HelixNano Announces Grant from Schmidt Futures to Pursue Personalized Cancer Vaccines

Hannu Rajaniemi
2 min readFeb 7, 2019


February 7th, 2019 (San Francisco, CA) — Helix Nanotechnologies today announced that it has received a grant from Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt, to pursue a novel machine learning-enabled approach to boost the efficacy of personalized cancer vaccines.

Supported by the grant, HelixNano — in collaboration with the Hacohen Lab at the Broad Institute and the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy — will leverage synthetic biology and machine learning to reduce the uncertainty of neoantigen design. The team will develop a method to transform any neoantigen candidate into a “precision neoantigen”, guaranteeing an immune response and boosting efficacy. This will accelerate translation of cancer vaccines to the clinic and may provide key enabling components for future preventative cancer vaccines.

Advances in tumor sequencing and analysis have recently led to a novel, targeted approach to cancer immunotherapy. Unique mutations in the patient’s tumor can give rise to mutant proteins called neoantigens that distinguish cancer cells from healthy cells. Personalized neoantigen vaccines train the patient’s immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells. Unfortunately, picking the right neoantigens out of thousands of candidates is very difficult, and thus neoantigen vaccine efficacy remains unpredictable.

“HelixNano’s mission is to use synthetic biology to develop novel cancer therapeutics,” said Hannu Rajaniemi, co-founder and CEO of HelixNano. “With support from Schmidt Futures and with the help of our collaborators at the Broad and Parker Institutes, we have a unique opportunity to build a technology to power these exciting new therapies that may one day help patients all around the world.”

Tom Kalil, Chief Innovation Officer of Schmidt Futures, said, “We were really impressed by HelixNano’s approach. They have a stellar multidisciplinary team, and clever ideas for using machine learning in the fight against cancer.”

The project also received support from IDT’s Synthetic Biology Start-up Grant Program. The company is looking for an experienced scientist to join the project team.

Follow HelixNano on Twitter at @helixnano or on Medium for real-time updates.

About HelixNano

Helix Nanotechnologies Inc is a Y Combinator- and venture-backed startup using synthetic biology to develop novel therapies for the world’s most lethal cancers.

About Schmidt Futures

Schmidt Futures is a philanthropic initiative, founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt, that seeks to improve societal outcomes through the thoughtful development of emerging science and technologies that can benefit humanity. As a venture facility for public benefit, they invest risk capital in the most promising ideas and exceptional people across disciplines. Learn more at https://schmidtfutures.com/

About Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy

The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy brings together the best scientists, clinicians and industry partners to build a smarter and more coordinated cancer immunotherapy research effort to save lives.

About Broad Institute

Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard was launched in 2004 to improve human health by using genomics to advance our understanding of the biology and treatment of human disease, and to help lay the groundwork for a new generation of therapies.