From L-R: Aaron Morris, Matt Robinson and Alpha Lee (PostEra)

A new AI start­up has emerged, and Pfiz­er likes what it sees

Aaron Mor­ris and Al­pha Lee met years ago while study­ing ap­plied math­e­mat­ics at Ox­ford Uni­ver­si­ty. They even­tu­al­ly went their sep­a­rate ways, with Mor­ris div­ing in­to ma­chine learn­ing ap­pli­ca­tions in fi­nance while Lee re­searched how it could trans­form med­i­c­i­nal chem­istry. But some­time around 2019, Mor­ris re­al­ized Lee was on­to some­thing.

“I think we sat down to­geth­er as co-founders in 2019 and said, ‘I think there’s a kind of suf­fi­cient sci­en­tif­ic depth here to mer­it form­ing a com­pa­ny around it,’” said Mor­ris, who’s now CEO of the com­pa­ny, PostEra.

On Tues­day, Mor­ris, Lee and their co-founder Matt Robin­son un­veiled a $24 mil­lion Se­ries A round to kick things off, as well as an ex­pand­ed part­ner­ship deal with Pfiz­er that will bring in an­oth­er $13 mil­lion up­front and up to $248 mil­lion in po­ten­tial mile­stones.

While a whole slate of com­pa­nies has emerged with promis­es to trans­form the drug dis­cov­ery process us­ing AI and ma­chine learn­ing — Mer­ck signed a pair of deals with Ab­sci just last week that could add up to $610 mil­lion in ad­di­tion to roy­al­ties — PostEra thinks it has a dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed ap­proach.

If you crude­ly break down the drug dis­cov­ery process — said Lee, who’s now CSO — it starts with find­ing a bi­o­log­i­cal tar­get, then it be­comes a chem­istry prob­lem where you’re look­ing for safe and ef­fec­tive small mol­e­cules against that tar­get, and then it be­comes a med­ical prob­lem where you’re run­ning clin­i­cal tri­als. PostEra is fo­cused square­ly on chem­istry.

“Now, with­in chem­istry, you have this very well-un­der­stood, de­sign-make-test cy­cle, which is de­sign­ing mol­e­cules, mak­ing them and test­ing them,” Lee said. “And many of the com­pa­nies in the space have ad­dressed one or maybe two of these dif­fer­ent com­po­nents of med­i­c­i­nal chem­istry, but PostEra is re­al­ly the first com­pa­ny to in­te­grate all three stages to­geth­er.”

Over the last 18 months, PostEra has inked sev­er­al part­ner­ships, most no­tably one with Pfiz­er back in De­cem­ber 2020. It has al­so worked on the de­vel­op­ment of an­tivi­rals in the COVID Moon­shot project, a non-prof­it, open-sci­ence con­sor­tium of sci­en­tists around the world with the goal of cre­at­ing af­ford­able and eas­i­ly-man­u­fac­tured an­tivi­rals against Covid-19.

While PostEra’s first part­ner­ship with Pfiz­er was fo­cused on in­no­va­tion around ma­chine learn­ing — as op­posed to push­ing drug dis­cov­ery pro­grams in­to the clin­ic — the ex­pan­sion of that deal will now pave the way for the es­tab­lish­ment of an AI Lab, where PostEra and Pfiz­er will work to­geth­er on mul­ti­ple drug dis­cov­ery pro­grams with an ini­tial fo­cus in on­col­o­gy and Covid-19 an­tivi­rals.

The Se­ries A funds will be used to hunt for new part­ner­ships, ex­pand the com­pa­ny’s cur­rent med­i­c­i­nal chem­istry plat­form, and kick off work on the com­pa­ny’s own in­ter­nal tar­gets. While the team is cur­rent­ly 10-large, Mor­ris ex­pects to dou­ble it by the end of the year.

“We’re re­al­ly try­ing to build a com­pa­ny here that bridges two very dif­fer­ent cul­tures,” Mor­ris said. “One of them is con­strued as a kind of com­pu­ta­tion­al en­gi­neer­ing type ap­proach. And then you’ve got the kind of more tra­di­tion­al med­i­c­i­nal chemists, and of­ten the two are put in an an­tag­o­nis­tic re­la­tion­ship with each oth­er try­ing to prove who’s bet­ter. I think what we’re try­ing to build at PostEra is a new mod­ern 21st-cen­tu­ry bio­phar­ma com­pa­ny that re­spects both.”

The Big Phar­ma dis­card pile; Lay­offs all around while some biotechs bid farewell; New Roche CEO as­sem­bles top team; and more

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With earnings seasons in full swing, we’ve listened in on all the calls so you don’t have to. But news is popping up from all corners, so make sure you check out our other updates, too.

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Raymond Stevens, Structure Therapeutics CEO

Be­hind Fri­day's $161M IPO: A star sci­en­tist, GPCR drug dis­cov­ery and a plan to chal­lenge phar­ma in di­a­betes

What does it take to pull off a $161 million biotech IPO these days?

