CAMP4 Hauls in $30M to Map New Ground with Drug Discovery Tech

Xconomy Boston — 

One way to understand the role genes play in disease is to think of the cells in our bodies as electronic circuits. The signaling pathways that either turn a cell’s genes on or off are like wires laid out to the nucleus of the cell, says Josh Mandel-Brehm, CEO of CAMP4 Therapeutics.

Cambridge, MA-based CAMP4 has developed technology to map out the “circuitry” of the signaling pathways controlling the 20,000 genes in the human genome. More than providing a picture of this circuitry, Mandel-Brehm says the startup’s software can help researchers understand how genes are regulated, which in turn might point the way to promising drug targets.

“We’re making sense of this circuitry by understanding which wires are switched,” says Mandel-Brehm, who worked in business development for Biogen (NASDAQ: BIIB) before joining CAMP4 last year.

CAMP4, which takes its name from the last camp before the summit of Mount Everest, now has $30 million in capital to expand its work and build partnerships with pharmaceutical companies. The Series A round was led by Andreessen Horowitz, the Silicon Valley venture firm that has backed tech giants like Airbnb and Facebook (NASDAQ: FB), as well as life sciences firms such as BioAge Labs and Freenome.

CAMP4 was founded in 2016 based on the research of Richard Young of the Whitehead Institute at MIT, where he is a professor of biology, and Leonard Zon, director of the stem cell program at Boston Children’s Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School. Both Zon and Young have helped launch biotech startups. Young is a co-founder of Syros Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: SYRS), a Watertown, MA, company developing drugs based on the master switches that turn a cell’s genes on and off. Zon is a scientific co-founder of Cambridge-based Scholar Rock (NASDAQ: SRRK), a company that develops drugs that target proteins called growth factors and either turn them on or keep them switched off.

Mandel-Brehm says CAMP4 builds on the collaborative research of Young and Zon. He says that the startup has gone further than those companies and others by making the understanding of how genes are turned on and off into a software platform that is applicable to multiple genes in many different types of cells, Mandel-Brehm says.

“If it works for one disease, it should work for other diseases as well,” he says.

Jorge Conde, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, says his firm looks for investments that have a technology process that is repeatable and scalable. The firm also looks for products that can give insights into biology in ways that were not possible before. “The story of what’s happening inside a cell—that’s very powerful,” Conde says.

Mandel-Brehm says CAMP4’s research to date has focused on mapping the gene circuitry of the liver and the disease genes that are associated with the organ. That information can be used to predict targets for potential drugs, he says.

With the fresh capital, CAMP4 aims to expand its research to other types of cells besides those in the liver, Mandel-Brehm says. The company also plans to establish partnerships with biopharmaceutical companies. Mandel-Brehm says CAMP4 is talking with companies interested in applying the startup’s technology to their own library of compounds, or to drugs that have been shelved for various reasons. If these collaborations yield multiple drug candidates, some of which a partner may not want to pursue, Mandel-Brehm said CAMP4 would be open to picking up those compounds for further development.

Joining Andreessen Horowitz in the CAMP4 financing was Polaris Partners, the firm that provided CAMP4’s seed funding. The Kraft Group also participated in the latest investment.

Photo of Mount Everest by Flickr user Gunter Hagleitner via a Creative Commons license