Venky Soundararajan (via Medium)

A for aug­ment­ed: Cam­bridge AI com­pa­ny out to cap­ture bio­med­ical knowl­edge gets $60M from Mayo, Sil­i­con Val­ley VC

The Mayo Clin­ic is join­ing hands with a Sil­i­con Val­ley VC firm to in­ject $60 mil­lion in­to nfer­ence, a Cam­bridge, MA-based play­er in the gold rush to cap­i­tal­ize on bio­phar­ma’s grow­ing in­ter­est — and urge — to ac­cel­er­ate drug dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment us­ing the lat­est ma­chine learn­ing tools.

While nfer­ence os­ten­si­bly be­longs to a gen­er­a­tion of soft­ware star­tups that cropped up around 2013, it doesn’t see it­self as part of the AI main­stream, founder and CSO Venky Soundarara­jan tells End­points News. That’s why the A in their AI stands for aug­ment­ed, not ar­ti­fi­cial.

“To put it blunt­ly, we are not in the busi­ness of re­plac­ing hu­man ex­perts,” he said.

Rather, nfer­ence is in­ter­est­ed in teach­ing soft­ware to comb through un­struc­tured bio­med­ical in­for­ma­tion — clin­i­cal notes, case re­ports, sci­en­tif­ic lit­er­a­ture, pathol­o­gy im­ages, ECG wave­forms and ge­nom­ic se­quences — and ren­der them com­putable. By cap­tur­ing and syn­the­siz­ing dif­fer­ent bod­ies of knowl­edge, the goal is to of­fer a one-stop shop that re­searchers can con­sult at any point of the R&D process, whether they are try­ing to make new com­pounds or de­sign­ing a clin­i­cal tri­al.

Soundarara­jan sug­gest­ed that’s the type of AI com­pa­ny that Bill Gates said he would build if he were to start a new ven­ture in this age, one “whose goal would be to teach com­put­ers how to read, so that they can ab­sorb and un­der­stand all the writ­ten knowl­edge of the world,” in the Mi­crosoft founder’s words.

Two of the top 10 bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies are al­ready on board as part­ners, ac­cord­ing to Soundarara­jan. With the Se­ries B, he hopes to add a new ser­vice around “con­text rich phe­no­types,” which would en­able the map­ping of ge­nom­ic da­ta to phe­no­types.

An­drew Danielsen

“Our strate­gic in­vest­ment in nfer­ence is a re­flec­tion of our con­fi­dence that a holis­tic knowl­edge syn­the­sis plat­form, that puts pa­tient pri­va­cy first, is the so­lu­tion for ef­fec­tive­ly lever­ag­ing re­al world ev­i­dence to spur in­no­va­tion to ben­e­fit pa­tient care,” An­drew Danielsen, chair of Mayo Clin­ic Ven­tures, said in a state­ment.

In fact, the re­search cen­ter has been so con­fi­dent in the tech that it’s set up a joint ven­ture with nfer­ence –dubbed Qra­tiv — to re­pur­pose ther­a­pies for rare dis­eases.

NTT Ven­ture Cap­i­tal joined Mayo for the round, which al­so in­clud­ed ex­ist­ing in­vestors Ma­trix Part­ners and Ma­trix Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment.

Out­side their head­quar­ters in Cam­bridge, nfer­ence’s 150-strong staff is spread be­tween Ban­ga­lore, Toron­to and Min­neso­ta, Soundarara­jan added, and he’s ex­plor­ing an ex­pan­sion to Eu­rope.

Ryan Watts, Denali CEO

Bio­gen hands De­nali $1B-plus in cash, $1B-plus in mile­stones to part­ner on late-stage Parkin­son’s drug

Biogen is handing over more than a billion dollars cash to partner with the up-and-coming neurosciences crew at Denali on a new therapy for Parkinson’s. And the big biotech is ready to pile on more than a billion dollars more in milestones — if the alliance is a success.

For Biogen $BIIB, the move on Denali’s small molecule inhibitors of LRRK2 puts them in line to collaborate on a late-stage program for DNL151, which is scheduled to start next year.

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Covid-19 roundup: J&J and BAR­DA agree to $1 bil­lion for 100 mil­lion dos­es; Plas­ma re­duces mor­tal­i­ty by 50% — re­ports

J&J has become the latest vaccine developer to agree to supply BARDA with doses of their Covid-19 vaccine, signing an agreement that will give the government 100 million doses in exchange for $1 billion in funding.

The agreement, similar to those signed by Novavax, Sanofi and AstraZeneca-Oxford, provides funding not only for individual doses but to help J&J ramp up manufacturing. Pfizer, by contrast, received $1.95 billion for the doses alone. Still, if one looked at each agreement as purchase amounts, J&J’s deal would be $10 per dose, slotting in between Novavax’s $16 per dose and AstraZeneca’s $4 per dose.

