In 2014, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to three men whose work helped change the way microscopes work. For centuries, in order to observe cells in the body on a microscopic level, they had to be fixed in place. You couldn’t see them as they were working. “The only way to visualize them were as static images frozen in time,” says Roger Perlmutter, CEO of Eikon Therapeutics.
Today, however, thanks to super-resolved fluorescence microscopy, cell activity can actually be seen in real time. How proteins interact within those cells can be observed, and that data can be extrapolated for all sorts of biological research—including the process of drug discovery. It’s that implication that led researchers Robert Tijan, Luke Lavis, Xavier Darzacq and Eric Betzig (one of the cowinners of that 2014 Nobel Prize) to found Eikon Therapeutics in 2019. Perlmutter, formerly head of R&D at Merck, joined as CEO in 2020.
On Thursday, Eikon announced that it had raised a $517.8 million Series B round, making for a total of $668 million raised by the company to date. Investors for this round include funds and accounts managed by T. Rowe Price, Soros Capital, General Catalyst, E15 VC, Hartford Healthcare Endowment, AME Cloud Ventures, UC Investments, CPP Investments, Schroeders Capital, Harel Insurance and StepStone Group. Series A investors The Column Group, Foresite Capital, Lux Capital, Horizons Ventures and Innovation Endeavors also participated in the Series B round.
“Eikon’s foundational technology is very different from anything I’ve seen,” says Dror Berman, partner of Innovation Endeavors, which was one of the VC firms that helped incubate Eikon. Berman also sits on the board of Eikon. “The team we’ve put together is unparalleled in the industry. We’ve developed new technology that allowed us to do things that were not possible before.”
Eikon has built a multidisciplinary team based on the fluorescence microscopy that Betzig co-discovered, says Perlmutter. And then some—in addition to building its own microscopes to image proteins in cells, the company also built out its own computer infrastructure and machine learning software, he adds. The combination of the technology, he says, could enable the company to find new candidates for medicines by observing how proteins move in cells. “We have a completely new assay for developing drug candidates where we previously couldn’t find targets,” says Perlmutter.
With the new round of funding, the company intends to expand its capabilities by doubling its current workforce of 100 employees and build out more of its physical infrastructure. Perlmutter estimates that the large funding round means that the company will have enough capital for years before requiring new financing. This, he says, means he won’t have to interrupt his team every few months to help solicit investment. Which means they can be more focused on developing new drugs.
The company’s tools, says Perlmutter, have been used to evaluate about 70 different proteins found in different types of cells that it can observe with its microscopes. By observing these proteins and their motion under different conditions, he says, it’s possible to ascertain whether a chemical is having a desired treatment effect. The company already has some promising targets and plans to continue to develop them, though it may consider partnerships as well. Most of their targets are in cancer, he says, but the company’s also identified potential candidates for neurological disorders and inflammatory disease.
“This is a new frontier of biomedical research that has enormous potential to find medicines to treat intractable disease,” says Perlmutter.