A transpa­cif­ic biotech start­up com­bines Asian in­vestors and some se­ri­ous­ly trendy sci­ence out of MIT

Syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gist Tim­o­thy Lu has been do­ing some mind blow­ing sci­en­tif­ic work at MIT. A few months ago he and some of his col­leagues wrote up their work de­sign­ing and cre­at­ing mam­malian ge­net­ic cir­cuits that could be used to spawn, say, a whole new breed of T cells that could be en­gi­neered to go on the at­tack against can­cer cells — with built-in trig­gers to a set of bio­mark­ers.

Jef­frey Lu

This fas­ci­na­tion with syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy — along with some close ties to the lead­ers in this emerg­ing field — has spurred Lu to part­ner with his broth­er Jef­frey on cre­at­ing a transpa­cif­ic biotech dubbed En­gine Bio­sciences that plans to in­te­grate ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and ma­chine learn­ing with hands-on lab work in drug de­vel­op­ment to cre­ate a whole new kind of drug de­vel­op­ment plat­form, one they say can test a dizzy­ing ar­ray of ge­net­ic in­ter­ac­tions in par­al­lel in search of those nee­dles in the da­ta in­tense haystack that can point to mul­ti­ple drug pro­grams.

It is the buzzi­est of all biotech types fo­cused on some of the trendi­est dis­cov­ery work now dom­i­nat­ing the dis­cus­sion in bio­phar­ma’s pre­clin­i­cal cir­cles. That’s pret­ty good for a com­pa­ny that cur­rent­ly has 6 full-time em­ploy­ees. But there’s al­so more here than lab projects and sci­ence pa­pers.

To­day En­gine is tak­ing the wraps off a $10 mil­lion seed round com­ing from a col­lec­tion of some very se­ri­ous in­vestors fund­ing the cur­rent burst of biotech ac­tiv­i­ty in places like Shang­hai and Sin­ga­pore.

Hu Li

The mon­ey is com­ing from a set of in­vestors with deep roots in Asia: DHVC (AI spe­cial­ists at Dan­hua Cap­i­tal) and 6 Di­men­sions Cap­i­tal (re­cent­ly formed through the merg­er of Front­line Bioven­tures and WuXi Health­care Ven­tures in May 2017). WuXi AppTec, Sin­ga­pore’s ED­BI, Temasek sub Pavil­ion Cap­i­tal, Baidu Ven­tures, WI Harp­er, and Nest.Bio Ven­tures al­so got in­volved.

The work at En­gine will be done in the Bay Area and Sin­ga­pore, where Tim­o­thy Lu has a lab. And it will in­volve a slate of some big names in the field: Mayo Clin­ic as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor Hu Li, Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia San Diego as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor Prashant Mali, and co-chair of the sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­so­ry board and MIT pro­fes­sor Jim Collins.

The drug de­vel­op­ment cy­cle as we know it now is chal­lenged by com­plex bi­ol­o­gy and a one-by-one ap­proach that in­vites slow de­vel­op­ment time­lines and ex­tra­or­di­nar­i­ly high fail­ure rates, says CEO and co-founder Jef­frey Lu. Fig­ur­ing out every­thing from tar­get dis­cov­ery to strat­i­fi­ca­tion of pa­tient pop­u­la­tions re­quires a com­plex as­sess­ment of all those fac­tors.

Their plat­form looks to an­swer those ques­tions in a fast and ef­fi­cient man­ner.

“That’s the mis­sion of the com­pa­ny,” says Jef­frey Lu.

Jim Collins

That cov­ers a vast amount of pos­si­bil­i­ties, of course, so En­gine is nar­row­ing it down to on­col­o­gy, with work un­der­way on liv­er can­cer and ovar­i­an can­cer, and con­struc­tion in process on a neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive plat­form. There’s al­so a project for skin ag­ing, work­ing with a skin care group. And there are plans to part­ner ear­ly and of­ten.

“We thought it was im­por­tant to have a wet lab bi­ol­o­gy da­ta gen­er­a­tion tool that gen­er­ates our own pro­pri­etary dataset so we can train al­go­rithms to get bet­ter and bet­ter, im­prov­ing the pre­dic­tive ca­pa­bil­i­ties of our in sil­i­co meth­ods,” says Jef­frey Lu. And now that the seed round is in place, he’ll be dou­bling or tripling the small staff by the end of this year to start turn­ing their plat­form dreams in­to re­al­i­ty.

The mon­ey, he says, should last two years.


Im­age: Tim­o­thy Lu. MIT Cam­paign for a Bet­ter World

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Tom Barnes (Orna)

The mR­NA era is here. MPM be­lieves the fu­ture be­longs to oR­NA — and Big Phar­ma wants a seat at the ta­ble

If the ultra-fast clinical development of Covid-19 vaccines opened the world’s eyes to the promises of messenger RNA, the subsequent delays in supply offered a crash course on the ultra-complex process of producing them. Even before the formulation and fill-finish steps, mRNA is the precious end product from an arduous journey involving enzyme-aided transcription, modification and purification.

For Bristol Myers Squibb, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, Gilead’s Kite and Astellas, it’s time to rethink the way therapeutic RNA is engineered.

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Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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S&P ex­pects steady ero­sion in Big Phar­ma's cred­it pro­file in 2021 as new M&A deals roll in — but don't un­der­es­ti­mate their un­der­ly­ing strength

S&P Global has taken a look at the dominant forces shaping the pharma market and come to the conclusion that there will be more downgrades than upgrades in 2021 — the 8th straight year of steady decline.

But it’s not all bad news. Some things are looking up, and there’s still plenty of money to be made in an industry that enjoys a 30% to 40% profit margin, once you factor in steep R&D expenses.

Tal Zaks, Moderna CMO (AP Photo/Rodrique Ngowi, via still image from video)

CMO Tal Zaks bids Mod­er­na a sur­prise adieu as biotech projects $18.4B in rev­enue, plots post-Covid ex­pan­sion

How do you exit a company after six years in style? Developing one of the most lucrative and life-saving products in pharma history is probably not the worst way to go.

Tal Zaks, Moderna’s CMO since 2015, will leave the mRNA biotech in September, the biotech disclosed in their annual report this morning. The company has already retained the recruitment firm Russell Reynolds to find a replacement.

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Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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Joe Nolan, Jaguar

Sean Nolan gath­ers AveX­is alum­ni to launch an­oth­er biotech. Is it an­oth­er race-to-IPO?

The old AveXis crew is launching another company. And they may once again look to cash in quick.

Armed with patents and a steady stream of cash from Deerfield Management, Sean Nolan and five ex-Avexis executives have launched Jaguar Gene Therapy to develop AAV9 gene therapies for a small constellation of disparate disorders, from autism to diabetes. Jaguar remains over a year from the clinic, but CEO Joe Nolan hinted they could look to follow a pace set by Tasyha, the biotech Sean Nolan and other AveXis alumni launched last year and took from Series A to IPO in less than 6 months.

Glax­o­SmithK­line re­thinks strat­e­gy for Covid-19 an­ti­body — not the Vir ones — af­ter tri­al flop. Is there hope in high-risk pa­tients?

In the search for a better Covid-19 therapeutic, GlaxoSmithKline and Vir have partnered up on two antibodies they hope have a chance. GSK is also testing its own in-house antibody, and early results may have shut the door on its widespread use.

A combination of GSK’s monoclonal antibody otilimab plus standard of care couldn’t best standard of care alone in preventing death and respiratory failure in hospitalized Covid-19 patients after 28 days, according to data from the Phase IIa OSCAR study unveiled Thursday.