Plants have long produced potent human therapeutics and contributed to over 20% of drugs approved since the 1980s, including Morphine and Artemisinin. Although monoterpene indole alkaloids (MIAs), a promising class of plant-derived compounds with unique pharmacological properties that have already produced drugs such as the chemotherapy vinblastine, could help to revolutionize treatments in mental health and pain management, obtaining sufficient quantities of MIAs for the development of new drugs remains a major challenge due to reliance on natural sources and difficulties scaling chemical synthesis, both of which severely limit the quantities of MIAs that can be produced.
Biomia has developed a platform for mass-producing plant natural products, particularly MIAs, using engineered yeast. Michael and Jie, now Biomia’s CEO and CSO respectively, led the collaborative research effort in partnership with Jay Keasling, a well-renowned researcher and entrepreneur in the field of synthetic biology and a Scientific Advisor for Biomia, funded with $10 million by the EU through the MIAMI project, a $3 million grant from the Bio-Innovation Institute in Denmark, as well as substantial soft-funding from the Novo Nordisk Foundation. Their breakthrough Nature study showcased de novo microbial biosynthesis of vinblastine (brand name Velban®), a clinically-approved cancer treatment molecule, achieving the longest biosynthetic pathway replicated in yeast. Expanding upon their initial discovery, the team has also achieved the ability to enhance natural molecules with chemical halogens, creating the possibility to develop novel drugs inspired by natural products with enhanced therapeutic properties — and potentially fewer side effects.
MIAs are a promising therapeutic class to treat pain, mental disorders and substance abuse disorders, all indications with markets > $10bn globally each, and with an urgent need to develop novel therapeutics. Alone the growing opioid crisis has amplified the need for novel, effective pain medication and therapies for substance abuse, and most anti-psychotics have severe adverse effects with no alternative treatments available. We believe Biomia has the potential to harness its drug discovery and MIA manufacturing platform to revolutionize the treatment landscape for numerous mental and physical disorders through countless novel, nature-inspired molecules.
We’re excited to be backing the Biomia team on their mission to mass-produce plant natural products from some of the world’s most intractable diseases and additions. Read more about the company’s recent pre-seed financing here.