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

The Fac­tors Dri­ving a Rapid Evo­lu­tion of Gene & Cell Ther­a­py and CAR-T Clin­i­cal Re­search in APAC

APAC is the fastest growing region globally for cell & gene therapy trials representing more than a third of all cell & gene studies globally, with China leading in the region. 

APAC is the leading location globally for CAR-T trials with China attracting ~60% of all CAR-T trials globally between 2015-2022. The number of CAR-T trials initiated by Western companies has rapidly increased in recent years (current CAGR of about 60%), with multiple targets being explored including CD19, CD20, CD22, BCMA, CD30, CD123, CD33, CD38, and CD138.

The End­points 11; blue­bird's $3M gene ther­a­py; Bio­gen tout new neu­ro da­ta; Harsh re­views for can­cer drugs; 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.

Reading about John Carroll’s pick of biotech’s most promising startups has become a treasured tradition. If you ever get curious about previous classes of the Endpoints 11, you can find all of them (plus a number of our other regular specials) here.

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EMA warns of short­ages of two Boehringer heart drugs due to a spike in de­mand

The EMA is putting EU member states on alert over the shortage of two drugs that counter heart attacks due to an uptick in demand.

On Friday, the EMA sent out a warning that two Boehringer Ingelheim drugs are experiencing a shortage: Actilyse and Metalyse. The drugs are used as emergency treatments for adults experiencing acute myocardial infarction, or a heart attack, by dissolving blood clots that have formed in the blood vessels.

The End­points 11: The top pri­vate biotechs in pur­suit of new drugs. Push­ing the en­ve­lope with pow­er­ful new tech­nolo­gies

Right around the beginning of the year, we got a close-up look at what happens after a boom ripples through biotech. The crash of life sciences stocks in Q1 was heard around the world.

In the months since, we’ve seen the natural Darwinian down cycle take effect. Reverse mergers made a comeback, with more burned out shells to go public at a time IPOs and road shows are out of favor. And no doubt some of the more recent arrivals on the investing side of the business are finding greener pastures.

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As­traZeneca, Mer­ck cull one Lyn­parza in­di­ca­tion in heav­i­ly pre­treat­ed ovar­i­an can­cer pa­tients

Just one day after blockbuster Lynparza got access to another indication in China, its Big Pharma owners have decided to withdraw it in certain patients after reviewing Phase III data.

The two companies that work together on Lynparza decided to recall one of the indications several weeks ago in a specific type of ovarian cancer, Lynparza’s first indication when it was first FDA-approved in 2014. Initial data showed that rates of overall survival in patients with at least three rounds of chemo before getting on the PARP inhibitor were lower than in patients with less previous chemo treatment.

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Fu­ji­film con­tin­ues CD­MO ex­pan­sion, break­ing ground on $435M UK site

Fujifilm’s CDMO arm, Fujifilm Diosynth, has been on a roll this month as the company has recently broken ground on a major project in Europe and it appears to be keeping up the momentum.

Fujifilm Diosynth announced that it has kicked off an expansion project for its microbial manufacturing facility at its campus in the town of Billingham, UK, in the northeast of England.

The 20,000 square-foot, £400 million ($435 million) expansion will add clean rooms, purification suites and a packing area along with more space for the manufacturing itself.

An­oth­er Cipla site lands a Form 483 over clean­ing is­sues and QC con­trols

A Cipla drug manufacturing site in India has once again landed in the crosshairs of FDA inspectors.

The facility in question is Cipla’s drug manufacturing facility in the village of Verna, in the state of Goa in India’s southwest. In a sign that foreign inspections might ramp up again, the FDA’s visit from Aug. 16 to Aug. 22 uncovered six observations.

The 11-page report noted that environmental monitoring at the site did not properly ensure that microbial contaminants were not making any impact in the aseptic filling areas. It also found that procedures meant to stop microbial contamination were not adequately conducted in aseptic areas of the facility.

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Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar

Should SCO­TUS hear Am­gen's Repatha case? So­lic­i­tor gen­er­al says no

Back in April, Amgen said it was encouraged by the solicitor general’s anticipated review of its Supreme Court petition to rehear a Repatha patent case. They’re likely much less optimistic about the outcome now.

Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote in a recent 27-page brief that Amgen’s arguments “lack merit and further review is not warranted.”

The case traces back to a suit filed in 2014 against Sanofi and Regeneron’s Praluent, which ended up beating Amgen’s PCSK9 blockbuster Repatha to market by a month just a year later.

Klick Health gath­ers biotech and phar­ma lu­mi­nar­ies to dis­cuss in­dus­try in­no­va­tions, in­vest­ments and fu­ture

At Klick Health’s first Ideas Exchange conference with biotech and pharma industry insiders since before the pandemic began, it was no surprise many conversations included Covid topics. Yet while vaccines and treatments were discussed, so too were the effects on drug development, federal responses, health inequities — and what to do now and next.

George Yancopoulos, chief scientist and cofounder of Regeneron, opened the conference responding to a question from Acorda CEO Ron Cohen about the spotlight on the industry during Covid and some of the “flak” biopharma has taken in the past.