Who knows what secrets await in the hearts of plants? Anyway, Brightseed has found a few using an AI-based analytics method, and will soon be launching its first products using a $68 million round.
Brightseed’s thesis is simply that there are almost certainly some very beneficial and healthy compounds waiting in plants, which they call phytonutrients, that have yet to be discovered or popularized. Since many of our medicines and vitamins are plant-derived, it’s hardly a controversial idea — but how can you sort through the myriad of compounds that make and make up of plants?
The company’s answer is Forager, a machine learning platform that identifies and categorizes plant compounds in a very fast clip; they have already mapped two million of them, considerably more than has been characterized in the scientific literature.
Of course, not all are winners, but the system helps pick out those that are more likely to be more beneficially bioactive, unstudied or analogous to existing compounds.
This process has traditionally been done in labs, where you rigorously test thousands of substances to see if there is any effect, something that takes years and is terribly wasteful. But as we see elsewhere in the field of drug discovery, AI can cut through the noise and eliminate the vast majority of these substances, bringing out the best of the best. Brightseed claims it was about a hundred times faster and much cheaper than standard screening processes.
For example, Brightseed’s processes identified a pair of compounds, derived from discarded hemp seed husks and black pepper, called N-trans-caffeoyltyramine (NCT) and N-trans-feruloyltyramine (NFT, unfortunately) that exhibited “a remarkable ability to extract pure fat from the livers of mice and in human cells.” And these are on their way to be bottled right now.
Don’t worry, it’s not just another pill in the making. No one is specifically trying to lose a few pounds from their liver. While the substance will receive a “generally recognized as safe” rating from the FDA, it is far from being prescribed for acute conditions.
That said, there is a huge demand for supplements with potentially great benefits and no known problems. Whoever reads this doesn’t have a few bottles of this or that for joint health or a better night’s sleep? There is evidence to support this, as for NCT and NFT, which are being conducted in human clinical trials after some basic initial mouse models and human safety testing.
“A growing body of scientific research highlights the central role that natural dietary bioactive compounds play in reducing the risk of many chronic diseases and health problems, and longevity,” co-founder and CEO Jim Flatt told MovieUpdates. “The application of AI to large biology data sets is enabling a new golden age of discovery that can solve our most pressing healthcare needs, which is what Brightseed is focusing on today.”
The AI side of things will expand to cover more areas of health needs and sets of substances, ultimately looking at fungi and bacteria as well as plants. “Dozens are in various stages of validation,” Flatt said.
More immediately, however, and enabled by the $68 million, “we are expanding our data business and launching our new bioactive ingredients business, based on our clinically studied natural bioactive compounds.”
In other words, commercialization; the company named Danone, Ocean Spray and Pharmavite as existing partners, although not necessarily just for NCT and NFT products. It’s not just about taking over the rights either; it will manufacture the fabrics itself at a facility in Raleigh, where it plans to rent and then scale.
“Forager looks deeper into plants and nature than we’ve ever been able to see,” Flatt said. “That vision, combined with insight and validation, unlocks new opportunities for businesses across the health continuum, and ultimately a future where health solutions are both natural and scientifically validated.”
The latest round added Temasek as lead investor, with the participation of all previous investors Lewis & Clark AgriFood, Seed 2 Growth Ventures, Horizons Ventures, CGC Ventures, Fifty Years, Germin8 and AgFunder.