2022 was a busy year for Octant. In addition to developing the capabilities and scale of our platform, we continued to advance our therapeutic programs towards one day treating critical diseases. To achieve this the Octant team has grown in leaps and bounds! We doubled in size as we’ve welcomed experienced talent across business development, chemistry, computation, drug discovery, finance, people operations, and strategy. We have also seen Octonauts take on more leadership roles and greater responsibilities as individual contributors. Despite the unfavorable biotech economy, we were able to close our Series B fundraise in early 2022, raising more than $80 million to support the expansion of our team, platform, and therapeutic programs.
Growing our Team of Octonauts
From fresh college graduates to industry veterans, Octonauts have been making waves in the lab, at the terminal, and across our business and operations. We graduated our third class of Octant Apprentices this year and welcomed seven new apprentices into our largest cohort yet! Many apprentices and research associates have taken ownership of significant projects, such as creating assays for new indications, assembling chemical libraries for screening, and scaling up our multiplexed assay platform. We’ve also hired more research associates, scientists, automation engineers, software engineers, operations specialists and executives to run our Business Development, Compute, Finance, and Strategy functions. It has been rewarding to watch both new and tenured Octonauts continuously rise to the occasion this year. Many of our scientists assumed leadership roles over the course of the year: mentoring apprentices, becoming people and project managers, and running new drug discovery programs. Overall, 2022 has been a year of tremendous growth for us and we are eager to continue the momentum into 2023!
Scaling our platform
One of the high-impact investments we made this year was deploying a fully integrated automation system to dramatically increase our development capabilities. We teamed up with Zymergen (acquired by Ginkgo Bioworks) to build a modular system of cloud-controlled reconfigurable automation units that offers customizable workflows and expansion. At the beginning of 2022 we could map interactions between putative drugs and their targets at a cadence of ~12,000 wells per week. Our new system, which we’ve named Hypatia, processes hundreds of plates autonomously, which has positioned us to increase our platform’s throughput by an order of magnitude.
Fancy robots alone can’t usher in a new age of experimentation, so we’ve had to pull expertise from software, bioinformatics, logistics, chemistry, and our multiplexed assay team to raise our platform to the next level. During this buildout we’ve migrated to the cloud, instituted automated QC pipelines, miniaturized our multiplexed assay, onboarded a new 110k-member (and growing) chemical deck for naive screening, and trained many research associates on automation engineering. Our new capacity enables us to map a few million interactions a week between chemicals and cellular targets. Scaling our platform by 10X in roughly a year means getting more shots on goal with each screen and faster iterative learning cycles, generating even more high quality lead molecules.
Advancing our therapeutics programs
It has been gratifying to make substantial progress on our therapeutic programs. Since the inception of our autosomal dominant Retinitis Pigmentosa (adRP) program in 2021 we’ve screened over 300,000 new chemicals for their ability to rescue misfolded rhodopsin. We initially tested compounds against a cell line harboring the most common mutant, but this year we leveraged our multiplexed assay platform to engineer our compounds to broadly correct more mutations. Our best compound can rescue ~80% of pathogenic variants with potency greater than the correctors reported in the literature and is performing well against other pharmacokinetic properties needed to develop an oral therapeutic. We’ve moved into the lead optimization phase for adRP and plan to commence in vivo efficacy studies in February. We have also made progress against our Fabry’s and Wilson’s Disease programs, where we’ve identified interesting molecules that we are using to push these programs forward.
Onboarding new discovery programs
Expansion of our screening capabilities and advances in our chemistries and genetic reporter technologies have enabled us to add to our pipeline of therapeutic programs. As a platform drug discovery company, we derive value from pursuing multiple therapeutic bets in diseases characterized by similar cellular mechanisms. For example, we’re pursuing chaperone-based approaches to treat protein mistrafficking and misfolding diseases (see the diagram below). This year, we expanded our pipeline from two to seven programs. This was made possible by our synthetic biology team who engineered the assays needed to run these monogenic misfolding programs. While building assays for new indications used to take two Octonauts about three months, we can now launch the assay infrastructure for a new monogenic misfolding disease program in just six weeks with one Octonaut.
Building value through partnerships
In addition to developing Octant’s own pipeline, we’ve been progressing on our partnership with BMS where we’ve been conducting deep mutational scans (DMS) of immune related targets to explore the function of those targets. We’re excited about the data that is being delivered by our DMS platform, which provides unprecedented insights into the genetics and activity profiles of protein targets by interrogating every amino acid point-mutation in multiplex. We’ve continued to improve the technology and are producing our best data-sets yet. We’re excited to continue driving unique R&D insights in partnership with top biopharma teams.
From external partnerships to internal programs, we’ve worked hard this year to build technology that will improve the lives of patients everywhere. It hasn’t always been easy, but the work is fulfilling and we never forget to have fun along the way! For a closer look at all the fun we had this year check out this link!