Here are five startups at the forefront of Lithuania’s growing biotech scene, showcasing innovations in protein engineering, gene editing and microfluidics.
Despite its small population of fewer than 3 million people, Lithuania punches above its weight in the life sciences. For example, a major outlet of the lab supplier Thermo Fisher Scientific is based in its capital city, Vilnius. And the Life Sciences Center at Vilnius University was added to the European Molecular Biology Laboratory network in 2020, opening the door to major EU investments into biotech research in the center.
More than 400 companies are working in Lithuania’s growing life sciences sector, and the space is growing every year. While the country is still nascent as a biotech startup hub, Lithuania already has a number of rising stars at an early stage. With help from the Lithuanian Biotechnology Association, we’ve listed five of the leading biotech startups in Lithuania, which are all based in Vilnius.
Biomatter Designs uses synthetic biology and machine learning to engineer proteins for a variety of applications including protein drugs and industrial enzymes.
Proteins come in a dazzling array of shapes and sizes. Classical methods for protein engineering depend on screening existing proteins, which is expensive and time-consuming.
Biomatter Designs’ approach instead lets a computer analyze reams of data from natural proteins and learn how they behave. It then applies this knowledge to designing synthetic proteins that could be more efficient than those that occur in the natural world.
The firm is funding its research with $511,000 (€500,000) raised in a seed round in early 2021. It’s poised to take advantage of growing excitement in the industry around the simulation of proteins, which is being spearheaded by DeepMind, Alphabet’s U.K.-based artificial intelligence (AI) subsidiary.
The gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 has captured the imaginations of investors and companies across the life sciences space. The technology has made it simpler than ever to make precise changes to the genome for applications in the pharmaceutical and industrial biotechnology sectors. However, early generations of the technology have limits around where in the genome they can make edits.
To remedy this situation, CasZyme was set up to broaden the range of Cas proteins on offer that can snip DNA. This could allow edits to be made in more sites in the genome than is currently possible.
One well-known member of CasZyme’s founding team is Virginijus Šikšnys, a molecular biologist at Vilnius University in Lithuania. Šikšnys was a CRISPR-Cas9 pioneer and his group developed forms of the technology independently and at the same time as the Nobel Prize winners Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna.
Droplet Genomics blends together life sciences, engineering and machine learning to speed up life sciences research and drug discovery. In particular, the firm uses fluorescence microscopy and microfluidics to allow researchers to carry out molecular biology experiments within millions of minuscule droplets with volumes reaching just nanometers in scale.
Some of the applications of this technology include being able to count the number of single molecules in samples and measuring their interactions with single cells. Droplet Genomics specifically aims to apply its craft to the development of personalized medicine.
In early 2021, Droplet Genomics raised $1 million (€1 million) in a seed round to commercialize its technology.
Delta Biosciences was set up during the COVID-19 pandemic’s first waves and was primarily aimed to develop Covid treatments.
To speed up the discovery of new drugs, the startup deploys a wide range of expertise, including in microfluidics, molecular synthesis, next-generation sequencing, nano-engineering and data science. Part of its screening technology is derived from electronics innovations from the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), which is famous for its physics research in Switzerland.
Delta Biosciences is part of the nonprofit COVID Moonshot initiative, which is developing open-source drugs for the treatment of COVID-19 that can benefit parts of the world that aren’t reached by current drugs. The first drugs from Moonshot are working their way toward clinical testing.
In early 2021, Delta Biosciences bagged around $1 million (€1 million) in a grant from the EU to bankroll its drug discovery technology.
Cannabinoid drugs are becoming increasingly established in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries, particularly the most well-known ingredients in cannabis: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Sanobiotec is developing cannabinoid drugs with a focus on less studied compounds including cannabinol, cannabichromene and cannabidivaric acid.
Sanobiotec is working on several research projects in the cannabinoid space. These include the development of synthetic and naturally-derived cannabinoids for the treatment of conditions such as cancer, in addition to the manufacturing of cannabinoid drugs in genetically modified yeast.