In this podcast Amir Amanzadi, Head of Computational Chemistry, talks to Christopher Trummer, CEO and Co-Founder, and Jakob Hohenberger, COO/CFO and Co-Founder, about the beginning of Celeris Therapeutics.
- The beginning of Celeris Therapeutics (this episode)
- What role does AI play in biomolecular interactions?
- What are degraders?
- Why degraders, and what’s the impact?
- How does a job as Machine Learning Researcher look like?
- How does a job as Computational Chemist look like?
- What’s Celeris One, and how does it work?
Amir: Welcome guys to this podcast from Celeris Therapeutics, a deep tech startup in the intersection of machine learning and life sciences. My name is Amir, and I’m Head of Computational Chemistry at Celeris Therapeutics. I’ll be your host today, and through most of these episodes, I’ll guide you through the podcast.
This series contains seven episodes, called Insight One, trying to demonstrate and give you insights into our technologies at Celeris Therapeutics.
Today I have Christopher Trummer, the CEO, and Jakob Hohenberger, the CFO, and COO – both co-founders of Celeris Therapeutics, as my guests.
Ok guys, why did you found Celeris Therapeutics? Christopher I’d like to start with you.
Christopher: Well, having spent so many years in that industry and being faced with the same issues over and over again, I really tried to face and tackle those undruggable pathogenic proteins.
So, as we all know, we do have 2021, and we’re still unable to treat different serious diseases within all different sorts of areas, like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and many others caused by these undruggable targets. When I first read about geometric deep learning – also sometimes called graph representation learnings – for life sciences the first time, I saw that this is a great opportunity for technology to provide some very precious value. Not only for us as scientists, but for humankind in general in order to tackle exactly these diseases. After meeting Jakob several times, we immediately tried to kick off and start this kind of company, came up with some sketches made some plans, and really tried to implement the first running prototypes. And then we already obtained the first fundraising.
Amir: Now to you, Jakob. You have extensive experience in software engineering and already founded multiple tech companies, while your last position was Head of Sales fat a Swiss-based fintech venture builder. Why did you move from Blockchain and Finance to AI and Life Sciences?
Jakob: Well, I gained great experiences in the finance industry and found many interesting applications for blockchain to serve humankind. But, I had the feeling that these are too far away from a direct impact on humankind for – at least for me -. So I wanted to join life sciences as they directly connect to people. I knew, that I wanted to found a startup again and explored many different applications and different technologies. At that time SARS-CoV-2 arose and acknowledged that life sciences will be my next field.
While that exploration I, fortunately, met Christopher. As we talked about artificial intelligence for drug discovery I felt like yeah, that sounds cool and great. Let’s go.
Amir: Sounds like a quick and pragmatic start. Talking about the roots, what does Celeris Therapeutics do, Christopher?
Christopher: So, as I think I already mentioned, it’s all about these undruggable pathogenic proteins – we just simply call those targets. 80 % of all relevant human targets are currently not addressable by state-of-the-art methods. One very promising pharmaceutical strategy is to leverage endogenous cell-based disposal systems that already degrade proteins, instead of trying to inhibit those. We developed a whole ton of different algorithms that predict for instance biomolecular interactions, then further down the line predict so-called ternary complexes, to just boost this system and induce something which we call targeted protein degradation. These Computer-based methods for such degrader molecules are very complex and require a whole ton of different novel solutions, which we just brought to the market.
Amir: Sounds like a great sweet spot in a very dense and crowded market. Another question on that is, what does Celeris even mean, Jakob?
Jakob: Thanks for that question. As Christopher already explained, we’re dealing with a technology that leverages natural cell-based mechanisms to degrade proteins, for example, PROTAC®. That means proteolysis targeting chimeras, as they are heterobifunctional molecules. Chimeras are mythical creatures combining other creatures. Celeris, for example, is a chimera creature in Greek mythology combining horse and eagle, known for speed.
Amir: Ok, Interesting story. I think Greek mythology will come back in this series again when we talk about the platform Celeris One and its different modules, of course. Talking about speed and traction, tell me about your achievements so far, Christopher.
Christopher: We incorporated the company in January just this year, so 2021. In March 2021 we’ve received the first VC – or venture capital – investment amounting to a sum of 400.000 EUR by two different VCs. From R42 from Silicon Valley and Longevitytech.fund from Prague, Czech Republic, to develop our first running prototype. In April, we obtained a grant amounting to 600.000 EUR and in July another 600.000 EUR from an Austrian-based venture capital fund APEX Ventures, which is also leading our current seed fundraising round. With that money, we’ve built a team of 18 experts around the whole world and developed and validated the deep learning pipelines. Our MVP cloud platform is up and running. We’ve filed several patents in the deep learning space as well as in the biochemistry and chemistry space in general. We have also started the implementation of our BSL2 and chemistry laboratory in the City of Graz, which is the second biggest city in Austria.
Amir: Wow, it looks like speed and swiftness are very important to you guys. Congratulations on your achievements so far. I would like to ask: What do you see in the long run for Celeris Therapeutics?
Christopher: Next year, we will have a fully up and running multi-cloud solution to design degraders in-silico, which means computer-based. We will have 3 to 5 targets to work on within our very own drug development pipeline and 2 or maybe up to 3 more collaborations with big pharma companies on PROTAC® (proteolysis targeting chimeras) and Molecular Glues. Which, I would assume, are the biggest classes of these types of degraders.
Amir: Wow, that sounds you have a great vision for the upcoming years and a clear plan to get there. Thank you very much, to both of your Christopher and Jakob. The next episode will be about the role AI plays in our company with your CSO Hosein Fooladi and CTO Noah Weber. They will elaborate on the importance and application of AI on biomolecules. Thanks for listening, and have a lovely day.