Discovering Biotech Startups: A map for Selling to Felix Biotechnology


Written by:
David Wilkerson

Welcome to another edition of our Sponsor Atlas series, which focuses on startups and young pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies that are in early stages or stealth mode. In the next edition of Sponsor Atlas: Discovering Biotech Startups, we’re looking at Felix Biotechnology, Inc., and exploring the current affairs and future orientation of this emerging Berkeley - based stealth biotech startup. To accomplish this, we will give a business overview of their current operations, summarize their outsourcing needs, map out their development goals and decision-makers, and highlight their current strategies for capturing innovation. If you haven’t already read our other blogs on new biotech startups, be sure to check them out here

In collaboration with researchers at Yale University and UC Berkeley, Felix Biotechnology is a start-up focused on accelerating the deployment of novel biotherapeutics targeting urgent microbial challenges in human health and beyond.              

Business Overview 

Felix Biotechnology does not currently have any registered trademarks, but they do have a very simple website. Unfortunately it has virtually no information about their company or research efforts, but there is a small link at the bottom of the website that references some of the recent news about the company though. The business was registered in Delaware as a C-Corp on 12/06/2019 and has a registered agent address. Felix’s principal place of business, as noted on the business entity search, is located at 1160 Battery Street, Suite 100, San Francisco, CA 94109, as well as being listed with QB3 and Y Combinator accelerator facilities. Felix Biotechnology is categorized under Biotechnology and Healthcare Therapeutics. Current estimates show that the company has an annual revenue of under $500,000 and employs a staff of approximately 4.  

Felix Biotechnology is financially backed by multiple entities, with the investors primarily being Y Combinator, California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), and Illumina Accelerator. Most recently, Felix Biotechnology raised $150K of funding on March 17, 2020 [1]. At this point in time their actual revenues aren’t that huge, but considering their development pipeline and all-star executive team, we are expecting to see a lot of business activities from them in the near future. Let’s take a quick look at the backgrounds of the investors. Firstly, the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3) is a nonprofit research and technology commercialization institute spanning three University of California campuses in the San Francisco Bay Area: UC Berkeley, UCSF, and UC Santa Cruz. Secondly, Y Combinator is a seed money startup accelerator created in March 2005 and has been used to launch over 2,000 companies including Stripe, Airbnb, DoorDash, Instacart, and Dropbox. Thirdly, Illumina Accelerator is the world’s first business accelerator focused solely on creating an innovation platform for the genomics industry. They provide select startups with access to seed investment, business guidance, in-house sequencing systems and reagents, and fully operational lab spaces in the San Francisco Bay Area or Cambridge, UK during each six-month funding cycle.    

Outsourcing History

The information on the outsourcing needs of Felix Biotechnology are few and far between, but their recent venture round is a good sign they have some capital to play around with for outsourcing additional R&D and clinical manufacturing work. Felix Biotechnology will be progressing through the usual steps while working on their IND studies and clinical trials, with more about that in the next section. Until recently the company has done a very good job of staying under the radar, especially with their recent funding and investor backing. Felix will use the venture capital to further their research and manufacturing activities, so we can definitely expect to see an increased need for outsourcing work in the near future.     

We think business development teams in the realms of clinical manufacturing and commercial upscale, preclinical programs with animal model development for multidrug-resistant microbial infections, bioanalytical CROs, and CMOs with experience in phage therapies should definitely have Felix Biotechnology on their radar for the next few years.                   

Felix Biotechnology’s Pipeline and R&D Focus 

Felix Biotechnology’s main goal is accelerating the development and deployment of novel biotherapeutics to treat life-threatening microbial infections in human health. Their core technology consists of synthetic biology platforms licensed from UC Berkeley allowing for discovery and engineering of their novel molecules as well as a preclinical asset licensed from Yale University. Felix’s technology has currently been deployed to treat multidrug-resistant and pandrug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections in 10 cystic fibrosis patients using a compassionate use IND. Currently the treatments have all been safe, and they have had positive primary and secondary clinical outcomes. The research team has also developed additional candidates targeting S. aureus and MRSA infections, as well as candidates targeting Burkholderia and Acinetobacter infections. Additionally, Felix has some other interesting discovery biotherapeutics in the pipeline targeting clinically important fungal infections. [2]      

As mentioned above, their lead product in development called FBTCF1 is targeting MDR Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections in cystic fibrosis patients. If clinical trials are successful, Felix plans to deploy its treatment for bacterial infections in those suffering from cystic fibrosis first as these patients tend to require a near constant stream of antibiotics to combat lung infections. The next step will be to conduct a small clinical trial involving 30 people, then, as the R&D progresses, a larger human trial before seeking FDA approval.   

