Granza Bio: From Oxford Labs to a Promising Biotech Startup

By Business OutstandersPUBLISHED: July 4, 23:09
Granza Bio co-founders / Granza Bio
Granza Bio co-founders / Granza Bio

Ashwin Nandakumar and Ashwin Jainarayanan were pursuing their doctorates in adjacent departments at Oxford, but they had never crossed paths. Nandakumar, immersed in oncology research, stumbled upon a curious dataset for prostate cancer and needed help with sequencing.

"I reached out to a few friends for help analyzing this data," Nandakumar said. "They told me, 'There's another guy named Ashwin you should connect with.'"

The two Ashwins met and instantly clicked. They soon began working together in the lab of Jainarayanan’s academic adviser, Michael Dustin, a professor of molecular immunology.

As Nandakumar and Jainarayanan approached graduation, they initially aimed for jobs in large pharmaceutical companies. However, Dustin’s groundbreaking research captivated them. “Mike discovered a whole new feature of the immune system that people didn’t know existed,” Nandakumar said.

Inspired, they decided to explore the idea of turning Dustin’s research into a company. They were introduced to Surbhi Sarna, Y Combinator’s bio partner, who encouraged them to apply to the renowned accelerator.

“That conversation changed our lives,” Nandakumar said. “We decided we’re not joining Big Pharma. We’re going to make our own Big Pharma.”

The two Ashwins, along with Dustin, founded Granza Bio, a biotech startup focused on a novel approach to delivering immunotherapy and other therapeutic particles to various parts of the body. They entered Y Combinator’s Winter 24 batch, quickly attracting investor interest.

“Our initial plan was to raise $2.5 million for crucial experiments,” Nandakumar said. “We started fundraising on a Wednesday and hit that target by Friday.”

With investors eager to back Granza Bio, the two Ashwins decided to raise a larger round to expand their research beyond initial experiments. Recently, Granza Bio announced a $7.14 million seed round led by Felicis and Refactor, with participation from Y Combinator.

Granza Bio’s approach aligns perfectly with Felicis’ belief that the immune system can be harnessed to treat cancers and autoimmune diseases. “The research from Professor Dustin’s lab is completely novel,” said Tobi Coker, deal partner at Felicis, noting that Granza’s method for delivering therapeutics could have broad applications in oncology and autoimmune treatment.

Although Felicis is well-known for early investments in tech companies like Notion, Canva, and Shopify, the firm is no stranger to biotech. About 10% to 15% of their capital is invested in biology-focused startups. Felicis’ notable life sciences investments include publicly traded Ginkgo Bioworks and Recursion Pharmaceuticals.

“We have a good eye for new technological paradigms and potential platform companies,” Coker said. Platform companies, particularly in biotech, develop foundational tools that can be used to create numerous therapies.

Felicis and other investors are betting that Granza Bio’s innovative therapeutic delivery mechanism could pave the way for a host of new drugs, promising a bright future for this fledgling biotech startup.