AION Labs Launches AI Startup for De Novo Antibody Design

DenovAI is the second company to be formed by Israel-based alliance of AstraZeneca, Merck, Pfizer, Teva, Israel Biotech Fund and Amazon Web Services (AWS), powered by BioMed X

DenovAI will combine advanced machine learning and computational biophysics to discover antibodies with broader scope, faster and less expensively, and to improve the probability of success for drug candidates

AION Labs, the first-of-its-kind innovation lab spearheading the adoption of AI technologies and computational science to solve therapeutic challenges, announced today the formation of DenovAI, the lab’s second startup approved by the Israel Innovation Authority. The new company will develop an AI-powered biophysics solution that can discover potential antibodies completely de novo (from scratch), and then suggest candidates likely to make effective drugs.

DenovAI aims to build a next-generation computational platform for the de novo design of strongly binding antibodies directed towards epitopes[1] of choice. In addition to funding, support and mentorship, AION Labs and its pharma partners will provide DenovAI with pharmaceutical data for model training and advanced machine learning development.

Therapeutic antibodies are well established life-saving drugs. Discovery of existing therapeutic antibodies relies on immunization or in-vitro selection from large, pre-defined libraries with limited sequence space coverage. Selecting a drug candidate from billions of potential antibody sequences is laborious, expensive and, in many cases, fails to identify functional antibodies. DenovAI aims to build on recent advances in protein structure prediction, artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, computational molecular biophysics techniques and increased availability of experimentally determined antigen-antibody structures to create a new paradigm for AI-driven antibody discovery.

“We are developing an end-to-end AI framework that can predict antibody sequences and structures that bind with high affinity and selectivity to any given epitope. And with unlimited coverage of sequence space. This has never been done before,” said Dr. Kashif Sadiq, founder and CEO of DenovAI. “We have seen major advances in the field of therapeutic antibodies, but the process of developing new drugs is incredibly slow, vastly expensive, and inefficient.  With the support of AION Labs and its partners, we hope to develop a cutting-edge solution that will disrupt the whole field, cutting discovery timelines from months to days. And which could dramatically broaden the scope of antibody therapy to many more diseases.”

DenovAI will be led by Dr. Kashif Sadiq, PhD, a multi-disciplinary scientist who has worked to combine theoretical and computational physics methods with artificial intelligence to understand high-dimensional chemical and biological processes. He brings a wealth of research experience in computational biophysics, molecular binding, protein design, virology, enzymology and high-performance computing in all-atom molecular dynamics (MD) simulations, coarse-grained MD simulations, chemical reaction kinetics, reaction-diffusion approaches and machine/deep learning methods.

DenovAI intends to build on technology, co-invented by Dr. Kashif Sadiq at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), which is licensed to DenovAI by EMBL’s wholly owned commercial subsidiary: EMBL Enterprise Management Technology Transfer GmbH (EMBLEM). EMBL is Europe’s leading life sciences laboratory with 28 member states, including Israel, and more than 110 research groups and service teams covering the spectrum of molecular biology across six sites in Europe.  EMBL, with the support of EMBLEM, intends to develop further collaboration with DenovAI going forward.

“We look forward to a productive relationship with DenovAI in this exciting era of AI-driven therapeutic discovery,” said Prof. Dr. Jan Korbel, Head of Data Sciences at EMBL.

DenovAI is the second startup to be formed by AION Labs, which creates early-stage startup teams that harness the power of artificial intelligence to transform the process of drug discovery and development for the betterment of human health. The new company has been created through the investment of leading pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Merck, and Teva and with close support from Amazon Web Services (AWS) and additional financial backing from the Israel Innovation Authority and the Israel Biotech Fund.

“Sitting at the intersection between biophysics, biotechnology and AI, DenovAI has the potential to drive innovation in drug discovery, coupled with AION Labs strong resources and experience. That is our shared goal,” said Mati Gill, CEO of AION Labs. “We are excited to work with Dr. Sadiq in an attempt to solve one of the world’s critical health issues, significantly aiding in the creation of new drugs and directly helping patients in need of them.”

Founded and launched in late 2021, AION Labs forms its startups through a unique innovation model powered by BioMed X, identifying great industry R&D challenges and carrying out a global talent search for scientist founders. It then invites selected groups of scientists and computational biologists to collaborate to solve the specific research and design challenge, before selecting a founding team and setting them up for success.

In September 2022, AION Labs announced the formation of its first start-up, OMEC.AI, which will develop AI-powered solutions to analyze pre-clinical data and identify gaps in efficacy and safety to improve the probability of success of drug candidates in clinical trials.

[1] The target area where the antibody binds the selected target protein.

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