Cambridge biotech Generate Biomedicines said Thursday it has raised $370 million in venture capital from investors keen on its plan to use machine learning in drug discovery, money that will enable the startup to expand its workforce more than sixfold.
Generate, which was founded in 2018 by venture capital firm Flagship Pioneering, has about 80 employees at 26 Landsdowne St. and expects to hire some 420 more in the next two years, according to top executives. The company plans to move soon to two new buildings, totaling 140,000 square feet, in Andover and Somerville.
Flagship, the creator of Moderna, the breakout biotech that developed the second most popular COVID-19 vaccine in the US, established Generate to use computer power to discover therapeutic proteins. The firm hopes to create algorithms to quickly identify antibodies, peptides, enzymes, and cell and gene therapies for a wide range of diseases.
“Computers will help us to understand biology in a way the human mind alone cannot,” said Mike Nally, chief executive of Generate, who joined Flagship as a CEO partner this year after spending 18 years at the drug giant Merck.
In recent years, a number of “digital biology” startups have used machine learning and artificial intelligence in drug discovery, but it has often focused on small-molecule medicines. Those firms include Recursion Pharmaceuticals, of Salt Lake City, Utah, which signed a deal with Bayer in 2020 to develop treatments for fibrotic diseases.
Generate is taking a different tack, concentrating on biological medicines, such as proteins and antibodies.
The firm in March doubled its work force from about 40 people. Nally and Molly Gibson, Generate’s cofounder and chief strategy and innovation officer, said some hires have expertise in biology, while others come from the tech sector with software design and coding skills.
“We’ve found really good success in the technology domain,” said Nally. “Saving or improving lives is something that really resonates with people in the technology industry.”
“We need great technologists, we need great biologists,” he added. “If I can find people with both [skills], so much the better.”
Although Generate hopes its computer-powered drug discovery program works with a wide range of illnesses, cancer and infectious diseases are likely to be an early focus of the company.
Flagship previously invested $50 million in Generate. It participated again in the latest financing round, as did several institutional investors, including a subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, the Alaska Permanent Fund, Altitude Life Science Ventures, ARCH Venture Partners, Fidelity Management & Research Company LLC, Morningside Ventures and funds managed by T. Rowe Price Associates.
Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.