Roger Perlmutter, M.D., Ph.D., has taken up the CEO post at Eikon Therapeutics. The startup disclosed the hiring of the former president of Merck Research Laboratories alongside news that it has raised a $148 million series A round to apply live-cell super-resolution microscopy to drug discovery.
Perlmutter spent almost eight years as head of Merck’s R&D group before stepping down at the end of last year, spurring speculation about whether he would take the increasingly well-trodden path from the upper echelons of Big Pharma to biotech startups. Now, Eikon has revealed it has landed the former Merck leader as its CEO.
Eikon is an early-stage biotech that is using super-resolution fluorescence microscopy—technology that received the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry—to visualize the movement of proteins in living cells in real time. Eikon uses CRISPR gene editing to fluorescently label target proteins.
“The pharmaceutical industry has long been limited in the tools available to study dynamic regulatory mechanisms in living cells,” Perlmutter said in a statement. “In this context, it is inspiring to see what Eikon has already accomplished by incorporating physics and engineering along with machine learning to complement traditional drug discovery approaches.”
Eikon’s process captures data on proteins in motion such as their residence times for binding events. The biotech, which is equipped to run thousands of its Single Particle Tracking assays a day, extracts the data and feeds the information into its machine learning process to try to derive insights from the wealth of information. Through the use of AI, Eikon hopes to infer whether a compound is a promising drug candidate based on the motion of proteins.
By applying the technology to drug discovery, Eikon is aiming to reveal novel druggable biology for hard-to-hit targets. The technology has so far spawned a pilot program against the oncogenic protein EWS-FLI1, which, as a transcription factor, has been considered undruggable. Eikon also has projects against three other unnamed targets at the screening stage, plus a partnered program.
Eikon has raised $148 million to fund the programs. The Column Group led the series A round with assists from Foresite Capital, Innovation Endeavors and Lux Capital.
Robert Tjian, Ph.D., and Xavier Darzacq, Ph.D., who run a research group at the University of Berkeley, founded the biotech with Janelia Research Campus’ Eric Betzig, Ph.D., and Luke Lavis, Ph.D. Betzig was one of the recipients of the 2014 Nobel Prize.
The researchers founded Eikon to industrialize the tracking of protein dynamics. Since then, Eikon has quietly put together a team with skill sets that range from the optical engineering expertise of Fedor Ilkov to the biology and medicinal chemistry knowhow of Daniel Anderson, Ph.D., and Hilary Beck, Ph.D., formerly of Recursion Pharmaceuticals and Ideaya Biosciences, respectively.
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