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.”

Graphic: Alexander Lefterov for Endpoints News

Small biotechs with big drug am­bi­tions threat­en to up­end the tra­di­tion­al drug launch play­book

Of the countless decisions Vlad Coric had to make as Biohaven’s CEO over the past seven years, there was one that felt particularly nerve-wracking: Instead of selling to a Big Pharma, the company decided it would commercialize its migraine drug itself.

“I remember some investors yelling and pounding on the table like, you can’t do this. What are you thinking? You’re going to get crushed by AbbVie,” he recalled.

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Mar­ket­ingRx roundup: Pfiz­er de­buts Pre­vnar 20 TV ads; Lil­ly gets first FDA 2022 pro­mo slap down let­ter

Pfizer debuted its first TV ad for its Prevnar 20 next-generation pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine. In the 60-second spot, several people (actor portrayals) with their ages listed as 65 or older are shown walking into a clinic as they turn to say they’re getting vaccinated with Prevnar 20 because they’re at risk.

The update to Pfizer’s blockbuster Prevnar 13 vaccine was approved in June, and as its name suggests is a vaccine for 20 serotypes — the original 13 plus seven more that cause pneumococcal disease. Pfizer used to spend heavily on TV ads to promote Prevnar 13 in 2018 and 2019 but cut back its TV budgets in the past two fall and winter seasonal spending cycles. Prevnar had been Pfizer’s top-selling drug, notching sales of just under $6 billion in 2020, and was the world’s top-selling vaccine before the Covid-19 vaccines came to market last year.

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Albert Bourla (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Pfiz­er fields a CRL for a $295M rare dis­ease play, giv­ing ri­val a big head start

Pfizer won’t be adding a new rare disease drug to the franchise club — for now, anyway.

The pharma giant put out word that their FDA application for the growth hormone therapy somatrogon got the regulatory heave-ho, though they didn’t even hint at a reason for the CRL. Following standard operating procedure, Pfizer said in a terse missive that they would be working with regulators on a followup.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

Opin­ion: Flori­da is so mAb crazy, Ron De­San­tis wants to use mAbs that don't work

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is trying so hard to politicize the FDA and demonize the federal government that he entered into an alternate universe on Monday evening in describing a recent FDA action to restrict the use of two monoclonal antibody, or mAb, treatments for Covid-19 that don’t work against Omicron.

Without further ado, let’s break down his statement from last night, line by line, adjective by adjective.

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A new can­cer im­munother­a­py brings cau­tious hope for a field long await­ing the next big break­through

Bob Seibert sat silent across from his daughter at their favorite Spanish restaurant near his home in Charleston County, SC, their paella growing cold as he read through all the places in his body doctors found tumors.

He had texted his wife, a pediatric intensive care nurse, when he got the alert that his online chart was ready. Although he saw immediately it was bad, many of the terms — peritoneal, right iliac — were inscrutable. But she was five hours downstate, at a loud group dinner the night before another daughter’s cheer competition.

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Not cheap­er by the dozen: Bris­tol My­ers be­comes the 12th phar­ma com­pa­ny to re­strict 340B sales

Bristol Myers Squibb recently joined 11 of its peer pharma companies in limiting how many contract pharmacies can access certain drugs discounted by a federal program known as 340B.

Bristol Myers is just the latest in a series of high-profile pharma companies moving in their own direction as the Biden administration’s Health Resources and Services Administration struggles to rein in the drug discount program for the neediest Americans.

Joaquin Duato, J&J CEO (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

New J&J CEO Joaquin Du­a­to promis­es an ag­gres­sive M&A hunt in quest to grow phar­ma sales

Joaquin Duato stepped away from the sideline and directly into the spotlight on Tuesday, delivering his first quarterly review for J&J as its newly-tapped CEO after an 11-year run in senior posts. And he had some mixed financial news to deliver today while laying claim to a string of blockbuster drugs in the making and outlining an appetite for small and medium-sized M&A deals.

Duato also didn’t exactly shun large buyouts when asked about the future of the company’s medtech business — where they look to be in either the top or number 2 position in every segment they’re in — even though the bar for getting those deals done is so much higher.

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Brian Thomas, Metagenomi CEO

Gen 2: Berke­ley spin­out lands $175M megaround to keep it on the cut­ting edge of the boom­ing gene-edit­ing field

The big bucks keep pumping into the gene-editing field.

This morning Metagenomi, allied with one of the biggest names in the mRNA field with a company DNA that includes the ubiquitous Jennifer Doudna, is showing off a $175 million B round that will pay for a rapid swelling of its staff in pursuit of some of the cutting-edge tech that keeps this field in the spotlight. And they’re aligning themselves with some major industry players with an eye on the clinic while getting behind some startups to help expand the work into new fields.

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Amgen's Twitter campaign #DearAsthma inspired thousands of people to express struggles and frustrations with the disease

Am­gen’s #Dear­Asth­ma spon­sored tweet lands big on game day, spark­ing thou­sands to re­spond

Amgen wanted to know how people with asthma really felt about daily life with the disease. So it bought a promoted tweet on Twitter noting the not-so-simple realities of life with asthma and ended the post with a #DearAsthma hashtag, a megaphone emoji and a re-tweet button.

That was just over one week ago and the responses haven’t stopped. More than 7,000 posts so far on Twitter replied to #DearAsthma to detail struggles of daily life, expressing humor, frustration and sometimes anger. More than a few f-bombs have been typed or gif-ed in reply to communicate just how much many people “hate” the disease.