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Bill Gates Backs Nimbus, Betting on Computer-Based Drug Discovery

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1990 and its software has been used in many major biopharmaceutical company labs around the world. Yet Nimbus works with Schrödinger engineers who have developed software for specific types of disease targets of interest to the biotech startup. Montagu says that the startup gets access to these applications years ahead of any other drug developers, giving it an edge in discovering drugs against disease-related proteins that have been difficult to target in the past.

Nimbus is now in early research phases with its lead programs for two disease targets, one of which plays an important role in an aggressive form of blood cancer known as diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, and the other in metabolic diseases such as obesity. The lymphoma target, known as IRAK4, is a protein that is also involved in inflammation. The obesity target is an enzyme called ACC, which plays a role in the synthesis and burning of fat, according to the startup. Booth says that the firm aims to have a development-ready compound against the IRAK4 target by the end of this year and a candidate for the ACC target in 2012.

Another key aspect of the startup is its business structure. For starters, the startup is able to benefit from the many millions of dollars that Schrödinger has invested in developing its technology. Nimbus is also organized as a limited liability company, and individual subsidiaries controlled by the LLC control assets tied to certain disease target programs. (The startup wants to find pharmaceutical companies to partner with on specific programs in its pipeline early in the development process, and its corporate structure allows those partners to focus their investments in on the subsidiaries with assets in which they are most interested.) Each partnership gives the investors in Nimbus an opportunity to get a return on their investment in the startup.

“The difference here,” Booth says, “is we won’t have to spend $100 million to $150 million to develop the platform, and the programs, and push them forward.” Raising that much money makes it very difficult to get the big kind of financial returns venture capitalists seek, Booth says.

The startup aims to raise a Series A round of financing later this year, Montagu says. For now, the company is running lean with two full-time employees—Montagu and Rosana Kapeller, the company’s chief scientific officer and a co-founder of Aileron Therapeutics in Cambridge. The company, in its early days, is also relying on the support of multiple staff members at Schrödinger. The startup also uses a network of consultants and contract research organizations, Montagu says.

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