Female-Founded Antheia Raises $73 Million to Support Synthetic Biology for Essential Medicines

Christina Smolke said the financing will enable the company to use its synthetic biology platform to support essential medications that rely on plant-based materials.

Synthetic biology startup Antheia raised $73 million in Series B financing to support the company’s efforts to bring its first plant-based medicine to market and support the production of necessary active pharmaceutical ingredients and materials.

The supply chains for plant-based medicines are fragile and subject to disruption from natural disasters and man-made issues. Christina Smolke, co-founder and chief executive officer of Antheia, said the financing will enable the company to use its synthetic biology platform to engineer the molecules necessary to support the development of essential medications that rely on plant-based materials.

The company noted that more than 40% of medications are sourced from nature, with many of these being deemed essential medications by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The company’s synthetic biology platform was developed to enable resilient and agile production of these essential medications, including analgesics, antitussives, chemotherapeutics, and neurotransmitter inhibitors.

“With this funding, we are equipped to begin decoupling the production of essential plant-based medicines from unpredictable harvests and unsustainable supply chains, while ensuring that these critical, life-saving medicines are available when and where they’re most needed,” Smolke said in a statement.

The Bay Area-based company is focused on multiple classes of plant-inspired pharmaceuticals that can’t be produced through a scalable synthetic chemistry process. With whole-cell engineering, Antheia has been able to produce the highly complex pharmaceuticals by reconstructing biosynthetic pathways in yeast cells. Those cells are engineered to make numerous enzymes and transporters that “work in concert to transform the cell into a miniature factory for efficiently assembling some of the most complex molecules known to humankind,” the company said.

The company’s first molecule, a key starting material for essential medications, was produced at commercially relevant titers in pilot scale runs. Antheia said the resulting material is chemically equivalent to what can be extracted from plants.

Last year, Smolke published a paper in Nature that described the successful microbial biosynthesis of tropane alkaloids, a class of essential medicines used to treat neuromuscular disorders. To date, Antheia has demonstrated the biosynthesis of four major classes of plant-based medicines.

Antheia said its synthetic biology platform creates an opportunity for the development of novel drugs in underrepresented chemical space. This makes it possible to go after biological targets currently considered undruggable, the company added.

“Taken as a whole, the company’s platform represents a scalable, cost-effective, rapid-response fermentation-based manufacturing process for essential medicines, which will help ensure greater resiliency and emergency preparedness for healthcare systems of all sizes,” Antheia said in its announcement.

Patrick Yang, a former Roche executive and current board member at Antheia, said the company’s platform has the potential to improve production time and scale for plant-based medications significantly. Antheia’s bio-based fermentation approach “resets the foundation of drug manufacturing to be more flexible and responsive, an important velocity and capability improvement and a potential transformation of our current drug supply chains,” Yang said in a statement.

The Series B financing round was led by Viking Global Investors. Sherpalo Ventures and Hillspire also participated.