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20 Thriving Biotech Startups (2021)

In the past year, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and other biotechnology companies released life-saving, effective vaccines to combat COVID-19.

Not only that, but they developed the drugs faster than any other vaccine in history.

This is just one example of real-life applications of the work produced in the biotechnology sector.

Novo Nordisk, Regeneron, and Alexion are some of the largest players in this industry, but other biotech startups frequently surface to tackle everything from toxic laundry detergent to gene editing.

According to Global Market Insights, biotech will swell to $775.2 billion by 2024—more than a 100% increase from 2015. There are more than a few biotech startups aiming to grab a piece of that growing market, and we’ve rounded up 20 companies to watch.

1. Cellarity

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5-year search growth: 99X+

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2017

Location: Cambridge, MA

Funding: $173M (Series B)

What they do:

Cellarity, a biotechnology company founded in 2017 by Flagship Labs, aims to be a trailblazer in drug discovery, with a method of creating medicines that target cell behavior instead of just individual proteins. They hope to ultimately enable faster, more successful discovery of medications. According to their website, their approach has been validated in multiple disciplines, and they are putting their focus on four areas: immuno-oncology, hematology, respiratory disease, and metabolism.

2. Kriya Therapeutics

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5-year search growth: 5,700%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2019

Location: Redwood City, CA

Funding: $80.5M (Series A)

What they do:

Kriya Therapeutics develops gene therapy treatments that target obesity, diabetes, and other widespread and serious diseases. They aim to use gene therapy to combat highly pervasive conditions rather than rare monogenic disorders. Kriya’s co-founders, plus early-stage research and finance, currently work from a Palo Alto headquarters, with an additional location in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park that focuses on manufacturing.

3. Bionaut Labs

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5-year search growth: 99X+

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2016

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Funding: $20M (Series A)

What they do:

Bionaut Labs uses a precision-targeted medicine method to transform the way brain disorders are treated. Their advances include the creation of Bionauts™, which are micro-robots that can be controlled remotely to deliver targeted treatment. The company is helmed by CEO and co-founder Michael Shpigelmacher, an expert in robotics and AI. The company’s other co-founder, Aviad Maizels, acts as Executive Chairman.

4. Century Therapeutics

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5-year search growth: 3,300%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2018

Location: Philadelphia, PA

Funding: $410M (Series C)

What they do:

Century Therapeutics is a developer of drugs that use iPSCs (induced pluripotent stem cells) to treat cancer. The company aims to improve on both the availability and success of earlier therapies. German pharmaceutical company Bayer is one of the backers of this startup, having invested $215 million in 2019.

5. Antios Therapeutics

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5-year search growth: 6,100%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2018

Location: Atlanta, GA

Funding: $29.4M (Unknown)

What they do:

Antios Therapeutics aims to treat and eliminate viral diseases like Hepatitis B through the creation of revolutionary therapy options. The leadership team includes CEO Greg Mayes, formerly of Engage Therapeutics; Chief Medical Officer Doug Mayers, MD, formerly of Cocrystal Pharma; and CFO Tamra J. Adams, founder of Accounting Concepts, Inc., a biopharmaceutical and IT accounting firm.

6. EQRx

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5-year search growth: 2,600%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2019

Location: Cambridge, MA

Funding: $700M (Series B)

What they do:

EQRx’s goal is to revolutionize the medical industry by making drugs more affordable and drug pricing more transparent. Some of their key projects include working on producing late-stage cancer drugs and partnering with other biopharmaceutical companies to produce more cost-effective therapies. Founder, Chairman, and CEO Alexis Borisy previously founded CombinatoRx and co-founded several other biotechnology companies.

7. Orna Therapeutics

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5-year search growth: 6,200%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2019

Location: Cambridge, MA

Funding: $80M (Series A)

What they do:

Orna Therapeutics’ business is centered on innovating and creating treatments based on circular RNA (oRNA). The company uses advanced technology to develop oRNA therapies that overcome the issues related to linear messenger RNA (mRNA) therapeutic development. Orna, which sprung from research at MIT, launched in 2021 with financial backing from Taiho Ventures, MPM Capital, F2 Ventures, and others.

8. Maze Therapeutics

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5-year search growth: 7,100%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2018

Location: Redwood City, CA

Funding: $191M (Unknown)

What they do:

Maze Therapeutics’ focus is on creating novel medicines through insights gained from further understanding of human genetics. Their goal is to help those suffering from rare ailments by understanding the genetic markers that occur in people who don’t suffer from these diseases. Financial backers of Maze Therapeutics include GV, ARCH Venture Partners, Casdin Capital, and others.

9. Hibercell

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5-year search growth: 5,700%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2019

Location: New York, NY

Funding: $60.75M (Series A)

What they do:

Hibercell is the first of its kind: a biotechnology company focused primarily on creating therapies that tackle the relapse and metastasis of cancer rather than initial cancer. According to their website, 90% of cancer deaths are due to cancer recurrence. The company’s co-founders, Alan Rigby, Ph.D., Ari Nowacek, M.D., Ph.D., and Julio Aguirre-Ghiso, Ph.D., hold considerable experience in medical disciplines, including oncology and neuroscience.

10. MoMa Therapeutics

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5-year search growth: 7,500%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2020

Location: Cambridge, MA

Funding: $86M (Series A)

What they do:

MoMa Therapeutics is a biotechnology company that aims to harness the power of molecular machines, enzymes that produce force and motion through energy, to provide better precision treatments. The startup, backed by venture capital firm Third Rock Venture, is led by professionals including Third Rock’s own Reid Huber, CEO; Christoph Lengauer, CSO; and Tim Guzi, SVP, Drug Discovery.

