Behind the Deal: DrugBank

Posted by Brightspark on Apr 20, 2022

We are pleased to announce our investment in DrugBank, the world’s largest online database of structured drug and drug target information. Their intelligent database of pharmaceutical knowledge powers advanced healthcare applications and drug research to enable the next version of medicine.

  • Founded: 2016

  • HQ: Edmonton, AB

  • Funding: April 2022 $9M Seed round

  • Investors: The Brightspark Canadian Opportunities Fund, accredited investors via a Brightspark SPV, as well as strategic angels

Note: this was written in collaboration with Amplitude Ventures and is cross-posted on their blog.


The Story

This week, DrugBank announced the closing of a $9M oversubscribed seed round led by Brightspark, with participation from Amplitude Ventures, Theodorus and existing investors. We’re excited to partner with this exceptional team as they continue to scale the company to bring their world-leading online database of structured drug and drug target information.

The company was first started over 15 years ago in David Wishart’s lab as his group wanted to build a database for academic researchers to get detailed structural information about drugs. Commercialized in 2016 by the two founders Michael and Craig, DrugBank has continued to scale gathering 160 million data points, cited 26,500 times in scientific papers and serves 12+ million people per year.

We believe structured biomedical data will unlock the future of medicine and giving people access to these valuable insights will lead to the development of better drugs and achieve the best medical outcomes for patients.

Why do we need structured drug data?

Historically scientists had trouble finding access to quality information about drugs and their chemistry when they were designing experiments or building new medicines. Over the last decade, there has been an explosion in medical data which many believe will become an essential part of patient care going forward. McKinsey & Company has been covering this topic extensively, with articles such as How big data can revolutionize pharmaceutical R&D published in 2013, describing future capabilities that we’ve now achieved such as:

By leveraging the diversity of available molecular and clinical data, predictive modelling could help identify new potential-candidate molecules with a high probability of being successfully developed into drugs that act on biological targets safely and effectively.”

The pharmaceutical industry understands the need to adopt cutting-edge technology, as R&D productivity has decreased by an order of magnitude in the past decade. As the complexity of biomedical information increases, research productivity in medicine has been declining. The role of AI in drug discovery has been covered extensively, with titans such as Alphabet launching their own initiatives in this field, marking an industry-wide gold rush to apply AI/ ML into drug discovery and medicine at large. The saying goes “during a gold rush, sell shovels”. DrugBank is the shovel in this new era of medicine, providing the structured drug data necessary for both incumbents and start-ups to develop their own AI solutions.

How DrugBank is solving the problem:

DrugBank’s founders have put over 15 years of R&D into building the DrugBank technology platform as a suite of software pipelines, models, algorithms, interfaces, and expert processes that efficiently and accurately capture drug data at depth and breadth across the entire biomedical domain. DrugBank’s technology is built to ensure massive scale without compromising on accuracy.

Since 2016 when DrugBank started commercializing their product, they have continued to grow in popularity and have developed numerous additional datasets, software tools and APIs. Today, DrugBank is used across the medical industry and is known to have the most comprehensive scope, highest accuracy and quality. With over 180 paying customers, DrugBank continues to provide free, non-commercial datasets to academic researchers and a free version of DrugBank data, accessible online at The free online website has a growing, engaged community of 12M annual visitors.

With this investment, DrugBank will rapidly scale its operations and invest in research and development. They plan to expand their AI-powered technologies to solve major industry problems more effectively.

“DrugBank will become a critical infrastructure for healthcare and change the way medicine is done”, adds Mike Wilson, DrugBank CEO. “Our platform will enable better decision making by researchers, healthcare providers, and regulators than what is possible today.”

Why we’re excited:

Starting as an academic project over 15 years ago, we’re extremely impressed by what the team has built without any institutional investment. Biomedical and drug data are only going to increase in capacity going forward and we’re excited to back the world’s largest online database. They’re continuing to innovate around integrating their product across the ecosystem from helping university scientists to aiding researchers in designing new drugs to helping doctors get better information on drug interactions for their patients, all of which help the end patient.

DrugBank’s goal is a world where everyone has access to the best possible medical outcomes. They have made many strides forward with our technology and products to help achieve this. Their mission is to augment human intelligence so that all biomedical information — from bench side to bedside — is used to its full potential.

DrugBank is the second co-investment in the AI drug discovery space between Amplitude and Brightspark. Headquartered in Alberta’s growing AI ecosystem, we’re both excited to help the company scale its operations and showcase the exceptional AI talent across Canada. Both firms are excited to work closely together as a new generation of data-driven software companies solving biomedical challenges emerges in Canada.

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