In Structure Therapeutics’ case, it means having a star scientist co-founder paired with the computational drug discovery company Schrödinger, $198 million in private funding from blue-chip investors, almost six years of research work on G protein-coupled receptors and a slate of oral, small-molecule drugs, with an eye on the huge and growing diabetes and weight-loss market.

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Goldfinch Bio CEO Tony Johnson (L) and Karuna Therapeutics CEO Bill Meury

Karuna li­cens­es Goldfinch as­sets to com­pete with Boehringer In­gel­heim in neu­ro­science

Karuna Therapeutics is looking to compete with Boehringer Ingelheim on depression and anxiety with a new license to Goldfinch Bio’s assets, starting with $15 million to the shuttered biotech.

Karuna steps into an arena already being tested by Boehringer in multiple Phase II studies — the two are targeting transient receptor potential canonical 4 and 5, or TRPC4/5, which is thought to have a role in neuroscience indications. Goldfinch’s asset went through a Phase II in kidney diseases, but Karuna’s sights are set on mood and anxiety disorders for now.

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Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) (Francis Chung/E&E News/Politico via AP Images)

In­fla­tion re­bates in­com­ing: Wyden calls on CMS to move quick­ly as No­var­tis CEO pledges re­ver­sal

Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) this week sent a letter to the head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services seeking an update on how and when new inflation-linked rebates will take effect for drugs that see major price spikes.

The newly signed Inflation Reduction Act requires manufacturers to pay a rebate to Medicare when they increase drug prices faster than the rate of inflation.

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Trodelvy notch­es a win in most com­mon form of breast can­cer

Following a promise last year to go “big and fast in breast cancer,” Gilead has secured a win for Trodelvy in the most common form.

The drug was approved to treat HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer patients who’ve already received endocrine-based therapy and at least two other systemic therapies for metastatic cancer, Gilead announced on Friday.

Trodelvy won its first indication in metastatic triple-negative breast cancer back in 2020, and has since added urothelial cancer to the list. HR-positive HER2-negative breast cancer accounts for roughly 70% of new breast cancer cases worldwide per year, according to senior VP of oncology clinical development Bill Grossman, and many patients develop resistance to endocrine-based therapies or worsen on chemotherapy.

Af­ter 13 years, Ramy Mah­moud steps in­to CEO seat at Opti­nose; Ru­pert Vessey set to ex­it Bris­tol My­ers in Ju­ly

After 13 years as president and COO at Optinose, Ramy Mahmoud has stepped into a new role as its CEO. He is taking the place of Peter Miller, who stepped down earlier this week, though Miller is still staying with the company as a consultant.

In 2010, the two business partners joined Optinose to take it in a new direction, transforming it from a delivery platform to product company. They previously worked together at Johnson & Johnson, when Miller was president at Janssen and Mahmoud headed medical affairs. Miller said after he learned about Optinose, “I did what I always do, which is find people smarter than me to talk with about the idea. And the first person I called was Ramy … and I said, ‘Hey, Ramy, what do you think of this technology?’”

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Ma­gen­ta halts stem cell work and may sell it­self fol­low­ing pa­tient death, clin­i­cal hold

Magenta Therapeutics said it is halting work on its stem cell transplant drug pipeline and may sell itself, a week after the company reported the death of a patient in an early stage trial of its antibody-drug conjugate.

The Cambridge, MA-based company said it will conduct a “review of strategic alternatives,” and that could include an “acquisition, merger, business combination, or other transaction.”

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Giovanni Caforio, Bristol Myers Squibb CEO (Nicolas Messyasz/Sipa via AP Images)

Bris­tol My­ers turns at­ten­tion to new prod­ucts in wake of Revlim­id patent loss

Bristol Myers Squibb CEO Giovanni Caforio is shifting his focus to newer products as generic sales continue to gnaw at the company’s blockbuster myeloma drug Revlimid.

Both Revlimid and Abraxane sales took a dive last year thanks to generic rivals, BMS reported in its Q4 and full-year results on Thursday. As a result, Q4 sales dipped 5% and full-year sales remained flat. However, Caforio sees a silver lining — or rather, two of them.

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Lina Khan, FTC chair (Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP)

FTC makes an ex­am­ple of GoodRx, bans dis­counter from shar­ing pri­vate health da­ta with ad­ver­tis­ers

Prescription drug discount provider GoodRx will no longer be allowed to share its users’ sensitive health data with advertisers after the Federal Trade Commission charged the online coupon provider with failing to notify consumers of such disclosures to Facebook, Google, and other companies.

GoodRx agreed to pay a $1.5 million civil penalty for violating the FTC’s Health Breach Notification Rule after the FTC said it repeatedly violated a 2017 promise to not share sensitive personal health information. The FTC alleged that the company shared users’ prescription medications and personal health conditions with third party advertisers and platforms like Facebook, Google, Criteo, Branch and Twilio.