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.

Biotech and Big Phar­ma: A blue­print for a suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship

Strategic partnerships have long been an important contributor to how drugs are discovered and developed. For decades, big pharma companies have been forming alliances with biotech innovators to increase R&D productivity, expand geographical reach and better manage late-stage commercialization costs.

Noël Brown, Managing Director and Head of Biotechnology Investment Banking, and Greg Wiederrecht, Ph.D., Managing Director in the Global Healthcare Investment Banking Group at RBC Capital Markets, are no strangers to the importance of these tie-ups. Noël has over 20 years of investment banking experience in the industry. Before moving to the banking world in 2015, Greg was the Vice President and Head of External Scientific Affairs (ESA) at Merck, where he was responsible for the scientific assessment of strategic partnership opportunities worldwide.

No­var­tis' sec­ond at­tempt to repli­cate a stun­ning can­cer re­sult falls flat

Novartis’ hopes of turning one of the most surprising trial data points of the last decade into a lung cancer drug has taken another setback.

The Swiss pharma announced Monday that its IL-1 inhibitor canakinumab did not significantly extend the lives or slow the disease progression of patients with previously untreated locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer when compared to standard of-care alone.

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Robert Califf (Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP Images, File)

As buzz on Califf FDA nom heats up, in­dus­try and agency in­sid­ers of­fer a strong nod for the ‘per­fect’ choice

For once in this long, dramatic road to finding a new FDA commissioner, there’s been some continuity. Both CNN and Politico reported this weekend that Rob Califf met with President Biden to discuss the permanent commish role, following earlier news broken by the Washington Post that all signs point to Califf.

Although there may be a few Democrats who continue to grandstand about the dangers of COI (Califf has worked for Verily, sits on the board of Centessa Pharmaceuticals, and has other ties to industry research), with the pandemic ongoing and the need for some kind of continuity at FDA mounting, Califf is likely to meet the same fate as when he first won Senate confirmation in 2016, by a vote of 89-4 — Bernie Sanders and 6 others didn’t vote.

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AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot (Raphael Lafargue/Abaca/Sipa USA)

A com­bo of As­traZeneca's Imfinzi and chemo wins where oth­ers have failed in piv­otal bil­iary tract test

Looking to run with the big dogs in the PD-(L)1 class, AstraZeneca’s Imfinzi has a tall hill to climb to compete in an increasingly bustling market. An aggressive combo strategy for the drug has paid off so far, and now AstraZeneca is adding another notch to its belt.

A combo of Imfinzi (durvalumab) and chemotherapy significantly extended the lives of first-line patients with advanced biliary tract cancer over chemo alone, according to topline results from the Phase III TOPAZ-1 study revealed Monday.

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Sean Ianchulev, Eyenovia CEO and CMO

Re­cent court de­ci­sion push­es FDA to re­ject and re­clas­si­fy drug-de­vice com­bo, crush­ing shares

Back in April, the FDA lost a crucial court case in which its broad discretion of regulating medical products that might satisfy the legal definitions of either “drug” and/or “medical device” was sharply curtailed.

In addition to the appeals court ruling that Genus Medical Technologies’ contrast agent barium sulfate (aka Vanilla SilQ) should not be considered a drug, as the FDA had initially ruled, but as a medical device, the agency also was forced to spell out which drugs would transition to devices as a result of the ruling.

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Peter Greenleaf, Aurinia CEO

Af­ter pass­ing on Ac­celeron, Bris­tol My­ers eyes bolt-on ac­qui­si­tion of au­toim­mune spe­cial­ist — re­port

Bristol Myers Squibb is looking to beef up its autoimmune portfolio by scooping up Aurinia Pharmaceuticals, Bloomberg reported.

The recent overtures to Aurinia, relayed by anonymous insiders, came just as Bristol Myers turned down buyout talks with partners at Acceleron — which Merck ultimately struck a deal to acquire for $11.5 billion. Bristol Myers has reportedly decided to cash out on its minority stake, likely bagging $1.3 billion in the process, while keeping the royalty deals on two of Acceleron’s blood disorder drugs.

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So — that pig-to-hu­man trans­plant; Po­ten­tial di­a­betes cure reach­es pa­tient; Ac­cused MIT sci­en­tist lash­es back; 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.

We’re incredibly excited to welcome Beth Bulik, seasoned pharma marketing reporter, to the team. You can find much of her work in our new Marketing channel — and in her weekly newsletter, Endpoints PharmaRx, which will launch in early November. Add it to your subscriptions here.

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NYU surgeon transplants an engineered pig kidney into the outside of a brain-dead patient (Joe Carrotta/NYU Langone Health)

No, sci­en­tists are not any clos­er to pig-to-hu­man trans­plants than they were last week

Steve Holtzman was awoken by a 1 a.m. call from a doctor at Duke University asking if he could put some pigs on a plane and fly them from Ohio to North Carolina that day. A motorcyclist had gotten into a horrific crash, the doctor explained. He believed the pigs’ livers, sutured onto the patient’s skin like an external filter, might be able to tide the young man over until a donor liver became available.

UP­DAT­ED: Agenus calls out FDA for play­ing fa­vorites with Mer­ck, pulls cer­vi­cal can­cer BLA at agen­cy's re­quest

While criticizing the FDA for what may be some favoritism towards Merck, Agenus on Friday officially pulled its accelerated BLA for its anti-PD-1 inhibitor balstilimab as a potential second-line treatment for cervical cancer because of the recent full approval for Merck’s Keytruda in the same indication.

The company said the BLA, which was due for an FDA decision by Dec. 16, was withdrawn “when the window for accelerated approval of balstilimab closed,” thanks to the conversion of Keytruda’s accelerated approval to a full approval four months prior to its PDUFA date.

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