to enhance the functionality of potential drugs by making molecular modifications. By combining protein structure prediction with clinical data, Scala Biodesign aims to accelerate the traditionally slow process of engineering therapeutic molecules. The company has already demonstrated success in stabilizing a malaria vaccine, and it is actively seeking partnerships to further validate and expand its capabilities.
Faster Drug Development with AI and Protein Structure Prediction
The founders of Scala Biodesign spun the company out of research conducted at the prestigious Weizmann Institute of Science in Tel Aviv. The research focused on predicting the 3D structure and behavior of proteins using advanced algorithms like AlphaFold and RoseTTAfold. By combining these state-of-the-art capabilities with other relevant data, Scala Biodesign aims to accelerate the traditionally slow process of engineering therapeutic molecules.
Enhancing the Functionality of Potential Drugs
Many potential drugs have useful functions but are unsuitable for mass manufacturing or distribution due to various limitations. These limitations can include instability at room temperature or in the body’s chemical environment. Scala Biodesign addresses these challenges by identifying specific molecular changes that would make the drugs more robust and suitable for practical use. However, randomly changing components of complex proteins is not a viable option.
“The protein development process is very complex, and even in large companies, it’s largely trial and error,” explained CEO and co-founder Ravit Netzer. “Scientists traditionally use a technique called random mutagenesis, but now that we have the structures of these proteins, we know that randomly changing things is not an effective approach.”
A Computational Approach to Protein Engineering
Scala Biodesign combines protein structure prediction, clinical data, and observations of naturally occurring proteins to develop a computational system capable of identifying specific changes that can achieve desired outcomes. The goal is to improve stability, enhance therapeutic effects, and simplify the manufacturing process. The entire process is conducted computationally, without the need for physical lab experiments.
Using this approach, Scala Biodesign generates a small number of high-confidence sequences that are likely to produce the desired improvements. While ideally, only one option would be provided with 100% confidence, the company is currently able to provide a handful of options for consideration.
Real-World Success: Malaria Vaccine Stabilization
An illustrative example of Scala Biodesign’s technology is a collaboration with a lab working on a malaria vaccine. The vaccine protein was found to be sensitive to temperature, making it unsuitable for transportation and storage. Scala Biodesign assisted by identifying several possible modifications and provided three output options. The lab chose the most promising modification, and the vaccine is now entering clinical trials.
According to CTO and co-founder Adi Goldenzweig, Scala Biodesign’s approach is unique in that it allows for the simultaneous swapping of multiple amino acids in larger proteins. Goldenzweig commented, “You won’t find anybody doing that, over 50 mutations in one shot.”
A Proven Track Record and Future Collaborations
Scala Biodesign prides itself on a range and depth of validation, with a successful history of designing major improvements to proteins across diverse applications such as antibodies and enzymes. The company aims to scale up its capabilities and prove the effectiveness of its technology beyond the scope of academic projects.
The startup is currently collaborating with pharmaceutical companies and labs, remaining flexible in terms of licensing and business models. Scala Biodesign’s priority is to provide and demonstrate the value of its services rather than building its own biological intellectual property. However, the company does not rule out the possibility of establishing proprietary assets in the future.