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.”

M&A: a crit­i­cal dri­ver for sus­tain­able top-line growth in health­care

2021 saw a record $600B in healthcare M&A activity. In 2022, there is an anticipated slowdown in activity, however, M&A prospects remain strong in the medium to long-term. What are future growth drivers for the healthcare sector? Where might we see innovations that drive M&A? RBC’s Andrew Callaway, Global Head, Healthcare Investment Banking discusses with Vito Sperduto, Global Co-Head, M&A.

15 LGBTQ lead­ers in bio­phar­ma; Paul Stof­fels’ Gala­pa­gos re­vamp; As­traZeneca catch­es up in AT­TR; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

A return to in-person conferences also marks a return to on-the-ground reporting. My colleagues Beth Synder Bulik and Nicole DeFeudis were on-site at Cannes Lions, bringing live coverage of pharma’s presence at the ad festival — accompanied by photos from Clara Bui, our virtual producer, that bring you right to the scene. You can find a recap (and links to all the stories) below.

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AstraZeneca's new Evusheld direct to consumer campaign aims to reach more immunocompromised patients.

As­traZeneca de­buts first con­sumer cam­paign for its Covid-19 pro­phy­lac­tic Evusheld — and a first for EUA drugs

AstraZeneca’s first consumer ad for Evusheld is also a first for drugs that have been granted emergency use authorizations during the pandemic.

The first DTC ad for a medicine under emergency approval, the Evusheld campaign launching this week aims to raise awareness among immunocompromised patients — and spur more use.

Evusheld nabbed emergency authorization in December, however, despite millions of immunocompromised people looking for a solution and now more widespread availability of the drug.

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Kelly Martin, Radius Health CEO

VC firms take os­teo­poro­sis drug­mak­er Ra­dius Health pri­vate for al­most $900M

After attacks from activist investors and disappointing returns on share prices, Radius Health has now agreed to new ownership, a direction resulting in leaving the Nasdaq.

Radius Health, a biotech out of Massachusetts with one approved product in its arsenal, announced Thursday morning that it agreed to be acquired by two VC firms: Gurnet Point Capital and Patient Square Capital. The deal, worth around $890 million, will include debt assumption and the payout of $1 CVR per share for investors. And on top of that, OrbiMed is providing debt financing.

Yong Dai, Frontera Therapeutics CEO

Scoop: Lit­tle-known Or­biMed-backed biotech clos­es $160M round to start gene ther­a­py tri­al

Frontera Therapeutics, a China and US biotech, has closed a $160 million Series B and received regulatory clearance to test its first gene therapy stateside, Endpoints News has learned.

Led by the largest shareholder, OrbiMed, the biotech has secured $195 million total since its September 2019 founding, according to an email reviewed by Endpoints. The lead AAV gene therapy program is for an undisclosed rare eye disease, according to the source.

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De­spite a slow start to the year for deals, PwC pre­dicts a flur­ry of ac­tiv­i­ty com­ing up

Despite whispers of a busy year for M&A, deal activity in the pharma space is actually down 30% on a semi-annualized basis, according to PwC’s latest report on deal activity. But don’t rule out larger deals in the second half of the year, the consultants said.

PwC pharmaceutical and life sciences consulting solutions leader Glenn Hunzinger expects to see Big Pharma companies picking up earlier stage companies to try and fill pipeline gaps ahead of a slew of big patent cliffs. Though a bear market continues to maul the biotech sector, Hunzinger said recent deals indicate that pharma companies are still paying above current trading prices.

Abortion-rights protesters regroup and protest following Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Fol­low­ing SCO­TUS de­ci­sion to over­turn abor­tion pro­tec­tions, AG Gar­land says states can't ban the abor­tion pill

Following the Supreme Court’s historic decision on Friday to overturn Americans’ constitutional right to an abortion after almost 50 years, Attorney General Merrick Garland sought to somewhat reassure women that states will not be able to ban the prescription drug sometimes used for abortions.

Following the decision, the New England Journal of Medicine also published an editorial strongly condemning the reversal, saying it “serves American families poorly, putting their health, safety, finances, and futures at risk.”

Joe Wiley, Amryt Pharma CEO

Am­ryt Phar­ma sub­mits a for­mal dis­pute res­o­lu­tion to the FDA over re­ject­ed skin dis­ease drug

The story of Amryt Pharma’s candidate for the genetic skin condition epidermolysis bullosa, or EB, will soon enter another chapter.

After the Irish drugmaker’s candidate, dubbed Oleogel-S10 and marketed as Filsuvez, was handed a CRL earlier this year, the company announced in a press release that it plans to submit a formal dispute resolution request for the company’s NDA for Oleogel-S10.

DEM BioPharma CEO David Donabedian (L) and executive chair Jan Skvarka

Long­wood sets an­oth­er 'don't eat me' biotech in­to gear with help of for­mer Tril­li­um CEO Jan Skvar­ka

Jonathan Weissman and team are out with a cancer-fighting biotech riding the appetite for those so-called “don’t eat me” and “eat me” signals.

The scientific co-founder — alongside fellow Whitehead Institute colleague Kipp Weiskopf and Stanford biologist Michael Bassik — has launched DEM BioPharma with incubator Longwood Fund and a crop of other investors.

In all, the nascent, 10-employee biotech has $70 million to bankroll hematology- and solid tumor-based programs, including a lead asset that could enter human trials in two to three years, CEO David Donabedian told Endpoints News.

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