A-Alpha Bio, a startup co-founded and led by UW Bioengineering alumni David Younger (Ph.D. ’17), and Randolph Lopez (Ph.D. ’18) while they were graduate researchers, received a $620,472 grant from the National Science Foundation to continue developing their AlphaSeq platform for the discovery of molecular glues. Such molecules are capable of targeting disease-causing proteins for removal.

The Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant, made public May 26, follows up their announcement last fall that they successfully raised $2.8 million in seed funding.

The team has developed a screening platform, called AlphaSeq, that uses genetically engineered yeast for measuring interactions between proteins that can be used to discover and optimize life-saving drugs. The tool can help scientists test hundreds of drug candidates against thousands of potential protein targets and identify dangerous interactions.

The new molecular glue project will adapt their AlphaSeq technology to screen hundreds of “glue” molecules at once, substantially reducing the time is takes to identify matches between molecules and target proteins.

Molecular glues work by physically sticking two proteins together that would not otherwise interact. The technology could target proteins that cause cancer, Alzheimer’s-related plaques and autoimmune diseases, and flag them for degradation by the cell.

“It’s a way to get rid of what would otherwise be more or less ‘undruggable’ protein targets,” Dr. Younger, A-Alpha Bio’s chief executive officer, told GeekWire in a May 26 article.

In addition to founders Dr. Younger and Dr. Lopez, chief technology officer, A-Alpha Bio’s scientific advisers include two adjunct professors of bioengineering: David Baker, professor of biochemistry, and Eric Klavins, professor of electrical engineering.

The team honed their business skills at the 2017 UW Science & Technology Showcase and Business Plan Competition, and went on to win the $15,000 Hollomon Family grand prize at at the 2018 Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge and the 2018 UW Business Plan Competition’s $25,000 Herbert B. Jones Foundation grand prize. They also completed the Jones + Foster Accelerator.

The UW’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship spoke with Dr. Younger last fall about their rapid growth and successful fundraising round. Read the Q&A on the Foster blog.