Ariane Gomes never planned to start her own business. Now, she’s leading the team at Baseimmune, the UK biotech startup revolutionising vaccine development with AI.
The pandemic exposed the limitations of existing vaccines to us all; they struggle to protect against new disease variants. Baseimmune is using AI to create new, future-proof vaccines that can.
The London-based, discovery-phase biotech startup uses a proprietary, deep learning AI platform to predict future disease mutations and generate completely new vaccines.
Baseimmune now has three vaccines in preclinical trials – for African swine fever, coronavirus, and malaria – and is raising its Series A funding round this year.
How Does Baseimmune’s Technology Work?
Ariane Gomes, Baseimmune’s Chief Scientific Officer, met her fellow co-founders, Joshua Blight and Phillip Kemlo, during her PhD at the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute. There, the group’s novel method of vaccine development created the fastest vaccine to reach clinical trials in Oxford’s history.
Ariane had always planned to become a professor after her doctorate, but she says the potential of AI to significantly accelerate the vaccine design process drew her out of the lab.
“I remember a project where my goal was to find a tiny bit of a pathogen for a vaccine – and it was a 10 year-long project. I was in the lab thinking the platform could be doing this in a month!
“I realised that starting a business was the fastest way to bring impact and real solutions to market.”
At the heart of every vaccine is an antigen; a small molecule typically based on a single component of a pathogen, which is the microorganism that invades our body, causes disease, and triggers our protective immune response.
Baseimmune’s AI algorithm creates new synthetic antigens containing, not just a single component of the pathogen, but all the parts most likely to induce a protective immune response. The antigen design can then be fed into any vaccine technology platform for lab testing and clinical trials
This enables the development of universal, future-proof vaccines that can protect against a variety of diseases and potential mutations.
By feeding a small amount of existing data about SARS-CoV-2 into their algorithm, the Baseimmune team were able to correctly predict major covid variants before they emerged, like Alpha and Delta.
Building Baseimmune: 3 Key Learnings for Startup Founders
Named one of our Rising Stars in 2022, Ariane says Baseimmune rode the covid wave, capturing the interest of investors and closing a $4.8m Seed funding round in October 2021.
“The pandemic completely changed investors’ perception of the vaccines market,” Ariane recalls. The goal now is to partner with a major pharma company to scale Baseimmune’s technology and help bring its vaccines to market.
From her experience switching from academia to starting a new business, Ariane shares three key learnings for startup founders:
1. Your Early Investors Could be Make or Break
Who you choose as an early investor is vital. Do you feel comfortable working with them? Be prepared to say no to deals and do your own due diligence on an investor in the same way they do their DD on you.
2. Talk the Language Investors Want to Hear
When you’re a specialist in something, you want to say everything about how your technology works. But what an investor wants to hear is often completely different. Build the business case and tell the story of how you’re going to bring your product to market.
3. Be Obsessed with your Vision
As an entrepreneur, the moment you start getting comfortable with something, everything spins and changes around you. Each step brings a different challenge and you have to reinvent yourself all the time. If you’re not obsessed with your idea, it’s not the right one for you. When it gets hard, that obsession will keep you going.
Biotech doesn’t offer SaaS-like verticals – although Baseimmune’s technology speeds up the vaccine discovery process, it still typically takes 5-10 years for a vaccine to pass regulatory trials and be fit for human use. But, Ariane says, by increasing the success of target discovery, the long-term potential is huge.
“When we started, we had an idea. Now, we have data that shows we can actually make better vaccines with broader protection and tackle complex pathogens in a way that wasn’t possible before.”