Andrew Hopkins, Exscientia founder and CEO (Exscientia)

Af­ter years of part­ner­ships, AI biotech Ex­sci­en­tia lands first ma­jor fi­nanc­ing round at $60M

Af­ter years rack­ing up part­ner­ships with biotechs and Big Phar­ma, the AI drug de­vel­op­er Ex­sci­en­tia has land­ed its first large fi­nanc­ing round.

The UK-based com­pa­ny raised $60 mil­lion in a Se­ries C round led by No­vo Hold­ings — more than dou­ble the $26 mil­lion it gar­nered in a Se­ries B 18 months ago. The round will help fur­ther the com­pa­ny’s ex­pan­sion in­to the US and fur­ther what it calls, bor­row­ing a term from the soft­ware world, its “full-stack ca­pa­bil­i­ties,” i.e. its abil­i­ty to de­vel­op drugs from the ear­li­est stage to the mar­ket.

Found­ed by Uni­ver­si­ty of Dundee chemist An­drew Hop­kins in 2012, Ex­sci­en­tia has so far large­ly fo­cused on build­ing a com­pu­ta­tion­al plat­form and pro­vid­ing it to help more tra­di­tion­al biotechs and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies find new drugs faster. It’s a com­mon tac­tic for AI biotechs that fo­cused on has­ten­ing the iso­la­tion and con­struc­tion of new drug-like mol­e­cules, a group that in­cludes well-con­nect­ed ri­vals like Atom­wise and In­sil­i­co. Es­sen­tial­ly, these com­pa­nies use ma­chine learn­ing to screen or­ders of mag­ni­tude more com­pounds than con­ven­tion­al screen­ing process­es could, with the goal of short­en­ing the no­to­ri­ous­ly lengthy amount of time it takes to de­vel­op a new drug.

Ex­sci­en­tia’s par­tic­u­lar plat­form, which it calls Cen­taur Chemist, has won a few promi­nent col­lab­o­ra­tions. In Jan­u­ary, they an­nounced a car­di­ol­o­gy dis­cov­ery deal with Bay­er. That was af­ter a psy­chi­a­try deal with Sunovion, an on­col­o­gy and au­toim­mune deal with Cel­gene, an on­col­o­gy deal with Roche, a meta­bol­ic dis­ease deal with Sanofi and a broad deal for up to ten tar­gets across mul­ti­ple ther­a­peu­tic ar­eas with Glax­o­SmithK­line, which last year pro­duced a lead com­pound now in an­i­mal test­ing.

One of the com­pa­ny’s first part­ner­ships, though, came with the Japan­ese de­vel­op­er Sum­it­o­mo Dainip­pon Phar­ma. Ear­li­er this year, that led to a Phase I ex­per­i­men­tal pill for ob­ses­sive com­pul­sive dis­or­der which the two com­pa­nies claimed was the first AI-de­vel­oped drug to en­ter the clin­ic. Al­though the claim has been made by oth­er biotechs, the drug was nev­er­the­less an im­por­tant proof-of-con­cept. It took less than 12 months to go through pre­clin­i­cal test­ing.

Most re­cent­ly, Ex­sci­en­tia has turned its ef­forts to Covid-19. Like oth­er re­searchers, they used their plat­form to screen ex­ist­ing drugs for po­ten­tial ef­fi­ca­cy against the new virus. Specif­i­cal­ly, they have been search­ing a Scripps li­brary of 15,000 drugs with the help of Di­a­mond Light Source, an Ox­ford com­pa­ny that helps sci­en­tists study virus­es by gen­er­at­ing a very bright light that works like a mi­cro­scope.

Un­lock­ing ESG strate­gies for growth with Gilead Sci­ences

RBC Capital Markets explores what is material in ESG for biopharma companies with the ESG leads at Gilead Sciences. Gilead has long focused on sustainability but recognized a more robust framework was needed. Based on a materiality assessment, Gilead’s ESG strategy today focuses first on drug access and pricing, while also addressing D&I and climate change. Find out why Gilead’s board is “acutely aware” of the contribution that ESG makes to firm’s overall success.

What con­tro­ver­sy? Eli Lil­ly plots Alzheimer's BLA fil­ing lat­er this year as FDA taps more an­ti-amy­loid drugs as break­throughs

The FDA is keeping the good news coming for Alzheimer’s drug developers. And Eli Lilly is taking them up on it.

Amid continued controversy around whether Biogen’s new flagship drug, Aduhelm, should have been approved at all — and swelling, heated debates surrounding its $56,000 price tag — the agency had no issue handing them and their Japanese partner Eisai a breakthrough therapy designation for a second anti-amyloid beta antibody, lecanemab, late Wednesday.