Decision Making 

  • Dr. Robert McBride - Co-Founder of Felix Biotechnology, Rob has over 10 years of entrepreneurial experience in the biotechnology space. He has worked at and founded multiple companies focused on commercializing microbial technology and has a deep technical background in biotherapeutics. Dr. McBride received his doctorate in Ecology and Population Biology from the University of Houston, and completed his Postdoctoral Fellowship at Yale University in 2009. [3]             
  • Dr. Paul Turner - Co-Founder of Felix Biotechnology, Paul Turner is the Rachel Carson Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University, and faculty member in Microbiology at Yale School of Medicine. He studies the evolutionary genetics of viruses, particularly bacteriophages that specifically infect bacterial pathogens, and RNA viruses that are vector-transmitted by mosquitoes. Dr. Turner received a Biology degree (1988) from University of Rochester, and Ph.D. (1995) in Zoology from Michigan State University. He did postdoctoral training at National Institutes of Health, University of Valencia in Spain, and University of Maryland-College Park, before joining Yale’s Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department in 2001. His service to the profession includes Chair of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) Division on Evolutionary and Genomic Microbiology, as well as membership on the National Science Foundation’s Biological Sciences Advisory Committee, ASM Committee on Minority Education, and multiple National Research Council advisory committees. Dr. Turner was elected Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, Councilor of the American Genetic Association, Chair of the Gordon Research Conference on Microbial Population Biology, and Chair of the CNRS Jacques Monod Conference on Viral Emergence. [4
  • Dr. Vivek Mutalik - Chief Scientific Officer of Felix Biotechnology, Vivek has a Ph.D. in systems biology and is a phage engineering expert who has 15 years of research experience. Dr. Mutalik is a staff scientist at the Environmental Genomics and Systems Biology Division and Biological Systems and Engineering Division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Previously Dr. Mutalik was a team leader at the BIOFAB, the first biological design-build-test facility, which focuses on developing extensively tested standard biological parts to facilitate easier engineering of biology. Currently, his work focuses on developing standardized genetic tools for industrially important microorganisms, a robust functional genomics platform and study of regulatory design principles in microbial stress responses. [5]      
  • Dr. Jennifer Doudna - Advisor to Felix Biotechnology, Jennifer is a Li Ka Shing Chancellor Chair Professor in the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Doudna has been an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) since 1997, and since 2018 she holds the position of senior investigator at the Gladstone Institutes as well as that of professor at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Doudna has been a leading figure in what is referred to as the "CRISPR revolution" for her fundamental work and leadership in developing CRISPR-mediated genome editing. In 2012, Dr. Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier were the first to propose that CRISPR-Cas9 could be used for programmable editing of genomes, which is now considered one of the most significant discoveries in the history of biology. [6]    

Innovation

With a decent amount of venture funding, significant progress in scientific benchwork, and deep technical backgrounds from their executives, we believe that Felix Biotechnology will do very well in their development pipeline and clinical trial studies. Felix’s innovative approach to targeting phage to virulence-factor and finding the right phage for the particular factor more quickly and for less money than any other technology is a very innovative endeavor. Dr. McBride says that the medical technology they are working on allows the virus to be targeted at specific sites on the bacteria or where the bacteria is the host. This is believed to kill off the bad bacteria and can also stall its ability to evolve and spread further. It also means the bacteria cannot become more resistant, since it cannot evolve.               

Historically speaking, the idea to use a virus to kill off bacteria is not necessarily new. Bacteriophages, or viruses that can “infect” bacteria, were first discovered by an English researcher in 1915 and commercialized phage therapy began in the U.S. in the 1940’s through Eli Lilly and Company. Around the same time antibiotics came along and researchers just never seemed to explore the therapy further. However, with hardly any solutions being offered and the standard drug model not working effectively to combat the current situation, Dr. Robert McBride believes his company can put phage therapy back at the forefront of medicine. As mentioned before, Felix Biotechnology has already tested its solution on an initial group of 10 people to demonstrate its approach.       

“We know the antibiotic resistant challenge is large now and is only going to get worse,” Dr. McBride said. “We have an elegant technological solution to this challenge and we know our treatment can work. We want to contribute to a future in which these infections do not kill more than 10 million people a year, a future we can get excited about.” [7]                 

How can I find new biotech startups?

If you would like a simple solution for keeping an eye on drug sponsor companies, like Felix Biotechnology, without relying on a database and generic lists of leads each week, we at Zymewire are here to help. Reach out today, and stay tuned for the next installment of the Sponsor Atlas: Discovering Biotech Startups. If you enjoy these articles, please feel free to give them a share through the social links below!

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