Start-up Cradle tucks in $24m for protein engineering AI

Cradle's Stef van Grieken

Dutch-Swiss start-up Cradle has raised €22 million ($24 million) in first-round financing to develop its generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) and synthetic biology platform for designing protein-based therapeutics and other compounds.

The Series A comes just a year after Cradle emerged onto the scene with seed funding of €5.5 million and a mission to help scientists design and engineer cell factories that can be used to make a broad range of proteins, from pharmaceuticals to agro- and petrochemicals, and takes the total raised by the company to date to €33 million.

In the intervening year, Cradle has formed partnerships with nine companies, including Johnson & Johnson’s biopharma unit Janssen, DNA synthesis specialist Twist Biosciences and Novozymes, which produces biopharma ingredients as well as enzymes and microorganisms.

The biotech said it is currently working on 13 R&D projects focused on engineering enzymes, vaccines, peptide drugs, and antibodies across a broad spectrum of desired protein properties, such as stability, expression, activity, binding affinity, and specificity.

The use of GenAI removes the need for a complicated and time-consuming trial-and-error process, which means that, currently, almost all protein designs tested in the lab fail to meet specifications at the first attempt. Cradle claims its technology also increases the chances of success, as its platform can find solutions to protein engineering challenges that cannot be met with existing tools.

“These advances represent significant real-world gains when it comes to research and development of biological products, a process which has historically been extremely costly and time-consuming,” said the company in a statement.

“For example, biopharma companies spend an average of $22 million and 42 months on R&D to get a single potential product ready for clinical testing, with only around 35% of programmes progressing to clinical trials at all.”

McKinsey has predicted that, eventually, 60% of everything humans consume could be produced using cell factories.

The Series A was led by Index Ventures, with participation from Kindred Capital and angel investors such as Chris Gibson, co-founder and chief executive of AI-based drug discovery specialist Recursion, and Tom Glocer, former CEO of Thomson Reuters and independent lead director of Merck & Co (known as MSD outside North America).

The cash injection will be used to speed up growth, expand its headcount, and build its product development and sales capabilities.

Stef van Grieken, Cradle’s CEO and co-founder and former Google research and machine intelligence exec, said: “By using generative AI and machine learning to help biologists design and optimise proteins faster and more efficiently, we can help research and development teams innovate faster, spend less, and ultimately be more successful in developing new products.”