Empirico Raises $17M, Inks 3-Year Antisense Collaboration with Ionis

Xconomy San Diego — 

Empirico, a biotech that has developed tools to analyze genomics data and use those insights to identify potential therapeutic targets, has signed a collaboration deal with antisense drug developer Ionis Pharmaceuticals that includes a $10 million equity investment.

The 14-person startup, founded in 2017, has developed technology that it says uses big data sets, human genetic data, and advanced algorithms to find potential targets for drugs. Empirico, which is headquartered in San Diego, also has laboratories in Madison, WI. Carlsbad, CA-based Ionis will work with Empirico to leverage its software, which Empirico calls its Precision Insights Platform, for work related to existing Ionis programs, such as target validation, indication and biomarker selection, and patient stratification.

Under the terms of the agreement, the startup and Ionis (NASDAQ: IONS) agreed to work together for three years to select up to 10 targets amenable to the RNA medicine company’s technology. Ionis would be responsible for preclinical and clinical development activity for any targets it decides to advance.

CEO Omri Gottesman (pictured) says Empirico’s technology uses the data human genetics to identify potential targets by studying the mechanisms by which genetic variations impact disease and health, and using those insights to determine how to leverage those mechanisms to create new medicines.

In addition to the $10 million investment—which led a $17 million financing Empirico describes as a Series A-2 round—Ionis agreed to pay up to $30 million more tied to undisclosed milestones. And Empirico could get more than $620 million tied to clinical development, regulatory, and commercial milestones if Ionis advances drug candidates based on selected targets, plus royalties on net sales.

In turn, Empirico has the option to license, develop, and commercialize an Ionis development candidate linked to a target unearthed during the collaboration. Ionis would be eligible for related payments and royalties.

Empirico has its own preclinical development programs based on targets identified using the Precision Insights Platform in immune, dermatological, cardio-metabolic, and ophthalmic indications. Gottesman says the company has identified three lead candidates and that Empirico aims to get at least one ready for human testing within the next couple years.

The startup is actively hiring, and plans to grow to 25 people by the end of the year, he said in a phone interview.

“We have more potential targets than the capacity to pursue those internally, so our hope is by working with partners like Ionis that have far greater capacity than we do we’ll be able to realize more value faster for the targets we discover and deliver more transformative medicines to patients,” Gottesman added.

DCVC Bio and Neotribe Ventures, which led Empirico’s $12.5 million Series A round of funding in November 2018, also participated in the new financing.