Adding mar­quee in­vestors, Black­Thorn bags $76M to back an AI-dri­ven strat­e­gy for pre­ci­sion neu­ro med­i­cine

As ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and ma­chine learn­ing loom ever larg­er in drug dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment, a biotech op­er­at­ing at the “nexus” of tech­nol­o­gy and neu­ro­sciences has cashed in with $76 mil­lion in fresh fi­nanc­ing.

The big idea at Black­Thorn Ther­a­peu­tics is to do for neu­robe­hav­ioral dis­or­ders what ge­net­i­cal­ly tar­get­ed ther­a­py has done for on­col­o­gy: Re­de­fine pa­tient pop­u­la­tions by the un­der­ly­ing bi­ol­o­gy — dys­reg­u­lat­ed brain cir­cuits, or neu­rotypes — in­stead of symp­toms, there­by find­ing the pa­tients who are most like­ly to ben­e­fit at en­roll­ment phase.

The chal­lenges that neu­ro­sciences drug de­vel­op­ers run in­to, pres­i­dent and COO Bill Mar­tin ex­plained, have a lot to do with how dis­eases are di­ag­nosed. When het­ero­ge­neous pa­tient pop­u­la­tions get lumped in­to one gi­ant group, he said, “the cat­e­gories them­selves wind up get­ting in the way of ther­a­peu­tic in­no­va­tion.”

“So for us, the shift is be­gin­ning to use the tools of the age, if you will, to bring bi­o­log­i­cal un­der­stand­ing to these men­tal health dis­or­ders,” he added.

It’s an ap­proach that’s won over a num­ber of top-notch in­vestors, with Arch, John­son & John­son In­no­va­tion, Bio­mat­ics, GV, Al­ti­tude Life Sci­ence Ven­tures, Mer­cury Fund and Alexan­dria Re­al Es­tate Eq­ui­ties to boast about in its $40 mil­lion Se­ries A. This time around, Po­laris Part­ners, Pre­mier Part­ners, Scripps Re­search and Ver­tex Ven­tures al­so jumped in for the ride.

“Black­Thorn has po­si­tioned it­self at the fore­front of [per­son­al­ized med­i­cine in men­tal health] by build­ing the largest li­brary of deeply phe­no­typed clin­i­cal neu­ro­bi­o­log­i­cal da­ta and a cloud-based plat­form pow­ered by ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and ma­chine learn­ing (AI/ML) to in­form ra­tio­nal, tar­get­ed drug dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment,” Arch part­ner and Black­Thorn ex­ec­u­tive chair Paul Berns said in a state­ment.

The cash in­fu­sion will al­low the team — which has grown from 13 to 40 in less than three years — to pur­sue two Phase II and one Phase I across its three lead mol­e­cules, Mar­tin told me.

BTRX-335140 is an an­tag­o­nist of kap­pa opi­oid re­cep­tor for mood/anx­i­ety dis­or­ders, while BTRX-323511 is a po­ten­tial autism treat­ment that tar­gets the va­so­pressin 1a re­cep­tor. And the biotech will rein­tro­duce BTRX-246040, the failed drug in-li­censed from Eli Lil­ly, with new in­sights gained from plug­ging Lil­ly’s Phase II da­ta in­to their plat­form.

At the fore­front of the clin­i­cal mis­sion will be Jane Tiller, a Bris­tol-My­ers and Cephalon vet who’s signed on as CMO.

Black­Thorn is lo­cat­ed in San Fran­cis­co’s South of Mar­ket neigh­bor­hood, which gives them unique ac­cess to a tal­ent pool that in­cludes ex­perts in both life sci­ences and tech, Mar­tin said.

Im­age: Bill Mar­tin. Black­Thorn

Paul Hudson, Sanofi CEO (Getty Images)

Sanofi CEO Paul Hud­son has $23B burn­ing a hole in his pock­et. And here are some hints on how he plans to spend that

Sanofi has reaped $11.1 billion after selling off a big chunk of its Regeneron stock at $515 a share. And now everyone on the M&A side of the business is focused on how CEO Paul Hudson plans to spend it.

After getting stung in France for some awkward politicking — suggesting the US was in the front of the line for Sanofi’s vaccines given American financial support for their work, versus little help from European powers — Hudson now has the much more popular task of managing a major cash cache to pull off something in the order of a big bolt-on. Or two.

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The Avance Clinical leadership team: CEO Yvonne Lungershausen, Sandrien Louwaars - Director Business Development Operations, Gabriel Kremmidiotis - Chief Scientific Officer, Ben Edwards - Chief Strategy Officer

How Aus­tralia De­liv­ers Rapid Start-up and 43.5% Re­bate for Ear­ly Phase On­col­o­gy Tri­als

About Avance Clinical

Avance Clinical is an Australian owned Contract Research Organisation that has been providing high-quality clinical research services to the local and international drug development industry for 20 years. They specialise in working with biotech companies to execute Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials to deliver high-quality outcomes fit for global regulatory standards.

