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Eagle Genomics secures $9m funding as it drafts our survival blueprint

Enterobacteriaceae, gram-negative rod-shaped bacteria, part of intestinal microbiome and causative agents of different infections
Enterobacteriaceae, gram-negative rod-shaped bacteria, part of intestinal microbiome and causative agents of different infections

The world’s most pressing problems – global warming, soil degradation, food supply and disease – are the target of Eagle Genomics, which this week announced $9m in new scale-up funding.

The investment will be used to enhance the Wellcome Genome Campus -based company’s award-winning AI-augmented knowledge discovery platform, e[datascientist], which helps companies looking to innovate with next-generation food, personal care, cosmetics and agritech products, supported by science (much of it new science). The platform harnesses the latest graph technology, and Microsoft’s advanced machine learning and cognitive services.

Clients including Unilever have already used the platform to distil credible scientific evidence in support of claims about its Zendium toothpaste, which uses natural enzymes to boost good bacteria in the mouth – the first substantiated microbiome-based claim recorded in a product launch.

Eagle Genomics ’ CEO Anthony Finbow says the importance of the microbiome – the genetic material of bacteria , fungi, protozoa and viruses living in us, on us and around us – cannot be underestimated and understanding it could be the key to our survival.

“The gut microbiome has a role in the digestion, absorption, and metabolism of food and nutrients, but more broadly it’s the largest portion of the biomass on Earth,” says Anthony. “It’s the missing piece of the jigsaw. The microbiome is the focus of a number of enterprise verticals, some of which involve food – and any attempts to personalise or stratify food requires an understanding of the microbiome.”

Anthony references the warning from the UN that soils around the world are heading for exhaustion and depletion, and before long it is feared they will be too barren to feed the planet.

“Some commentators estimate that we have 60 harvests left in our soils,” he says. “We are decimating the soil. We are not currently growing crops in a sustainable way and we need to reverse that, and we can’t understand how to do that without looking at how the microbiome interacts with the Earth and the plants in the soil.”

He mentions Kiss the Ground, the recent documentary film narrated by Woody Harrelson, which advocates the first viable solution to our climate crisis – regenerative farming . This solution views the soil as far more than a mechanism for growing food: it also plays a key role in sequestering carbon from trees that convert CO2 into oxygen.

“The film’s message is: ‘We can transform things’,” says Anthony. “ Agritech businesses are now looking at how to better manage the soil, and forward-thinking food companies such as Danone see biodiversity in the soil not as an externality – it’s fundamental to sustainable crop production.

Anthony Finbow, CEO at Eagle Genomics
Anthony Finbow, CEO at Eagle Genomics

“We have a situation where 60 per cent of food comes from nine crop varieties: we need to think about crop diversity which requires a focus on soil biodiversity. There have to be more than nine major crop varieties, so the question becomes which substitutes can be grown? Ingredient vendors are focusing on this metabolic health challenge even more than healthcare companies.”

The healthcare sector is engaged, though it takes time to switch from treating the causes of ill health to preventing ill health from developing in the first place.

“Using the microbiome to better understand health moves beyond the organ-centric model of disease, because disease manifests on a completely different plane,” says Anthony. “The microbiome is invisible and until recently it has been very difficult to develop the understanding with available techniques. We now have the potential to apply that microbiome science back into the disease model .”

Eagle Genomics is both creating the data, and helping to analyse it. Attracting such a high level of investment during a pandemic is testament to Eagle Genomics’ unique blend of microbiology and data science expertise. The funding will be used to drive further commercial expansion in the US and Europe – Eagle Genomics has a presence in Manhattan and Boston in the US, and Paris and on the Potsdam Science Park near Berlin on mainland Europe – and on driving powerful microbiome-related research.

Microbiome-related research is big business. Bill Gates has claimed that “[Understanding the microbiome] is as big a breakthrough as anything else we will do in health over the next two decades.” Eagle Genomics is Microsoft’s first microbiome-focused partner.

Improving our health, creating better skin and hair products, boosting crop yields, creating better animal feeds, cleaning up pollution and even energy research – all are areas in which microbiome research is active. In short, wherever microbes are involved, microbiome research has a role to play – and that creates a big market for Eagle Genomics’ data integration and analysis platform.

Even treatments for cancer are within reach.

“The signals are weak, but there are microbial communities in tumours, so the question is how better to understand that.”

Eagle Genomics’s e[datascientist]
Eagle Genomics’s e[datascientist]

The fact is, Eagle Genomics has come a long way since it was founded in 2008.

“Now we’re focused on the microbiome, but back then the focus was on human DNA for biotech/pharma .”

Anthony was originally the company’s executive chairman, “but from inception I started to try and focus on the microbiome particularly, as pharma was a very competitive business space, so we used one or two companies, particularly Unilever, to vector into the blue ocean.”

Blue ocean?

“It’s a term used by strategists – it’s where the sharks aren’t swimming, in other words there’s no blood in the water.”

The quality of the investors in the $9m scale-up round – “I’m not a fan of Series A, B etc” – is impressive.

Environmental Technologies Fund (ETF) and a consortium of investors from across science, AI and analytics fields have provided this latest round of investment. The consortium, led by Granpool Innovative Investments, includes bpd partners, Anatom Holding and Albert-László Barabási among others. Prof Barabási is a world-leading network science expert, proactive investor in cutting-edge health innovation, and is the director of Northeastern University’s Center for Complex Network Research (CCNR).

Speaking for the investor consortium, Prof Barabási said: “Some investment opportunities leap out, and Eagle Genomics certainly falls into that category. This is an immensely exciting science, and the appetite for the company’s unique and powerful platform is clear from the work Eagle Genomics is already doing with the likes of Unilever and the advanced discussions with some of the biggest companies in the world. I wish them all the best and will be following the company’s success with great interest.”

“We are on course to establish Eagle Genomics as a market leader at this transformative time and anchor our position as the pre-eminent platform vendor enabling the digital reinvention of life sciences R&D ,” concludes Anthony.

“The microbiome is a megatrend that is evolving very quickly, and we are the forefront of associated discovery with our unique solution to address the enterprise data challenge.”

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