Almost exactly two years ago, the venture firm Andreessen Horowitz took the wraps off a $200 million “biofund” that aimed to invest at the intersection of biology and engineering and was being led by its (then) new general partner, Vijay Pande.
Pande argued at the time that it was finally possible to invest in software-enabled biotech ideas — without having to wait eons for them to pan out — thanks largely to the growing ubiquity of machine learning and the falling cost of computing.
Evidently, that experiment is playing out as planned. Today, the firm is announcing a $450 million second fund led by Pande — formerly the chair of Stanford’s chemistry department — and Jorge Conde, a serial entrepreneur who officially joined the firm a few months ago as a general partner.
If they have their way, Pande says, this is just the beginning, too.
“The opportunity is even bigger than we expected,” he told us yesterday, while suggesting the firm has ambitions to raise an even more “significant” fund down the road. The reason, he explained: Andreessen Horowitz thinks “engineered biology” is “where information technology was 50 years ago — meaning on the cusp of transforming every industry,” he said on a call that also included Conde.
Certainly, the dozen investments the bio fund has made to date — just eight of which have been announced publicly — underscores Pande’s point.
One of the debut fund’s better-known deals (and the biggest, in terms of dollars invested) is Freenome, a liquid biopsy diagnostics platform. But others of its portfolio companies include Apeel, which makes a kind of plant food-based barrier for fruit that aims to replace wax coatings; a care coordination network called PatientPing that alerts providers when a patient is admitted to an unaffiliated facility; and BioAge Labs, a company that’s trying to find drugs that extend humans’ health span through machine learning and biomarkers that speed up the discovery process.
Though not in Andreessen’s portfolio, Conde also points to startups like Modern Meadow, which grows leather in labs without cows, and Bolt Threads, which is making gene-engineered fabric akin to spider silk, as examples of other startups making consumer products or textiles using engineered biology.
In fact, say both general partners, the idea isn’t to write checks that are bigger than the bio fund has already been issuing, which range from $2 million to $3 million at the seed stage, and from $5 million to slightly north of $10 million for Series A stage companies.
The idea instead is to write many more checks.
For now, at least, Pande and Conde will be steering them through, too. Asked if the partnership is hiring any additional investors to help with the new fund, both say it is not. They point instead to the roughly 130 employees at Andreessen Horowitz to whom they can turn for support. “We have a huge team underneath us,” says Conde.
Pande hints that they need it, owing to the many founders of interest who they’re meeting.
“We’re in an age where biologists have been programing since they were kids, so they’re a fundamentally generation of biologists than the previous one,” says Pande, recalling as one example an early meeting with Freenome cofounder and CEO Gabe Ott.
Ott was enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Pennsylvania at the time. “When I asked what machine learning code he was using,” says Pande, “he said he was using the one that he wrote.”Featured Image: Andrew Brookes/Getty Images
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