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Ben Dake (Source: Aerovate)

RA Cap­i­tal-backed Aerovate launch­es with $72.6M to treat PAH with a re­pur­posed can­cer med

The landmark cancer drug imatinib has been on the market since 2001, first sold by Novartis as Gleevec and in recent years as a generic. Now, a new Boston biotech is aiming to repurpose the drug as a treatment for pulmonary arterial hypertension.

Aerovate emerged from stealth Thursday and announced a $72.6 million Series A, which will be used to develop and run trials for its candidate AV-101 — a dry powder version of imatinib meant to be used with an inhaler. The company emerged from RA Capital’s incubator and funding was led by Sofinnova.

President Trump speaks with members of the media before boarding Marine One (AP Images)

'Oc­to­ber is com­ing,' and every­one still wants to know if a Covid-19 vac­cine will be whisked through the FDA ahead of the elec­tion

Right on the heels of a lengthy assurance from FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn that the agency will not rush through a quick approval for a Covid-19 vaccine, the President of the United States has some thoughts on timing he’d like to share.

In an exchange with Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera on Thursday, President Trump allowed that a vaccine could be ready to roll “sooner than the end of the year, could be much sooner.”

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Yvonne Greenstreet, incoming Alnylam president (Alnylam)

Al­ny­lam pres­i­dent Bar­ry Greene leaves af­ter 17 years, hand­ing po­si­tion over to Yvonne Green­street as biotech looks to­ward prof­itabil­i­ty

After 17 years helping Alnylam steer control of buzzy but unproven science they promised could change medicine, president Barry Greene is leaving the RNAi biotech just as that technology is beginning to hit prime time.

Leaving to “pursue outside interests in the biopharmaceutical industry,” the longtime executive will hand over the reins on October 1 to current COO Yvonne Greenstreet. Greenstreet, a former Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline executive, inherits the high-profile spot at a company that’s proven its tech can work in rare diseases but now faces the daunting task of turning a couple successes and a new mountain of cash into drugs that are broadly applicable and, crucially, profitable.

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Covid-19 roundup: 34 AGs call for ‘march-in’ rights on remde­sivir; Hahn pleads with pub­lic to trust FDA's vac­cine re­view

A bipartisan group of 34 attorneys general have asked the federal government to bypass Gilead’s patent rights on remdesivir and begin scaling and distributing the Covid-19 antiviral, or to allow the states to do it themselves.

In a letter to HHS secretary Alex Azar, the AGs expressed frustrations over the $3,250 price tag Gilead placed on the the drug, citing the federal funding that went into its developments. And they noted the sustained difficulties hospitals have faced in getting supplies from either the California biotech or their contract manufacturer AmerisourceBergen.

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Ab­b­Vie aban­dons a pi­o­neer­ing CRISPR R&D al­liance with Ed­i­tas as Brent Saun­der­s' deal is cast out

A little more than 3 years ago Allergan paid $90 million in a cash upfront to partner with gene editing player Editas on a CRISPR alliance focused on the eye. The lead program centered on LCA10, a rare, inherited retinal degenerative disease that appears in childhood and leads to blindness.

Allergan then went to AbbVie $ABBV in a buyout, and the pharma giant has no interest in moving forward on the gene editing front. The company punted it all back to Editas Thursday, with the biotech $EDIT noting in a statement after the market closed Thursday that it is regaining all rights for its ocular medicines, including EDIT-101.

Sean Nolan and RA Session II

Less than 3 months af­ter launch, the AveX­is crew’s Taysha rais­es $95M Se­ries B. Is an IPO next?

The old AveXis team is moving quickly in Dallas.

Three months ago, they launched Taysha with $30 million in Series A funding and a pipeline of gene therapies out of UT Southwestern. Now, they’ve announced an oversubscribed $95 million Series B. And the biotech is declining all interview requests on the news, the kind of broad silence that can indicate an IPO is in the pipeline.

Biotechs, including those relatively fresh off launch, have been going public at a frenzy since the pandemic began. Investors have showed a willingness to put upwards of $200 million to companies that have yet to bring a drug into the clinic. Still, if Taysha were to go public in the near future, it would be perhaps the shortest path from launch to IPO in recent biotech memory.

Douglas Fambrough, Dicerna CEO (Boehringer Ingelheim via YouTube)

Roche-backed Dicer­na push­es in­to the pack rac­ing to­ward the block­buster hep B goal line, armed with PhI da­ta

Dicerna has lined up a set of proof-of-concept data from a small cohort of hepatitis B patients in a match-up against some heavyweight rivals which got out in front of this race. And right in the front row you’ll find a team from Roche, which paid $200 million in cash and offered another $1.5 billion in milestones to partner with Dicerna $DRNA on their RNAi program for hep B.

Right now it’s looking competitive, with lots of big challenges ahead.

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