Benchling: Bringing biointelligence to life science R&D
I’m thrilled to announce Benchling’s Series C fundraising, led by Menlo Ventures and joined by Lead Edge Capital and YC Continuity. In this post, I discuss our plans for Benchling as we enter this new stage of growth, and how biointelligence is crucial for the companies that are redefining modern life science.
Biology is powering breakthroughs in nearly every aspect of our lives, from the medicines we take, to the food we eat and crops we grow, to the materials we use everyday, and even the energy that powers our lives. Even though we are at this tipping point, the progress we could be making is stunted by the antiquated tools at scientists’ disposal. We started Benchling seven years ago to build modern tools worthy of modern science. The industry has only accelerated since then, and the pace of innovation has been staggering to witness:
- Technologies like CRISPR/Cas9 didn’t exist when we founded Benchling, but they’re now the standard in gene editing.
- Biopharmaceuticals have grown from 15% to 50% of all medicines in pipelines, and biologics now account for 8 of the Top 10 bestselling drugs.
- Entirely new classes of medicines have reached the market. Kymriah, the first cell therapy, was approved in 2017. Luxturna, the first gene therapy, was approved last year. Thousands of more therapies like these are in development.
- From synthetic spider silk, to meatless meat, to biofuels, biology’s applications beyond pharmaceuticals are making waves.
The future promised by biopharmaceuticals and other bioproducts is no longer a far-off dream: today, biology is technology.
At Benchling, we work with over 200 biotechnology companies pushing the envelope of science, and we’ve seen their challenges up close. Compared to traditional chemistry-based R&D, modern biology-based R&D has gotten so complicated that it requires a new paradigm altogether. From the molecules that companies are working on, to their scientific processes and accompanying organizational models, to the terabytes of multi-dimensional datasets that they’re generating, developing a new bioproduct is an undertaking of unprecedented complexity.
For traditional chemistry-based R&D, the processes for developing a new product are well-established and relatively standardized when it comes to manufacturing. The acetaminophen in a drugstore in San Francisco is the same chemical that’s in drugstores across the world. But when it comes to something like autologous CAR T cell therapy, every patient is different. You don’t know how a patient’s cells will respond to the gene editing process. You don’t know how their body will react when those cells are reintroduced. And perhaps most challengingly, in developing these drugs, companies need to build models that predict patient outcomes even when they don’t know who those patients will be.
Even beyond the difficulty of developing personalized medicines, the sheer number of specialized teams (often including external collaborators in academia or contract research organizations) is staggering. Each team typically owns and masters a very specific process, heightening the need for seamless collaboration and handoffs in a complex R&D environment.
We’ve spent the last seven years helping companies master the complexity of modern life science R&D with what we call biointelligence. Biointelligence is the interplay of deep sample intelligence (ex. everything you need to know about a sample of cells, from its genetic sequence, to its source, to its physical storage location) with deep process intelligence (ex. every detail of every step a sample has gone through in the lab, including experimental conditions and results). When working with immensely complex molecules and immensely complex workflows, getting this type of end-to-end traceability is no trivial task. It’s been Benchling’s mission for the past seven years to help life science companies achieve this – all in service of developing breakthrough scientific platforms that can create the next generation of products.
But our vision of biointelligence doesn’t stop there. End-to-end traceability is part of the challenge, but when it comes to actually managing all that data and extracting insights from it, human intelligence alone isn’t enough. The data is just too complex. With the power of modern-day computing, we can help scientists speed up their work and harness this data through smart, automated lineage detection, entity validation, and analytics. Achieving this level of biointelligence is critical because it unlocks new answers at every level of life science organizations. Scientists no longer need to waste time on repetitive and error-prone manual data entry. Managers can rapidly identify and resolve bottlenecks in their processes. And executives can get a fully accurate, real-time view of their ongoing pipeline programs.
Over the past year, Benchling has had the chance to bring the power of biointelligence to more life science R&D organizations than ever before. We’ve tripled the number of companies we work with, doubled the size of our team, and opened our second office. We hosted two user forums where we brought together hundreds of leaders from across life science to discuss the challenges they face working in novel R&D modalities, and we have a third forum planned for later this year. We launched a quarterly periodical, Benchtalk, that showcases the personal stories and research of our users. And we delivered groundbreaking improvements to the Benchling platform that make it easier than ever for companies to automate their processes, unlock biointelligence by tracing their samples and processes, and ultimately gain mastery over large molecule R&D.
With our Series C, we plan to expand the breadth of services we offer our customers, broaden our community initiatives across biotech, pharma, and academia, and invest more in our product to make biointelligence even more powerful and accessible. Specifically, Benchling is developing new capabilities for high-throughput automation, in-product analytics, and cross-team collaboration. As the next generation of scientists continues to accelerate modern life science with biointelligence, our lives will be transformed beyond even the breakthroughs that we can predict. That’s where we’re thrilled to see the new innovations our customers our developing, and that’s what ultimately drives us to keep advancing our life sciences R&D cloud.
Saji Wickramasekara, Co-Founder and CEO @ Benchling