Brightseed raises $27m to fuel its AI-powered phytonutrient discovery platform
Launched by three former Hampton Creek (Eat Just) executives in 2017 (Sofia Elizondo, Dr Lee Chae, and Dr Jim Flatt), Brightseed is using AI and machine learning to predict the likelihood that plants will have certain natural compounds that are in turn likely to have health benefits, which can then be validated with more traditional physical and clinical tests.
The San Francisco-based startup – which is working with partners ranging from major CPG companies including Danone, to health research organizations, agricultural companies, and ingredients suppliers – can either home in on a particular plant (its tie-up with Danone focuses on soy), or can screen by compound, or by health benefit (e.g. LDL cholesterol reduction, metabolic health, cognitive function).
Ingredient addresses underlying pathogenesis of metabolic disorders such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis and type II diabetes
Once it has identified fruitful targets, it can then work with partners using more traditional analytical methods and clinical trials to validate its computational work, said Dr Flatt, who noted that Brightseed had demonstrated the potential of its platform by identifying a compound found in black peppercorns and several other plant sources that could deliver metabolic health benefits.
The ingredient – which a patent application suggests could potentially address the “underlying pathogenesis of metabolic disorders such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis and type II diabetes mellitus” – is currently in development, Dr Flatt told FoodNavigator-USA.
“This is a product that we’re all very passionate about. Metabolic health is critical and it’s also related to immune health.
“We’ve done commercial-scale trials [to produce concentrated forms of the ingredient], and we’re now completing the safety studies to obtain regulatory authorizations globally. We’d expect to be able to submit a GRAS [Generally Recognized as Safe] determination to the FDA over the next 12-18 months.”
'We’ve already made some important discoveries in another area of metabolic health related to glycemic control'
When it comes to efficacy, Brightseed has “already done quite a bit of pre-clinical work to confirm that the phytonutrient is acting according to a well-established mode of action,” he said. “But we’re also developing protocols for human clinical trials that will support our customers and help them build a story around the benefits of the product.”
There are also several other ingredients in development that Brightseed will either commercialize itself or through partnerships, he said.
“We’ve already made some important discoveries in another area of metabolic health related to glycemic control that will be very complimentary to our phytonutrient for metabolic health.”
Digestive health, immune health, cognitive function
Key areas of research include digestive health, immune health, and cognitive function, said Dr Flatt.
“We approach IP very strategically; we’re building a portfolio of IP around these discoveries that includes non-naturally-occurring compositions of naturally-occurring products, it includes use and application of these formulations in a range of foods and supplement matrices, and selectively we file process patents where we can either improve the quality or the activity of the compounds.
"We have seven patents pending for the first phytonutrient in metabolic health and we’ll be filing more in several other areas.”
*Other investors in Brightseed include Seed 2 Growth Ventures, Horizons Ventures, CGC Ventures, Fifty Years, Germin8 Ventures, and AgFunder. David Russell of Lewis & Clark AgriFood will join Brightseed’s board of directors, in addition to Elaine Leavenworth, former SVP, and Chief Marketing and External Affairs Officer at Abbott.
“There are about 400,000 plant-based compounds that we’ve curated and incorporated into our database,” says Brightseed co-founder and CEO Dr Jim Flatt (pictured right, credit: Brightseed).
“But predominantly the data we use are generated by our own methods, so we have our Forager AI system that applies AI to big datasets to understand what we call this dark matter of plants or nutrition.
“We then use public data that associates biological targets with clinically proven health outcomes and it’s from these data that we can build models that allow us to make predictions about plant-based compounds that likely have these effects.
“Our third main source of data is omics data available on plants and that includes information on gene structure and function and the transcripts that are produced as a plant grows, the metabolites and the proteins that are expressed, and we can then predict what plants might produce compounds of interest.”
Brightseed - which is on a mission to “illuminate the dark matter of nutrition in order to be able to traverse it" - has recently enlisted a group of high-profile advisors including:
Indra Nooyi, former Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo; Walter Robb, former co-CEO of Whole Foods Market; Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, cardiologist and professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University; and Dr. Bernhard van Lengerich, former CSO of General Mills.