ZAKA VC Supports American Lime Therapeutics’ Accelerated Drug Discovery

  • ZAKA VC invests in NYC-based drug discovery startup Lime Therapeutics
  • The medtech accelerates the measurement of the effect of drugs on lipid flow up to 20,000x
  • Most of the funds raised during the ongoing Seed round will be used on hiring R&D talent

This April, the well-known Czech fund ZAKA VC (invested in Talkie AI, for example) announced its latest investment. An undisclosed amount (because the current Seed round isn’t closed yet) was directed to the American medtech Lime Therapeutics that specializes in drug discovery.

The Founders

Dr Shardule Shah, Co-Founder and CEO at Lime Therapeutics

The startup was founded in 2021 by a team led by Dr Shardule Shah. Prior to co-founding Lime Therapeutics, he had a career spanning cancer research, clinical trials, and business development industry experience at biotech startups and large companies, all in the limelight of his Harvard MBA. He had grown tremendous expertise in team building and operations. In his own words, he caught the entrepreneurship bug while he was pursuing his MBA, so he was looking for the next big breakthrough in therapeutic development.

To the best of his luck, Dr Shah met his eventual co-founder, CTO Dr Prakrit Jena, at a virtual networking forum by a Boston-based VC in 2021. Prakrit built his career developing unprecedented innovative nanotechnologies to make measurements of cells and animals. His novel lipid sensor, LipidSense, enabled real-time measurement of lipids. This measurement allowed for high-throughput screening for drugs that altered lipid biology in cells and live animals.

Dr Jena was a post-doc and then a senior research scientist in the lab of Lime’s third co-founder, Dan Heller, who runs Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Cancer Nanomedicine Lab. Dr Heller had spun a number of companies with technologies developed in his lab. Together, Dr Jena and Dr Heller were motivated by Dan’s postdoctoral mentor, the renowned scientist Bob Langer, to develop LipidSense into the next breakthrough drug discovery technology. To bring this vision to reality, the two needed a business-minded co-founder, and that’s where Dr Shah entered the picture.

Shortly after the company was formed, the founding team added Dr Mariluz Soula and her in-depth knowledge of cancer metabolism, cell death, and lipid biology to increase the speed at which early discoveries can be translated into meaningful outcomes for patients.

Drug Discovery at an Unprecedented Scale

As it turns out, dysfunctional lipid biology is an incredibly understudied driver of cancer, cardiometabolic disorders, and neurodegenerative diseases, but the technologies to do lipid-targeting drug discovery at scale were not readily available.

Lime Therapeutics’ LipidSense allows for the measurement of the effect of drugs on lipid flow. Messed up lipid flow is the backbone of many categories of diseases including cancer, cardiometabolic disorders, and neurodegenerative diseases. Dysfunctional lipid biology is incredibly understudied, but the technologies to do lipid-targeting drug discovery at scale were lacking before LipidSense.

Dr Shah explains:

‘LipidSense is based on a carbon nanosensor that endocytoses (easily goes) into cells (or live animals) and localizes to the lysosome. The lysosome is basically a central trafficking area for lipids. Because of the way the nanosensor is engineered, it is able to capture the rate at which lipids flow through the lysosome. We can measure this through three systems we have set up for use with LipidSense:

  1. at a single organelle level (lysosome by lysosome) using hyperspectral microscopy
  2. in a high-throughput screening manner in 96 or 384-well plates
  3. non-invasively in live cells and animals using a hyperspectral animal imager

The traditional ways to measure lipids are some combination of non-scalable, extremely expensive, or time-intensive. LipidSense fixes all of that.’

Dr Ján Kasper, Founder and Managing Patner at ZAKA VC

This allows for the rapid measurement of lipid flow in cells at an unprecedented speed – apparently, over 20,000 times faster than the current standard. Such speed also enables the identification of potential new drugs that can alter lipid biology, thus opening up entirely new, unimagined therapeutic avenues.

‘The science platform that the team is building is groundbreaking. It can detect and target lipid accumulation non-invasively and efficiently. We as well as the experts in our network were impressed by their speed of movement as well as their ability to utilize data and target conditions such as cancer, metabolic disorders, and neurodegenerative diseases,’ ZAKA VC’s co-founder and managing partner Dr Ján Kasper states.

Milestones and Challenges

Like most companies, Lime Therapeutics had to face the challenges of market dynamics in 2022. Specifically, they started raising equity capital in early 2022 – right when the public markets tanked. This had downstream ramifications on the risk tolerance of private market investors. The company, in turn, ended up securing investors and partners that had unrelenting belief in the founding team, its mission, and the early data that they had generated.

Inaki Berenguer, Managing Director at LifeX Ventures

‘In life sciences, the truly exciting ventures lie where cutting-edge science meets well-aimed development, measured risk, exceptional leadership, and a vast market opportunity,’ LifeX Ventures’ managing director and angel investor Inaki Berenguer comments.

Adding to that, Lime Therapeutics was doing something new – lipid-targeting drug discovery at scale has never been done before. Therefore, the unavoidable initial skepticism was in place, in the light of countless previous failures of companies (that had been simply targeting ‘lipid metabolism’ in cancer, according to Dr Shah). The founders admit that educating about why what they are working on is different has been a fun challenge for them.

Some of Lime Therapeutics’ milestones include:

From this point, Lime Therapeutics is attracting new investments to accelerate internal drug discovery, and this will also be how the startup will utilize ZAKA VC’s injection. The approach is the following: the more it can invest in drug discovery R&D, the faster it can produce its first drug candidate in liver cancer, and other drugs in the pipeline. Also, Lime Therapeutics will be hiring for research positions at its New York City headquarters until the end of 2024 and looking to add more partners like Novo Nordisk.


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