Seattle biotech startup Ozette lands $26M from Microsoft, Madrona, others to analyze immune cells

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Ali Ansary (left) Ozette CEO and Greg Finak, chief technology officer. (Ozette Photos)

The news: Single cell analysis startup Ozette Technologies, with deep roots in the Seattle academic and startup community, has raised $26 million. The company’s tools enable its academic and biopharma partners to pinpoint and quantify immune cell types from massive datasets. The tools support clinical trials and other research.

The background: Ozette spun out of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in 2020; was incubated at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2); and fueled by a $6 million seed funding round led last year by Seattle’s Madrona Venture Group. Madrona also led the new, Series A funding round; participants include Cercano Management (formerly Vulcan Capital) and M12, Microsoft’s venture fund.

The people: The startup’s tech has its origins in the Fred Hutch labs of co-founders Raphael Gottardo, now at Lausanne University, and Greg Finak, now Ozette’s chief technology officer. Other co-founders are Evan Greene, a former Fred Hutch data scientist who is now with Ozette, and CEO Ali Ansary, an attending physician at Fred Hutch and UW Medicine who served a stint at the AI2 as an entrepreneur in residence. The company has more than 25 scientists, engineers and designers with previous experience at Genentech, Google, Microsoft and Amazon.

The tech: Advances in biomedical techniques enable researchers to examine up to 40 different proteins on the surface of cells simultaneously. But data analysis techniques have not kept up. Over the last decade Fred Hutch researchers have built up software to do this; their open-source tools have been downloaded more than 4.5 million times from 100,000 unique IP addresses, said Ansary.

The company built on Fred Hutch’s tech, enabling researchers to do “months of work in a matter of days,” said Ansary. The company’s tools quantify and assess what types of cells are in samples based on the composition of surface proteins. The company also supports an open source tool, called Cytoverse, and has added capabilities to analyze RNA in single cells.

Ozette can also integrate data across different studies and even lab instruments, something that has been a challenge with conventional approaches. “It’s here where the magic happens,” said Ansary.

The partners: Customers include academic centers and biopharma companies that are analyzing datasets from clinical trials in oncology, autoimmune disorders and infectious disease.The startup also works with the Cancer Immunotherapy Trials Network, a large consortium run though Fred Hutch.

The data: The core technology was published last December in Cell Patterns and more recently leveraged for studies on HIV and COVID-19. In the COVID-19 study, researchers identified a collection of cell types associated with severe illness. A recent study in Nature tallied the cells in head and neck tumors, identifying specific cell types that shield tumors from immune attack.

The reaction: Outside scientists evaluating the Nature study in a separate commentary, said: “We consider this platform and approach an extremely valuable path for more cost-effective and faster target discovery, particularly in the area of the tumor microenvironment and cancer immunotherapy.” 

The investors: Other participants in the new funding round include OCV Partners and Duke University.

What’s next: The company continues to add to its toolset and is exploring research in spatial biology, which assesses the location of molecular components of cells and tissue. The company is hiring in engineering, product management, research and development, translational science, and business development, and just last month opened a new immunology lab space.

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