Startup TNT winner seeks to unlock millions by ramping up protein discovery

· The Pulse

Biotech company 48Hour Discovery, which won the Edmonton side of Startup TNT's Investment Summit VI, is looking to raise a $2.5-million seed round to help it "pre-discover" 250 protein targets.

Finding the targeting molecules that will bind to the receptor in, say, a cancer cell, is key to developing therapeutic treatments in precision medicine. Once 48Hour Discovery identifies 250 such targets, "that's when we expect a dramatic increase in value," CEO and founder Ratmir Derda said in his pitch at the summit finale on Nov. 17.

Each target has $100,000 to $500,000 in unrealized value that will take two or three years to come to fruition, Derda said. Investors at Startup TNT seemed willing to wait, committing at least $175,000 to kick off the company's seed round, though Taproot has not been able to confirm the final amount.

Derda's company has earned about $5 million in revenue over the past five years, half of it this year, he said during his pitch. That's based on the discovery of 33 targets; now 48Hour Discovery wants to add 250, "and for that, we need a little bit of money."

A $2.5-million seed round would help 48Hour Discovery achieve economies of scale in its target discovery. It would also allow it to advance its own pipeline of drug discovery, including a4b7, which may lead to a treatment for inflammatory bowel disease.

"These types of solutions are no longer a dream," Derda said, citing as proof Lutathera, an FDA-approved drug to target gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumours, which was acquired by Novartis for $3.9 billion.

The challenge now is to find more such solutions, which 48Hour Discovery does "much faster than our competitors at a dramatically reduced cost," said Derda, who received an award for scientific achievement and innovation from BioAlberta earlier this year.

Six members of the 48Hour Discovery team assembles around a cheque held by Startup TNT's Zack Storms

Ratmir Derda (right), points to an investment cheque held by Startup TNT's Zack Storms, surrounded by the rest of 48Hour Discovery's leadership team: Zoe O'Gara, Jessica (Yun) Cao, David Alton, Adam Brown, and Martin Truksa. (Supplied)

Word-of-mouth has helped 48Hour Discovery find most of its customers so far. For example the deal it signed with Fusion Pharmaceuticals in January prompted other radiopharmaceutical companies to get in touch, Derda said.

The 250-target pre-discovery campaign "would actually allow us to approach even more clients even more aggressively," he added.

To that end, he has hired Adam Brown, who has been the strategic initiatives lead for Wyvern, as 48Hour Discovery's new vice-president of marketing.

"I like to call them a perfect blend of MBAs and PhDs," Derda said of his team.

Fellow Edmonton startups Umay, which makes a digital rest and recovery tool for better eye health, and, which automates a key task in construction estimates, received side deals at the summit.

Medtech company Nimble Science, which has developed a capsule to gather samples from the small intestine, won the Calgary pitch competition. "Gut health is the next great frontier," said CEO Sabine Bruehlmann, who is also looking to raise $2.5 million.

This was the first time Startup TNT has run its investment summit in all three Prairie provinces at the same time. Regina's Offstreet, a parking permit and validation software company, won the Saskatchewan summit, and Winnipeg's ConstructionClock, which makes labour-tracking software, won in Manitoba.