As oncology sponsors look internationally to speed-up trials after unprecedented COVID-19 suspensions and delays, Australia, which has led the world in minimizing the pandemic’s impact, stands out as an attractive destination for early phase trials. This in combination with the streamlined regulatory system and the financial benefits including a very favourable exchange rate and the R & D cash rebate makes Australia the perfect location for accelerating biotech clinical programs.

As­traZeneca trum­pets the good da­ta they found for Tagris­so in an ad­ju­vant set­ting for NSCLC — but many of the ex­perts aren’t cheer­ing along

AstraZeneca is rolling out the big guns this evening to provide a salute to their ADAURA data on Tagrisso at ASCO.

Cancer R&D chief José Baselga calls the disease-free survival data for their drug in an adjuvant setting of early stage, epidermal growth factor receptor-mutated NSCLC patients following surgery “momentous.” Roy Herbst, the principal investigator out of Yale, calls it “transformative.”

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Pablo Legorreta, founder and CEO of Royalty Pharma AG, speaks at the annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Cap­i­tal­iz­ing Pablo: The world’s biggest drug roy­al­ty buy­er is go­ing pub­lic. And the low-key CEO di­vulges a few se­crets along the way

Pablo Legorreta is one of the most influential players in biopharma you likely never heard of.

Over the last 24 years, Legorreta’s Royalty Pharma group has become, by its own reckoning, the biggest buyer of drug royalties in the world. The CEO and founder has bought up a stake in a lengthy list of the world’s biggest drug franchises, spending $18 billion in the process — $2.2 billion last year alone. And he’s become one of the best-paid execs in the industry, reaping $28 million from the cash flow last year while reserving 20% of the cash flow, less expenses, for himself.

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Dan O'Day, Gilead CEO (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Gilead leas­es part­ner rights to TIG­IT, PD-1 in a $2B deal with Ar­cus. Now comes the hard part

Gilead CEO Dan O’Day has brokered his way to a PD-1 and lined up a front row seat in the TIGIT arena, inking a deal worth close to $2 billion to align the big biotech closely with Terry Rosen’s Arcus. And $375 million of that comes upfront, with cash for the buy-in plus equity, along with $400 million for R&D and $1.22 billion in reserve to cover opt-in payments and milestones..

Hotly rumored for weeks, the 2 players have formalized a 10-year alliance that starts with rights to the PD-1, zimberelimab. O’Day also has first dibs on TIGIT and 2 other leading programs, agreeing to an opt-in fee ranging from $200 million to $275 million on each. There’s $500 million in potential TIGIT milestones on US regulatory events — likely capped by an approval — if Gilead partners on it and the stars align on the data. And there’s another $150 million opt-in payments for the rest of the Arcus pipeline.

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No­var­tis jumps in­to Covid-19 vac­cine hunt, as Big Phar­ma and big biotech com­mit to bil­lions of dos­es

After spending most of the pandemic on the sidelines, Novartis is offering its aid in the race to develop a Covid-19 vaccine.

AveXis, the Swiss pharma’s gene therapy subsidiary, has agreed to manufacture the vaccine being developed by Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Massachusetts General Hospital. The biotech will begin manufacturing this month, while the vaccine undergoes further preclinical testing. They’ve agreed to provide the vaccine for free for clinical trials beginning in the second half of 2020, but have not disclosed financials for after.

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Bryan Roberts, Venrock

Ven­rock sur­vey shows grow­ing recog­ni­tion of coro­n­avirus toll, wan­ing con­fi­dence in ar­rival of vac­cines and treat­ments

When Venrock partner Bryan Roberts went to check the results from their annual survey of healthcare leaders, what he found was an imprint of the pandemic’s slow arrival in America.

The venture firm had sent their form out to hundreds of insurance and health tech executives, investors, officials and academics on February 24 and gave them two weeks to fill it out. No Americans had died at that point but the coronavirus had become enough of a global crisis that they included two questions about the virus, including “Total U.S. deaths in 2020 from the novel coronavirus will be:”.

Roger Perlmutter, Merck R&D chief (YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: Backed by BAR­DA, Mer­ck jumps in­to Covid-19: buy­ing out a vac­cine, part­ner­ing on an­oth­er and adding an­tivi­ral to the mix

Merck execs are making a triple play in a sudden leap into the R&D campaign against Covid-19. And they have more BARDA cash backing them up on the move.

Tuesday morning the pharma giant simultaneously announced plans to buy an Austrian biotech that has been working on a preclinical vaccine candidate, added a collaboration on another vaccine with the nonprofit IAVI and inked a deal with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics on an early-stage antiviral.

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Shelia Violette (Q32)

For a post-Soliris world, At­las-backed Q32 Bio out­lines $46M next-gen com­ple­ment play

Long before Alexion kindled a renaissance of complement therapeutics with the introduction of the first anti-C5 antibody, Mike Holers — a longtime professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine — became fascinated with the host defense system as he completed his rheumatology training. As Soliris begins to fade and follow-on, rivals and even generics catch up to the standard bearer. Holers is debuting a next-generation approach he’s been refining with Atlas Venture over the last two years.