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A-Alpha Bio CEO David Younger (left) and CTO CTO Randolph Lopez (right) in the startup’s new lab, in the University of Washington’s Fluke Hall. (Photo courtesy of A-Alpha Bio)

A-Alpha Bio, a startup aiming to speed up the development of new drugs, announced Tuesday it has won a $225,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The funding brings the company’s total funds raised to date to $410,000.

The seed funding is just the first phase of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBRI) grant program and gives the startup a boost to further develop its technology. If it meets the NSF’s requirements to move forward in the program, it could win a $750,000 Phase II grant to scale and pilot the tech.

The news is an important milestone for the young company, founded by a group of current and former synthetic biology doctorate students at the University of Washington.

A plate of genetically engineered yeast cells used in the AlphaSeq assay. The cells help A-Alpha understand how proteins interact with drugs. (Photo courtesy of A-Alpha Bio)

“This funding will allow us to move into our own space at Fluke Hall and start a research program that is independent from UW,” A-Alpha Co-founder and CEO David Younger told GeekWire in an email interview. “This gives us the freedom to really focus on productization and to start developing our own intellectual property.”

The company’s technology, called AlphaSeq, uses engineered yeast cells to understand how drugs interact with different proteins. The technology helps pharmaceutical companies understand how potential drug candidates would operate inside a person’s body, letting them rule out problematic drugs before they start costly and time-consuming clinical trials.

Younger said the grant will help the company move past technical challenges to screening cancer drugs, a huge part of the drug market.

“This includes optimizing for expression of unstable proteins, improving compatibility with water insoluble drugs, and developing a format that can interface with liquid handling robotics,” he said.

AlphaSeq is based on research conducted by Younger alongside UW faculty members and A-Alpha advisors David Baker and Eric Klavins. The startup has just two full time employees for the moment: Younger and CTO Randolph Lopez. Its third team member, COO Bob Lamm, is currently finishing his doctorate studies.

Earlier this year, the company won both the UW Business Plan Competition and the Hollomon Health Challenge.

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