Who knows what secrets await in the heart of plants? Brightseed has found a couple of them, however, using an AI-based analytics method and will soon bring its first products to market with the help of a $68 million B-round.
Brightseed’s thesis is simply that there are almost certainly some very useful and healthy substances waiting in plants, which have yet to be discovered or popularized. Since many of our medicines and vitamins are derived from plants, it’s not a controversial idea, but how do you classify the myriad compounds that plants produce and are made of?
The company’s answer is Forager, a machine learning platform that identifies and categorizes plant compounds at a very fast pace; they have already mapped two million, considerably more than is characterized in the scientific literature.
Of course, not all are winners, but the system helps select those that are most likely to be beneficially bioactive, either unstudied or analogous to existing compounds.
Historically, this process has been done in laboratories, where thousands of substances are painstakingly tested for any effect, something that takes years and is terribly wasteful. But as we are seeing elsewhere in the drug discovery space, AI can cut through the noise and remove the vast majority of these substances, bringing the best of the best to the surface. Brightseed claims that it was over a hundred times faster and much cheaper than standard selection processes.
For example: Brightseed processes have identified a pair of compounds, from discarded hemp seed hulls and black pepper, called N-trans-caffeoyltyramine (NCT) and N-trans-feruloyltyramine (NFT, unfortunately) that “displayed a remarkable ability to remove fat from the liver of mice and from human cells.” And these are on their way to being bottled as we speak.
Don’t worry, this isn’t just a “natural herbal weight loss” pill in the works. No one is trying to lose a few pounds specifically from their liver. Although the substance awaits a “generally recognized as safe” rating from the FDA, it is a long way from being prescribed for acute conditions.
That said, there is a huge demand for supplements with potentially great benefits and no known problems. Who reading this doesn’t have a couple of bottles of this or that for joint health or better sleep? There is evidence to support them, just as there is for NCT and NFT, which are in human clinical trials after some basic early modeling in mice and human safety testing.
“A growing body of scientific research highlights the central role that natural dietary bioactives play in reducing the risk of many chronic diseases and health conditions, and longevity,” co-founder and CEO Jim Flatt told TechCrunch. “The application of AI to large biological data sets is enabling a new golden age of discovery that can solve our most pressing needs in healthcare, and that’s where Brightseed is focused today.”
The AI side of things will expand to cover more areas of health needs and substance sets, eventually analyzing fungi and bacteria, as well as plants. “Dozens are in various stages of validation,” Flatt said.
More immediately, however, and thanks to the $68 million, “we are expanding our data business and launching our new bioactive ingredients business, based on our clinically studied natural bioactives.”
In other words, marketing; the company cited Danone, Ocean Spray and Pharmavite as existing partners, though not necessarily just for NCT and NFT products. It’s not just about giving up rights, either; it will produce the substances at a facility in Raleigh, where it plans to contract and then expand.
“Forager sees deeper into plants and nature than we’ve ever been able to see before,” Flatt said. “That vision, coupled with insight and validation, is unlocking new opportunities for companies across the health continuum and ultimately a future where health solutions are both natural and scientifically validated.”
The latest round added Temasek as a lead investor, with participation from previous investors Lewis & Clark AgriFood, Seed 2 Growth (now S2G) Ventures, CGC Ventures, Germin8 and AgFunder.
(The title of this article originally misstated the round as an A round; it’s definitely a B round. My mistake.)