Viswa Colluru, Enveda Biosciences

A Re­cur­sion vet­er­an is map­ping plant life to chart a course to new ther­a­pies — and in­vestors like what they see

One of the ear­li­est em­ploy­ees at AI biotech Re­cur­sion Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals is lead­ing a new com­pa­ny, and he’s just closed a hefty Se­ries A to get things mov­ing.

Enve­da Bio­sciences pulled in $51 mil­lion in the raise, the com­pa­ny an­nounced Tues­day morn­ing, with the goal of push­ing some of its pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams fur­ther along. Led by CEO Viswa Col­lu­ru, Enve­da aims to re­search how ma­chine learn­ing can uti­lize nat­ur­al bi­ol­o­gy to cre­ate new ther­a­pies for Wil­son’s Dis­ease, NASH and Parkin­son’s dis­ease, among oth­ers.

Tues­day’s fi­nanc­ing was led by Lux Cap­i­tal.

Col­lu­ru got his start at Re­cur­sion back in 2016 when the now-IPO’ed biotech was still a fledg­ling play­er. Though he tells End­points News he’s al­ways had a cu­rios­i­ty for plant bi­ol­o­gy, work­ing with Chris Gib­son gave him “the fastest crash course” in biotech one can get.

That cu­rios­i­ty led him to what he feels is the cen­tral prob­lem Enve­da is now try­ing to solve: Hu­mans have been cre­at­ing med­i­cines from plants across cul­tures for more than 50,000 years, but plant chem­i­cal space is still vast­ly un­der­ex­plored.

“I got the op­por­tu­ni­ty to learn every­thing from build­ing and scal­ing a com­pa­ny to en­ter­ing biotech with a new idea,” Col­lu­ru said. “I feel like I’ve been prepar­ing for it my whole life. What Re­cur­sion did was en­able the skill sets to try some­thing new and be OK if it failed.”

Now with Enve­da, Col­lu­ru set his sights on map­ping out na­ture’s bi­ol­o­gy. One of Enve­da’s biggest un­der­tak­ings has been cre­at­ing a high-res­o­lu­tion map to study the chem­istry of plants and learn how to ex­tract po­ten­tial new med­i­cines. High­light­ing how as­pirin, statins and mor­phine all came from the nat­ur­al world, Col­lu­ru says Enve­da us­es this map to speed along such dis­cov­ery process­es.

The com­pa­ny says it has the largest in­te­grat­ed dataset of plant chem­istry out there, one that’s con­stant­ly be­ing fed back in­to their al­go­rithms to con­tin­ue dis­cov­ery work. These ma­chine learn­ing process­es func­tion like a search en­gine, Col­lu­ru says, read­ing the “lan­guage of chem­istry” through mass spec­tra. It al­lows Enve­da to cat­a­log, an­no­tate and an­a­lyze plant bi­ol­o­gy in or­der to more ful­ly un­der­stand po­ten­tial links for drug R&D.

It’s here where the pipeline comes in­to play, as Enve­da preps two of its four pro­grams, one for Wil­son’s Dis­ease and NASH and the oth­er for Parkin­son’s, to con­tin­ue pre­clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment. Col­lu­ru isn’t putting a time­line on when these can­di­dates might hit the clin­ic, but not­ed Tues­day’s raise gives Enve­da enough run­way for the next 24 months.

But the biotech is seek­ing to dif­fer­en­ti­ate it­self by hon­ing in on this in­ter­sec­tion be­tween ma­chine learn­ing, metabolomics and nat­ur­al prod­ucts. It’s all thanks to the map and search en­gine com­bo, which has dri­ven the in­vestor ex­cite­ment be­hind Enve­da, Col­lu­ru says.

“We’re unique in terms of po­si­tion­ing that way, but al­so in terms of ac­tu­al work,” he said. “A lot of ma­chine learn­ing com­pa­nies, orig­i­nal­ly the learn­ing was with their own cus­tom datasets. Now, there are new and unique ways to gen­er­ate those datasets. We’re us­ing our li­brary to probe new re­gions of chem­istry.”

In ad­di­tion to Lux, Enve­da saw new in­vest­ment from Two Sig­ma Ven­tures, Hum­ming­bird VC, Catalio Cap­i­tal, Life­force Cap­i­tal and Matthew De Sil­va of No­table Labs, along with ex­ist­ing in­vestors True Ven­tures, Wire­frame Ven­tures, Vil­lage Glob­al and Chris Gib­son of Re­cur­sion.

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

Covid-19 vac­cine boost­ers earn big thumbs up, but Mod­er­na draws ire over world sup­ply; What's next for Mer­ck’s Covid pill?; The C-suite view on biotech; 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.

