This article was originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal.
Panorama Medicine, a Philadelphia life sciences company that is using genomics and computing to accelerate drug discovery, has raised $3.7 million in a private stock sale.
“Many leading pharmas have dedicated extensive resources in genomics and computing to speed up drug discovery.” said Mingfu Zhu, the co-founder and CEO of Panorama. “Panorama’s approach is unique in that it leverages the expertise of our team in RNA (ribonucleic acid) genomics and computational biology.”
Zhu said the company, which was founded last year, is using its expertise to create a drug discovery platform that integrates genomics, big data, and computing to find drugs that can treat diseases caused by errors during RNA processing.
(Big data refers to the field of analyzing and systematically extracting information data sets that are too large or complex to be dealt with by traditional data-processing application software. RNA along with DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, are the main information carrying molecules in all living organisms.)
“There are a lot of ways mistakes can be made that cause a variety of generic diseases,” Zhu said. “We wanted to develop new ways to develop drugs for those diseases that makes use of all the genetic data available in the public domain.”
Zhu co-founded Panorama with Yi Xing, founding director of the Center for Computational and Genomic Medicine at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; and Douglas Black, a professor in the department of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics at UCLA.
Zhu and Xing have known each other for nearly a decade. About two years ago Xing approached Zhu, previously an executive with two Chinese genomics and gene sequencing companies, with the idea of building a company together that would focus on improving how drugs to cure genetic disease are discovered.
The company’s seed round was led by WI Harper Group, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm, and also included the ZhenFund and Delian Capital.
“WI Harper Group invests in cutting-edge technologies and appreciates the power of big data and artificial intelligence in health care applications,” said Jimmy Lu, WI Harper’s managing director and Panorama board member. “Panorama is uniquely positioned to develop an AI-based drug discovery platform focusing on RNA therapeutics for rare and common diseases.”
Xing said their plan during the next six to eight months is to add some staff members, “ramp up” the company’s efficiencies in using big data and moving new drug candidates into animal models for further research.
Panorama, which has four full-time employees, is currently seeking to add a molecular biologist and bioinformatics scientists.
The company decided to be based in the Philadelphia not simply because that is where Xing was based.
“Philadelphia in many ways is the epicenter of cell and gene therapy and we wanted to be part of that,” Zhu said. “It’s easy to recruit here. Our first two hires came from the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University.”
The company is housed in CIC (Cambridge Innovation Center) Philadelphia, which is part of Wexford and the Science Center’s new building at 3675 Market St.
“I did a search and did visit other places in the area,” Zhu said, “But I really saw this site as an emerging biotech hub. This is a place where we think we can eventually build partnerships. That’s what we were looking for.”
That comment delighted Abigail Sherburne, sales team lead for CIC Philadelphia.
“We want to build a community that fosters collaborations,” Sherburne said, adding the center was designed to allow life sciences and technology companies to focus on their work and not worry about anything else. “They can plug in and we take care of the rest.”