Psivant Therapeutics is the culmination of decades of research and innovation across diverse fields spanning physics, chemistry, biology, and computer science. Several threads are intertwined in this story, which is always evolving as we pursue this path of transformation in drug discovery.
Our CEO and founder’s story starts at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), where Dr. Woody Sherman was studying quantum mechanics under the tutelage of Prof. Bernie Kirtman to predict the nonlinear optical properties of organic polymers for organic LED applications. However, Dr. Sherman’s research interests shifted from materials to biomolecules after attending a seminar by the late, great Peter Kollman – force fields, molecular dynamics, and free energy simulations of proteins captured Woody’s imagination. That seminar and subsequent meetings with Peter set the course for a Ph.D. in Chemistry at MIT in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) and a career in computational biophysical chemistry.
The relationship with Peter continued – during the winter of 2001, Peter visited Boston and proposed a biotech startup that would revolutionize the drug design process by using molecular dynamics and free energy simulations to predict the potency of virtual molecules based on a medicinal chemist’s ideas. This was an intriguing and somewhat daunting idea, perhaps years ahead of its time, but further opened Woody’s mind to the realm of possibilities at the intersection of computers and medicine. Unfortunately, Peter’s life was cut short after a battle with cancer, but his legacy continues and his life still inspires our work at Psivant.
After completing graduate school at MIT, Woody joined the software company Schrödinger, where he worked for 12 years developing and deploying computational drug discovery tools to biotech and pharmaceutical customers. In 2016, as global head of applications science, Woody realized it was time to set out in a new direction where he could fully express his knowledge and insights directly to drug discovery. While exploring startup funding opportunities at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, Woody met with Lanny Sun, CEO of the recently incorporated Silicon Therapeutics. It was a perfect match, and Woody joined Silicon along with scientific founder Dr. Finith Jernigan and other innovative thinkers, initially housed in the basement of 300 A St., Boston. The mission: to build the first fully integrated physics-driven drug discovery company – from chip to clinic. Finith had the initial inspiration and insight to form Silicon Therapeutics, and his drive to transform drug discovery using advanced simulations and data-driven decisions is an integral part of Psivant, as is Finith.
Silicon Therapeutics was revolutionary. The company developed its own computational platform from the ground up, then built a lab in Boston Seaport with some of the world’s best biophysical and structural biology capabilities. The initial protein target of focus at Silicon Therapeutics was STING (stimulator of interferon genes), a central regulator in the innate immune system. With modest capital funding, Silicon surpassed the many biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies that had already been working on STING for years, becoming the first to bring a true small molecule STING agonist into the clinic. Their clinical compound (SNX281), with a unique self-dimerizing binding mode and mechanism of action, was discovered by exploring millions of virtual molecules in silico while only synthesizing a few hundred compounds in the lab. The SNX281 asset became the basis of a spinout company, Stingthera, which is currently executing on the clinical trials. Read the SNX281 discovery story.
The success of Silicon led to an acquisition by Roivant Sciences in 2021, during the height of the COVID pandemic. Roivant brought considerable expertise in clinical development and an exquisite investment lens, both of which were highly complementary to Silicon’s computational platform and drug discovery capabilities. The acquisition also provided the capital resources needed to expand our computational platform (QUAISAR) to run at scale across dozens of drug discovery projects. After a year of platform development, a new vant was born: Psivant Therapeutics.
At Psivant we are continuing the legacy of Peter Kollman, Silicon Therapeutics, and countless researchers who helped pave the way for where we are today and where we seek to go in the future. We are driven by the monumental potential of deeply integrating computation and drug discovery as we persevere to overcome obstacles in our path—going over, around, or through anything that hinders our progress—and work to solve real-world drug discovery problems. We embrace open science as a core philosophy, a practice that keeps us at the forefront of innovation.
Intrepid. Synergistic. Supportive. Inclusive. These values highlight who we are and how we work together to achieve great things. This is the Psivant story. Stay tuned to see how it evolves, as we design better therapeutics, atom by atom.