You may remember that at the beginning of this year, Endpoints News set a goal to go broader and deeper. We are still working towards that, and are excited to share that Beth Snyder Bulik will be joining us on Monday to cover all things pharma marketing. You can sign up for her weekly Endpoints MarketingRx newsletter in your reader profile.

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No­var­tis de­vel­op­ment chief John Tsai: 'We go deep in the new plat­form­s'

During our recent European Biopharma Summit, I talked with Novartis development chief John Tsai about his experiences over the 3-plus years he’s been at the pharma giant. You can read the transcript below or listen to the exchange in the link above.

John Carroll: I followed your career for quite some time. You’ve had more than 20 years in big pharma R&D and you’ve obviously seen quite a lot. I really was curious about what it was like for you three and a half years ago when you took over as R&D chief at Novartis. Obviously a big move, a lot of changes. You went to work for the former R&D chief of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan, who had his own track record there. So what was the biggest adjustment when you went into this position?

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Roche's Tecen­triq cross­es the fin­ish line first in ad­ju­vant lung can­cer, po­ten­tial­ly kick­ing off gold rush

While falling behind the biggest PD-(L)1 drugs in terms of sales, Roche has looked to carve out a space for its Tecentriq with a growing expertise in lung cancer. The drug will now take an early lead in the sought-after adjuvant setting — but competitors are on the way.

The FDA on Friday approved Tecentriq as an adjuvant therapy for patients with Stage II-IIIA non small cell lung cancer with PD-(L)1 scores greater than or equal to 1, making it the first drug of its kind approved in an early setting that covers around 40% of all NSCLC patients.

Amit Etkin, Alto Neuroscience CEO (Alto via Vimeo)

A star Stan­ford pro­fes­sor leaves his lab for a start­up out to re­make psy­chi­a­try

About five years ago, Amit Etkin had a breakthrough.

The Stanford neurologist, a soft-spoken demi-prodigy who became a professor while still a resident, had been obsessed for a decade with how to better define psychiatric disorders. Drugs for depression or bipolar disorder didn’t work for many patients with the conditions, and he suspected the reason was how traditional diagnoses didn’t actually get at the heart of what was going on in a patient’s brain.

Susan Galbraith, Executive VP, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

As­traZeneca on­col­o­gy R&D chief Su­san Gal­braith: 'Y­ou're go­ing to need or­thog­o­nal com­bi­na­tion­s'

 

Earlier in the week we broadcast our 4th annual European Biopharma Summit with a great lineup of top execs. One of the one-on-one conversations I set up was with Susan Galbraith, the oncology research chief at AstraZeneca. In a wide-ranging discussion, Galbraith reviewed the cancer drug pipeline and key trends influencing development work at the pharma giant. You can watch the video, above, or stick with the script below. — JC

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Yao-Chang Xu, Abbisko Therapeutics founder and CEO

Qim­ing-backed Ab­bisko makes $200M+ Hong Kong de­but, as a SPAC and Agenus spin­out al­so price on Nas­daq

Three new entities priced their public debuts late Thursday and early Friday, including a SPAC, a traditional Nasdaq IPO and a Chinese biotech joining the Hong Kong Index.

Shanghai-based Abbisko Therapeutics raised the most money of the triumvirate, garnering $226 million in its Hong Kong debut and pricing at HK$12.46, or roughly $1.60 in US dollars. The blank check company followed up with a $150 million raise, while MiNK Therapeutics priced on Nasdaq at $12 per share and a $40 million raise.

Paul Grayson, Tentarix CEO (Versant)

Phar­ma vet­er­ans re­group with $50M and a plan to dis­cov­er new mul­ti-specifics

While a horde of drugmakers develops bispecific antibodies to more directly target tumor cells — there were about 100 programs in or nearing clinical trials back in May — a new company is emerging to go one step further.

On Thursday, Tentarix Biotherapeutics unveiled a $50 million Series A round to support its next-gen multi-specifics platform. While the field has largely focused on bispecifics, which engage two targets, Tentarix believes its multifunctional programs have the potential to be even more specific, since more conditions must be met for potent activity to occur.

Tillman Gerngross, Adagio CEO

Q&A: Till­man Gern­gross ex­plains why his Covid mAb will have an edge over an al­ready crowd­ed field

If anyone knows about monoclonal antibodies, it’s serial entrepreneur, Adimab CEO, and Dartmouth professor of bioengineering Tillman Gerngross.

Even the name of Gerngross’ new antibody startup Adagio Therapeutics is meant to reflect his vision behind the development of his Covid-19 mAb: slowly, he said, explaining that “everyone else, whether it’s Regeneron, Lilly, or AstraZeneca, Vir, they all valued speed over everything.”

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