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Hervé Hoppenot, Incyte CEO (Jeff Rumans)

ODAC echoes FDA con­cern over In­cyte PD-1, as Paz­dur sig­nals broad­er shift for ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

After the FDA lambasted their PD-1 ahead of an adcomm earlier this week, Incyte ran into new trouble Thursday as ODAC panelists voted against an accelerated OK by a wide margin.

Members of the Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee recommended with a 13-4 vote to defer a regulatory decision on Incyte’s retifanlimab until after more data can be collected from a placebo-controlled trial. The PD-1 therapy is due for a PDUFA date in late July after receiving priority review earlier this year.

From left: Rajul Jain, Stefan Vitorovic, Arjun Goyal, Arie Belldegrun, Jean-Philippe (JP) Kouakou-Zebouah, Helen Kim

Arie Bellde­grun's Vi­da Ven­tures goes back to the well with $825M mega­fund and its eyes set on more in­no­v­a­tive meds

Among the list of bright names in biopharma, few shine brighter than Kite founder and serial entrepreneur Arie Belldegrun, who has rattled off a remarkable run of success in recent years. Now, a Belldegrun investment team is locking up a massive third fund to keep chasing the cutting edge in therapeutics.

Vida Ventures closed its third investment fund at a whopping $825 million — its largest yet — as the ever-expanding VC firm hits 30 companies in its portfolio developing new routes to hard-to-treat diseases, the company said Thursday.

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New FDA doc­u­ments show in­ter­nal dis­sent on Aduhelm ap­proval

In a lengthy review document and a pair of memos from top officials, the FDA released on Tuesday night its most detailed argument yet for approving Biogen’s intensely controversial Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab.

The documents amount to an agency attempt to quench the firestorm their decision kindled, as outside advisors members resigned and experts warned that an unproven drug now could stretch Medicare’s budget to a breaking point. Ultimately, the documents show how CDER director Patrizia Cavazzoni and Office of New Drugs director Peter Stein both concurred with FDA neuroscience head Billy Dunn on the accelerated approval while the staff at FDA’s Office of Biostatistics did not think an approval was warranted.

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Karen Flynn, Catalent

Q&A: When the pan­dem­ic struck, Catal­en­t's CCO had just joined the team

Karen Flynn came aboard Catalent’s team just in time.

The company was going through a surge of changes, and she had been brought over from her role as CCO of West Pharmaceutical Services to serve in the same capacity for the New Jersey-based CDMO. Then a few months later, the pandemic was in full-force.

Since then, Catalent’s been in hyper-expansion mode. In early May, it acquired Promethera’s Hepatic Cell Therapy Support SA subsidiary and its 32,40-square-foot facility in Gosselies, Belgium. Prior to that, the company acquired Belgian CDMO Delphi Genetics, wrapped up the expansion of an already-existing site in Madison, WI and added an ultra-low temperature freezer partner in Sterling. As Emergent has botched millions of doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, the company has swooped in to move that production to its Maryland plant as well.

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Richard Pazdur (vis AACR)

FDA en­cour­ages in­clud­ing in­cur­able can­cer pa­tients in tri­als, re­gard­less of pri­or ther­a­pies

The FDA on Thursday called to include those with incurable cancers (when there is no potential for cure or for prolonged/near normal survival) in appropriate clinical trials, regardless of whether they have received existing alternative treatments.

Historically, many cancer clinical trials have required that participating patients previously received multiple therapies, according to Richard Pazdur, director of the FDA’s Oncology Center of Excellence.

On heels of Aduhelm ap­proval, Bris­tol My­ers jumps back in­to Alzheimer's race

Bristol Myers Squibb last put major resources behind an Alzheimer’s drug nearly a decade ago, when their own attempt at targeting amyloid flamed out in mid-stage studies. They invented another molecule, a Tau-targeted antibody, but jettisoned it to Biogen in 2017 as they dropped out of neuroscience altogether.

But on Thursday, the New York pharma announced they were getting back in the game. Bristol Myers exercised an $80 million option to bring a tau-targeted antibody from Prothena into a Phase I study. The opt-in, which Bristol Myers triggered ahead of analyst expectations, opens the door for another $1.7 billion in milestones down the road.

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James Peyer, Cambrian

Can a cell ther­a­py treat mus­cu­lar dy­s­tro­phy? A Ger­man bil­lion­aire's an­ti-ag­ing start­up is try­ing to find out

Gene therapy companies have faced huge hurdles trying to deliver healthy genes into muscular dystrophy patients’ muscle cells, so here’s an idea: Why don’t we just replace the muscle cells themselves?

Over the last two years, Vita Therapeutics has been exploring that possibility, building on early stem cell work from Johns Hopkins professor Peter Andersen. And on Tuesday they announced a $32 million Series A to begin to move their first therapy into the clinic, where they hope it will help rebuild muscle in patients with a type of dystrophy that afflicts the arms and legs.