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Tech Startup: Pluto Bio

Denver company helps accelerate drug development.

By Eric Peterson //June 11, 2024//

Pluto Bio founder and CEO Rani Powers

Pluto Bio founder and CEO Rani Powers

Tech Startup: Pluto Bio

Denver company helps accelerate drug development.

By Eric Peterson //June 11, 2024//

Founded: 2020

Initial Lightbulb

Founder and CEO Rani Powers took a circuitous route to entrepreneurship, with stints in video games and nanotechnology in Colorado before moving into computational biology.

Powers worked as a full-time scientist for the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University immediately prior to launching Pluto Bio. “I had gone to Harvard with the intention of starting a company,” she says.

Then COVID-19 happened.

Powers returned to Colorado from Massachusetts and worked remotely for Harvard. Her exposure to massive data sets in biological sciences sparked the idea for Pluto. A single biological sample often becomes 20 gigabytes of data, but that can grow to a terabyte after processing, and many studies involve hundreds of samples. Scientists often use hard drives to manage the deluge.

“They’re not something you can look at in an Excel spreadsheet and get meaning from,” says Powers, noting that there are 100,000 computational biologists in the U.S. versus as many as 2 million life science biologists. “There’s a huge bottleneck.”

In a Nutshell

Launched in 2021, Pluto’s platform automates the computational biology process. “Everybody’s writing very similar code, so there’s a lot of reinventing the wheel,” says Powers. “What we are trying to do is make a new kind of software interface that allows biologists to run those algorithms and thereby accelerate drug development.”

The process has been hindered by the sheer amount of data and finite number of computational biologists. Powers says Pluto helps researchers sidestep those logistical issues.

“When you have like a six- to eight-week backlog with analyzing data, you’ve added time to getting the drug to market,” she explains. “At least one of our clients now has a drug that they studied in Pluto that’s now actually in Phase 1 clinical trials. That happened in under a year of them using their platform.”

“Our number one goal was making the software friendly for biologists,” says Powers. “I’m really proud of that, because it’s a really difficult thing to take, you know, hundreds of thousands of data points and make them understandable.”

The ever-evolving product leverages AI to help users understand the resulting graphs. “It gives this additional layer of meaning to our data,” says Powers.

Currently, researchers studying cancer, diabetes, and other life-threatening diseases are using Pluto Bio in their work. “That for me is one of the most rewarding parts of the business: getting to see real discoveries,” says Powers.

The Market

Pluto’s nearly 100 customers are roughly evenly split between small research labs and large pharmaceutical companies. “We have a lot of inbound interest from small labs,” says Powers, noting that pricing is based on the number of research teams using the platform. “The pain point is really apparent for them.”

Financing

Pluto Bio raised a pre-seed round of $1 million in July 2021 followed by a $3.7 million seed round led by Austin, Texas-based Silverton Partners in May 2023. Powers says she anticipates initiating a Series A raise in 2025.

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