11. Verve Therapeutics

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5-year search growth: 2,100%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2018

Location: Cambridge, MA

Funding: $215.5M (Series B)

What they do:

Verve is a biotech company working to create effective, safe ways to edit adult genomes to safeguard people from coronary artery disease and its deadly effects. The company has secured partnerships and collaborations with a range of other organizations, including Beam Therapeutics, Harvard University, and Alphabet Inc.’s Verily Life Sciences, to advance their goals.

12. Forge Biologics

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5-year search growth: 99X+

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2020

Location: Grove City, OH

Funding: $40M (Series A)

What they do:

Forge Biologics is focused on the end-to-end development of gene therapies, from initial idea to production. A cornerstone of their company is a 175,000-square-foot custom manufacturing and development facility they call “The Hearth.” Forge Biologics is backed by Perceptive Xontogeny Venture Fund and Drive Capital and is PXV Fund’s first gene therapy investment.

13. Ginkgo Bioworks

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5-year search growth: 120%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2008

Location: Boston, MA

Funding: $920M (Series F)

What they do:

Ginkgo Bioworks is a cellular biology company that produces custom micro-organisms for various uses across different industries, from agriculture to pharmaceuticals. Some of their areas of focus include improving strains for fermentation, discovering useful enzymes, and biosecurity, and they are also known for their partnership with Bayer in 2018 to develop molecules for agricultural applications.

14. Motif FoodWorks

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5-year search growth: 10%

Search growth status: Peaked

Year founded: 2019

Location: Boston, MA

Funding: $118.3M (Unknown)

What they do:

Motif FoodWorks is a biotechnology company that focuses on creating proteins and other building blocks to craft better plant-based foods. They focus on developing more authentic meat and dairy substitutes, developing new plant-based foods, and improving existing ones. Motif is a spinoff from Ginkgo Bioworks.

15. Hexagon Bio

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5-year search growth: 1,700%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2016

Location: Menlo Park, CA

Funding: $47M (Series A)

What they do:

Hexagon aims to use an understanding of how small molecules target illness-causing proteins to develop effective treatments. Their approach is guided by the study of the fungal genome. In September 2020, the company announced the close of its Series A financing, which included investments from The Column Group, Two Sigma Ventures, and 8VC, as well as a new leadership team member, Chief Scientific Officer Tod Smeal, who previously worked at Pfizer and Eli Lilly.

16. Benchling

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5-year search growth: 236%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2012

Location: San Francisco, CA

Funding: $111.9M (Series D)

What they do:

Benchling is an R&D platform built for the life sciences space. Their goal is to streamline the R&D process from beginning to end and help teams bring research data to a centralized location. Their customer list includes well-known names such as Pfizer, Regeneron, and BP Biosciences.

17. Olaris

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5-year search growth: 1,200%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2013

Location: Waltham, MA

Funding: $4.4M (Series A1)

What they do:

Olaris seeks to provide better, more personalized treatment plans for patients by understanding people’s individual biomarkers. Olaris was founded in 2014 by Dr. Liz O’Day, a Harvard-educated professional with a biological and biomedical specialization.

18. Protera

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5-year search growth: 58%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2018

Location: Sunnyvale, CA

Funding: $5.75M (Series A)

What they do:

Protera uses their knowledge and research into proteins to develop ingredients for a variety of food and agricultural uses. Some of their ingredients include Protera Guard, which can lengthen the shelf life of food, and Protera Sense, a healthy oil alternative that replaces trans fatty acids. Investors in Protera include venture capital firms Sofinnova Partners and SOSV.

19. Aegle Therapeutics

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5-year search growth: 6,700%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2013

Location: Miami, FL

Funding: $10.5M (Series A)

What they do:

Aegle Therapeutics is working on a treatment for a rare childhood disorder that causes fragile and easily-blistered skin. Their method is “cell-free,” aiming to leverage the revitalizing effects of stem cells while being safer and less-expensive and without actually using stem cells. The FDA cleared Aegle’s drug candidate in 2019, and it is expected to enter the clinic in the first quarter of 2021.

20. Jasper Therapeutics

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5-year search growth: 300%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2018

Location: Redwood City, CA

Funding: $49.1M (Series A)

What they do:

Jasper Therapeutics is focused on improving the safety and availability of gene therapies and hematopoietic cell transplantation by creating better conditioning agents. They currently have a compound in clinical development that assists with hematopoietic cell transplantation by ridding bone marrow of hematopoietic stem cells. The company is backed financially by investors at Qiming Venture Partners USA and Abingworth LLP, to name a few, and received $23 million in grant funds from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

Conclusion

While their individual goals may be different, many of the companies on this list are united by similar pursuits.

For example, a number of the startups are focused on providing better, more effective, more targeted treatments for human diseases, or providing treatments for under-addressed conditions.

Several of the entities are specifically focused on gene therapy or genetics.

At large, many of those mentioned are involved in finding or leveraging scientific discoveries that could improve a population’s health and quality of life.

Based on search growth, funding activity, and the innovative nature of their work, these 20 biotech startups should be on your radar in 2021.

Last Updated: 
March 29, 2021
Josh Howarth
Co-founder of Exploding Topics.

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