Mother-daughter duo joins Y Combinator to accelerate drug discovery platform Macromoltek

Macromoltek cofounders Dr. Monica Berrondo and her mother, Susana Kaufmann

While some Silicon Valley tech titans infuse themselves with rejuvenating blood in the hopes of living longer, others work on accelerating drug discovery to cure actual diseases. Dr. Monica Berrondo and her mother, Susana Kaufmann, founded Macromoltek in 2011 to assist pharmaceutical companies with the treatment and diagnosis of infectious diseases and various types of cancers. The duo will be graduating from Y Combinator’s current batch (Winter 2018) later this month with $120,000 in funding.

Based in Austin, Texas, Macromoltek provides a molecular modeling software to analyze potential antibody drug candidates. The startup helps pharmaceutical companies design new antibodies to treat infections and diseases by predicting the structures of these antibodies. It then uses proprietary algorithms to optimize the selection process. According to Dr. Berrondo, who is the CEO, this helps pharmas narrow down their research and target the molecules that are most likely to succeed.

Above: Image of Herceptin (trastuzumab), an antibody that is used to treat breast cancer.

Image Credit: Macromoltek

Although the startup was initially modeled as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform, Berrondo realized it was more effective to work with companies directly through collaboration and charge them for the services. The fees depend on the amount and complexity of molecules being tested or designed. Macromoltek says it gets royalties should the drug be successfully commercialized.

The startup is currently working with a handful of pharma companies across the U.S., the U.K., Switzerland, Germany, and China. It declined to name any customers at this stage.

Prior to founding Macromoltek, Berrondo, who has a background in chemical engineering and biophysics, worked directly with pharma companies to train their employees on how to use academic molecular modeling software.

“What I found was that the software packages were so hard to use, employees needed several retraining sessions,” she said, in an interview with VentureBeat. “And the findings weren’t really applicable to real-life cases. So I thought, ‘What if we rewrote something that really focuses on and tailors to industry problems?'”

Berrondo therefore began developing, testing, and benchmarking an algorithm to predict structures of antibody sequences. So far, the chief executive and her team have worked on infectious diseases like the Zika virus and Burkholderia, as well as many types of metastatic cancers.

Seeing as the average drug takes up to 15 years and $2.5 billion to develop, drug discovery platforms are essential to accelerate the process and cut down costs. Atomwise, another YC graduate, launched a research program to accelerate drug discovery with AI last year. Genetic diagnostic platforms like Sequoia-backed MedGenome and Sofia Genetics are also garnering attention.

To date, Macromoltek has received close to $1 million in grants from the National Science Foundation for its research. The startup currently has five employees.

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