USA – Biomarker discovery firm Sapient has received a US$9.2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for mass spectrometry-based metabolomic biomarker studies.

The company said it will use much of the grant for studies aimed at identifying metabolic pathways and biomarkers that can inform interventions for health problems disproportionately affecting women and infants in developing countries.

Sapient plans to use its high-throughput mass spec-based metabolomics platform to analyze tens of thousands of samples collected by Gates Foundation grantees.

In addition to rapid liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (rLC-MS) analysis, the new grant will enable Sapient to provide grantees with support for biocomputational analyses and molecule identification of key discovered biomarkers, as well as capacity building for analytical and data handling capabilities among the grantees.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to continue our exciting collaborations with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and to support the incredible work being done through their grantees to tackle critical global health challenges in underserved populations,” Mo Jain, founder and CEO of Sapient, said in a statement.

The grant will allow Sapient to perform population-level analyses for a highly unique scale of discovery that amplifies its ability to identify robust, specific small molecule biomarkers of health and disease.

Sapient plans to use its high-throughput mass spec-based metabolomics platform to analyze tens of thousands of samples collected by Gates Foundation grantees.

The new grant follows a prior funding of US$4.6 million awarded to Sapient from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2020.

Sapient used that money to fund population-scale metabolomics discovery analyses for 27 independent global health discovery and translation projects initiated by the foundation’s grantees in the areas of COVID-19, maternal, newborn, and child health, infectious disease, and hypoxia.

Sapient’s support in these programs led to key discoveries including identification of novel biomarkers of early-stage disease, biological processes, and protective factors that are being used to develop diagnostic field tests and optimal disease prevention and treatment interventions.

Phase Genomics receives US$5.5M funding

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the US National Institutes of Health awarded US$5.5 million to Phase Genomics – a DNA analysis startup.

Phase Genomics intends to use the funding to catalog the diversity of viruses that infect bacteria in samples from the human gut and wastewater.

Phase genomics CEO, Ivan Liachko in an interview told GeekWire that the Phases Genomics team will determine which viruses infect which bacteria worldwide, addressing “one of the largest blind spots in biology.”

The resulting database could be used to develop new therapeutics and potentially to build a surveillance system to detect microbial threats and respond to them.

Viruses that infect bacteria, called bacteriophages, are everywhere. They can produce gut-busting toxins or encode antibiotic resistance genes, and they can also prey on bacteria and kill them.

There are an estimated 1031 bacteriophage on the planet: they are the earth’s most abundant and diverse biological entities, scientists say. 

Bacteriophages can also be useful to people. They are being studied as therapeutics to destroy unwanted bacteria and they have been modified to attack cancer cells.

Scientists are testing phages, their short-hand name, as treatments for antibiotic resistant infections.

But much remains unknown, including which phages infect which bacteria. Only a few hundred such interactions have been uncovered, said Liachko.

Phase Genomics aims to build a repository of virus genomes and their bacterial hosts that is “orders of magnitude” larger than what’s already known, said Liachko, who built Phase Genomics into a 30-person company since co-founding it seven years ago.

Meanwhile, earlier on, Flywheel, a Minneapolis-based software startup that manages data for medical researchers has been awarded a grant worth US$829,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The multi-year grant will give an international cohort of researchers a centralized, cloud-based research infrastructure as they study the neurodevelopmental health of children growing up in poverty and other adverse environments in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Flywheel closed a US$22 million Series C round of fundraising in November.

The round was led by San Francisco-based 8VC. Other investors include St. Cloud-based Great North Labs, St. Louis, Missouri-based iSelect and Stanford-based Spike Ventures.

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