NEW YORK – Standigm, a Korean company that supports drug discovery with omics-driven artificial intelligence, is eyeing an initial public offering in 2024 after shelving plans to go public in 2021.
With rising interest rates, slowing venture capital investments, and other factors leading to uncertainty in the financial markets, Standigm Chief Business Officer Carl Foster knows that there is no guarantee the 8-year-old firm can successfully execute a private placement or an IPO.
"This is a very tough financial environment currently, but our goal is to put in place the right building blocks to do an IPO sometime next year," Foster said. The Seoul-based company also has offices in both Cambridge, UK, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Foster said it is unclear yet what country the IPO might take place in.
"It may be on the Korean market. There's a lot of appetite there for a company like ours," he said. The company's original 2021 plan was indeed to go public on the Korea Exchange.
Foster said that Standigm is looking to "break through" the financial logjam by forging a "series of interesting collaborations with major medical institutions [and] with companies and data providers" to attract interest from investors.
A month ago, Standigm entered into a collaboration with Nashville Biosciences to accelerate early-stage drug discovery by building customized AI models using de-identified clinical and genomic datasets. As a wholly owned spinout of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, NashBio has access to Vanderbilt's BioVU bank of longitudinal medical records and DNA samples.
This month, the firm announced that it signed a memorandum of understanding with Curome Biosciences for drug discovery and trial development for rare conditions including mitochondrial disease.
Standigm mostly gets its data from public sources, including Genomics England, the same sets of data that every other bioinformatics company has access to. "Our relationship with NashBio was to supercharge that," Foster said.
The NashBio deal could herald other agreements with private repositories. " We continue to look for other sources of data that can do the same thing," he said.
Foster said that Standigm sees another opportunity to obtain valuable data in the fact that NashBio has a partnership with Illumina to sequence the genomes of 250,000 patients who have been consented for whole-genome testing.
Other current customers include Institut Pasteur in Korea, UK-based Milner Therapeutics Institute, and several Korean pharmaceutical companies. Foster said that for the last year, Standigm has had a collaboration in obesity and diabetes drug discovery with a "major" European drug company that he declined to name.
Standigm was founded in 2015 by Jinhan Kim, So Jeong Yun, and Sang Ok Song, all veterans of the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology in Suwon, South Korea, and all holders of Ph.D.s. The company has raised $71.2 million over the years, most recently a $44.5 million pre-IPO round followed by a $10 million placement from Singapore-based Pavilion Capital in 2021.
The company has two distinct software platforms, Standigm Ask for drug target identification and Standigm Best for in silico compound design.
Standigm Ask can prioritize potential drug targets based on the likelihood of success. It uses several different AI models, including one the company calls Vamp that analyzes patient genomic data to predict pathogenic defects. "Vamp can predict the potentially distinct metabolic mechanisms from an individual's genomic data, providing a possible phenotype with interpretable mechanism of action," Foster explained.
For example, if a customer was interested in pancreatic cancer, Standigm could send a request for phenotypic, genotypic, proteomic, and transcriptomic data on that condition, and NashBio can automatically feed relevant data into Standigm's algorithms.
Foster said that one topic keeps rising to the top in discussions with pharma partners. "They're very interested in AI, but they view it kind of like a black box. We ask you a question, you give us an answer, and we don't know what that answer means," he said.
Standigm wants to differentiate itself from other AI target discovery platforms with a more "transparent" algorithm to demonstrate the steps along the way to returning answers, according to Foster. "Before [pharma companies] embark on a very expensive drug design process, they need to feel comfortable that that's a good target," Foster explained.
Foster said that the firm is in discussion with "several" large cloud service providers about how to improve its Ask and Best algorithms with the high-powered computation those firms provide. He would not disclose names since no deal has been finalized.
"We're still trying to figure out what we need them for and how they can help us," Foster conceded.
He expects to have some announcements "fairly soon" about collaborations with unspecified "large medical institutions," including major cancer centers. "They have their own internal targets that they think are important, but they don't have the drug design capabilities," he said.
Standigm plans on designing compounds to address targets specified by collaborating institutions, then run its validation models on those compounds. "We would potentially jointly license those out to big pharma companies," Foster explained. "It takes us closer from in silico design all the way to an actual compound going into the clinic."
While it is primarily a software company, Standigm does have a small wet lab in South Korea for compound synthesis.
In addition to oncology, the firm has an interest in central nervous system disorders like Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and multiple sclerosis, as well as in inflammatory conditions and rare diseases, according to Foster.
He discussed a case where the firm analyzed a library of 15,000 existing drugs on behalf of a pediatric hospital and was able to identify an "old cardiovascular drug" sold in Japan as a potential treatment for Leigh syndrome, a very rare, early-onset mitochondrial disorder. "There's not a commercial opportunity, but we felt that we could use our platform for drug repurposing," he said.
Neither the firm nor its partner has published this case study yet, according to a Standigm representative.