Founder Spotlight: Kamil Tamiola CEO & Founder of Peptone
On a Mission to Build Better Drugs and Dramatically Improve Healthcare
After raising a $2.5 million seed round in 2021, Peptone has now followed up with a $40 million Series A led by F-Prime, Bessemer, and Walden Catalyst Ventures.
Led by founder Kamil Tamiola, the first in class translational biophysics company is focusing on the discovery of novel therapeutics against intrinsically disordered targets. Peptone’s technology could help big pharma design better drugs—and save billions of dollars in the process.
Peptone's founder Kamil Tamiola shares insights to its entrepreneurial journey:
Peptone Is on a Mission to Build Better Drugs and Dramatically Improve Healthcare
Peptone is on a mission to bring order to a disordered universe—or, more accurately, to disordered proteins.
Kamil Tamiola’s background is in experimental nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and computational molecular dynamics of intrinsically disordered proteins. These proteins are involved in many debilitating disorders, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
“Proteins are not static,” he says. “They are wobbly, they are dynamic and they may actually get quite fuzzy. We work with particularly bizarre ones. And the more bizarre they get, the more excited we get.”
Specifically, Peptone zeroes in on protein structural disorder—studying the molecules that do not fit. It turns out that proteins that don’t have a definite shape and don’t fold can cause scores of very debilitating diseases.
Using physics to make better drugs
Tamiola says he didn’t have a eureka moment before launching Peptone in 2016. “After doing my PhD in NMR spectroscopy and supercomputing, I just noticed that there were rapidly emerging AI techniques in the Pharma industry that could benefit from hardcore physics,” he explains. “That’s what motivated me to start Peptone. For many years, we’ve been trying to understand how supercomputing technology could be applicable to really important, really serious problems in commercial protein design.”
At Peptone, we use highly sophisticated structural analysis techniques, such as nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and hydrogen-exchange mass spectrometry (HDX-MS), which can measure the physical properties of dynamic, disordered proteins as they move. This data is then fed into Peptone’s supercomputer, which applies physical modeling methods and machine learning algorithms to create millions of simulations of the most likely conformations of a particular disordered protein or protein regions and the best way to target them with drugs. These predictions are then tested in the lab and the results are fed back in for further cycles of refinement, generating viable drug candidates to take forward for further development.
“The reality is that drug discovery in big pharma sees only a small fraction of protein-based drugs pass the preclinical stages, due to their complexity,” says Tamiola. “We are working on shifting this failure-to-success ratio in a meticulously predictable and repeatable way using the best computational methods and sophisticated non-high throughput experiments.”
He explains that, right now, 89% of protein-based drugs must fail in order for 11% to succeed. And from this failure, researchers are learning how to perfect the process.
“Today, failure is an integral part of scientific discovery in the pharma space,” he says. “Our role is to make sense out of it faster, so that next time your chance of failure is lower. So that you can go to project managers and say, ‘Guys, this is not going to fly. We have to kill this program and save $600 million.’”
In 2018, for instance, 517 antibody programs were started, 62 advanced to a clinical trial or efficacy study and only 13 ultimately got approved. Now factor into this the average cost of the full pipeline: $2.3 billion. Clearly, the amount of capital—and the amount of risk—that pharma needs to take on to develop a drug that ultimately works is astronomical.
“What we are trying to do is embrace this and say, ‘Look, big pharma, take the risks,” Tamiola says. “There must be somebody that tries to use mathematics and statistical physics to manage and compute the risk. And at the end of the day, we are hoping that with AI and computational and experimental physics we can predict certain things and thus compute a risk profile for our clients—a risk profile that factors into the decision process whether something should advance or something actually holds up progress in the pipeline.”
$40 million Series A to accelerate growth
After raising a $2.5 million seed round last year, Peptone has now followed up with a $40 million Series A led by F-Prime, Bessemer, and Walden Catalyst Ventures. Much of that money will go toward building out the team, accelerating the development of their experimental facility in Bellinzona, Switzerland, and supporting a carbon-neutral supercomputing center in Iceland.
“We made an ethical decision to build a compute center with zero carbon footprint, so it is run completely using renewables, including all air cooling and conditioning,” says Tamiola. “That’s a commitment to society and to the environment. We want to be as energy efficient as possible.”
Francis Ho, a partner at Walden Catalyst, says “computational drug discovery is resurgent, but the missing piece is how to understand disordered proteins. We believe Peptone could be the key to completing this puzzle. The Peptone team possesses the right combination of world class scientific expertise, deep collaboration with top pharma and biotech partners, and incredible energy and passion to move mountains,” he says. “I’m excited to leverage our investment and operating track record of driving breakthroughs in Compute and Data/AI technologies to help Peptone further accelerate their vision.”
A founder of many talents
When Tamiola isn’t trying to make the world a better, healthier place, he’s exploring the great outdoors. In fact, he successfully turned his passion for mountain climbing into a side hustle as a professional photographer. For more than four years, he’s been covering outdoor sports, mountaineering and climbing. To date, his work has featured in numerous top-tier publications, including National Geographic, Outside, the Atlantic and the Outdoor Photographer Magazine..
And, when the weather turns bad, you can find him at his beloved grand piano, playing the works of Bach and Scarlatti.
The coolest thing ever
Looking to the future, Tamiola says Peptone’s success will be measured in the number of lives that are saved by drugs that Peptone helps to develop.
“I’m not going to sell a fantasy here but the more scientific evidence we get, the more convinced we are that our approach is working,” he says. “We have to try because if even one drug gets developed, many people with a debilitating disorder can be saved. If we do that, I think it’s the coolest thing ever.”