AI team at In­sil­i­co gets some ma­jor league back­ing from Chi­na as Alex Zha­voronkov builds glob­al net­work

Some of Asia’s top biotech in­vestors are back­ing Alex Zha­voronkov’s AI shop at In­sil­i­co Med­i­cine.

It’s a long way from a megaround, falling in­to an un­spec­i­fied slot in the $5 mil­lion to $10 mil­lion range, but Zha­voronkov has al­lied him­self with some of the most in­ter­est­ing peo­ple in drug de­vel­op­ment. And he’s us­ing this new mon­ey to ex­pand his glob­al net­work of AI ex­perts as he im­me­di­ate­ly be­gins to go af­ter a new raise to back a big­ger game plan.

Ge Li

This new round is led by WuXi AppTec, the high-fly­ing dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment out­fit based in Shang­hai and helmed by Ge Li, who of­fered an in­flu­en­tial shout out by not­ing that the two com­pa­nies share a “mu­tu­al vi­sion that ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and ma­chine learn­ing will op­ti­mize the drug dis­cov­ery process by in­creas­ing the prob­a­bil­i­ty of suc­cess at the pre-clin­i­cal lev­el.”

Sin­ga­pore’s Temasek al­so got in­volved, along with Pe­ter Dia­man­dis’ — of X Prize fame — BOLD Cap­i­tal. Longevi­ty biotech Ju­ve­nes­cence, backed by UK bil­lion­aire Jim Mel­lon and al­lied with Zha­voronkov’s AI op­er­a­tion, al­so came back to chip in­to the round.

“We have col­lab­o­rat­ed with WuXi for over a year now,” Zha­voronkov tells me, “we know them.”

Be­fore Ge Li and his col­leagues de­cid­ed to back the AI shop, he ex­plained in a pre­view to the an­nounce­ment, they start­ed out a year ago val­i­dat­ing their work us­ing known path­ways. Zha­voronkov has been us­ing ma­chine learn­ing to build mol­e­cules, and he start­ed out by prov­ing that he could do it on projects with well un­der­stood bi­ol­o­gy. Now that they’ve passed that test, WuXi and In­sil­i­co are go­ing in­to vir­gin ter­ri­to­ry, build­ing new mol­e­cules aimed at or­phan tar­gets “from scratch” us­ing a neur­al net­work as they build a new dis­cov­ery plat­form with WuXi’s top chemists.

Zha­voronkov poured every­thing he has in­to the com­pa­ny to get it start­ed, and these grow­ing in­ter­na­tion­al con­nec­tions are cen­tral to build­ing the com­pa­ny. In­sil­i­co now has 52 staffers spread from new of­fices in Rockville, MD in­to Eu­rope, Rus­sia and Asia, where a team of 6 work in Tai­wan. His next step, he says, is aimed right at the ex­plod­ing Chi­nese mar­ket.

In AI, he says, “if you’re not in Chi­na now, you’re not go­ing to ex­ist.”

In the mean­time, he’s fo­cused on build­ing his busi­ness de­vel­op­ment team, look­ing to re­cruit some new play­ers.

AI shops have been boom­ing is a va­ri­ety of big op­er­a­tions con­sid­er the ways the tech­nol­o­gy can be used to stream­line drug de­vel­op­ment and im­prove odds of suc­cess — a propo­si­tion that still has a con­sid­er­able ways to go be­fore we start see­ing how it can af­fect the out­put of new drugs that go in­to hu­man test­ing. For big com­pa­nies deeply en­gaged in dis­cov­ery, though, it re­mains a com­pelling ap­proach to pipeline build­ing.

Just a few weeks ago Zha­voronkov al­lied with George Church on a col­lab­o­ra­tion mix­ing Neb­u­la Ge­nomics’ blockchain work with his deep learn­ing ex­perts to build a new plat­form for health­care da­ta. And he con­tin­ues to build re­la­tions with some of the most close­ly watched de­vel­op­ers in the in­dus­try, in­clud­ing Glax­o­SmithK­line.

Im­age: Alex Zha­voronkov. HEALTH TECH­NOLO­GIES TV via YOUTUBE

Cell and Gene Con­tract Man­u­fac­tur­ers Must Em­brace Dig­i­ti­za­tion

The Cell and Gene Industry is growing at a staggering 30% CAGR and is estimated to reach $14B by 20251. A number of cell, gene and stem cell therapy sponsors currently have novel drug substances and products and many rely on Contract Development Manufacturing Organizations (CDMO) to produce them with adherence to stringent regulatory cGMP conditions. Cell and gene manufacturing for both autologous (one to one) and allogenic (one to many) treatments face difficult issues such as: a complex supply chain, variability on patient and cellular level, cell expansion count and a tight scheduling of lot disposition process. This complexity affects quality, compliance and accountability in the entire vein-to-vein process for critically ill patients.

A lab technician works during research on coronavirus at Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceutical in Beerse, Belgium, Wednesday, June 17, 2020. (Virginia Mayo/AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: End­points News ranks all 28 play­ers in the Covid-19 vac­cine race. Here's how it stacks up to­day

(This piece was last updated on August 13. Endpoints News will continue to track the latest developments through the FDA’s marketing decisions.)

The 28 players now in or close to the clinical race to get a Covid-19 vaccine over the finish line are angling for a piece of a multibillion-dollar market. And being first — or among the leaders — will play a big role in determining just how big a piece.

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Inside FDA HQ (File photo)

The FDA just ap­proved the third Duchenne MD drug. And reg­u­la­tors still don’t know if any of them work

Last year Sarepta hit center stage with the FDA’s controversial reversal of its CRL for the company’s second Duchenne muscular dystrophy drug — after the biotech was ambushed by agency insiders ready to reject a second pitch based on the same disease biomarker used for the first approval for eteplirsen, without actual data on the efficacy of the drug.

On Wednesday the FDA approved the third Duchenne MD drug, based on the same biomarker. And regulators were ready to act yet again despite the lack of efficacy data.

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Stéphane Bancel speaks to President Donald Trump at the White House meeting on March 2 (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mod­er­na of­fers steep dis­count in US sup­ply deal — but still takes the crown with close to $2.5B in vac­cine con­tracts

The US pre-order for Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine is in.

Operation Warp Speed is reserving $1.525 billion for 100 million doses of Moderna’s Phase III mRNA candidate, rounding out to about $15 per dose — including $300 million in incentive payments for timely delivery. Given that Moderna has a two-dose regimen, it’s good for vaccinating 50 million people. The US government also has the option to purchase another 400 million doses for a total of $6.6 billion, or $16.5 per dose.

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Xuefeng Yu in Hong Kong, 2019 (Imaginechina via AP Images)

CanSi­no reaps $748M wind­fall from Shang­hai IPO — as it warns Covid-19 vac­cine won't be a huge mon­ey mak­er

CanSino began the year with a clear goal to secure a secondary listing on Shanghai’s STAR market. Then something more urgent came along: As a rising vaccine developer on a mission to bring global standard immunizations to China, it heeded the call to make a vaccine to protect against a virus that would paralyze the whole world.

Xuefeng Yu and his team managed to keep doing both.

More than a month after CanSino’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate is authorized for military use in China, the Hong Kong-listed company has made a roaring debut in Shanghai. It fetched $748 million (RMB$5.2 billion) by floating 24.8 million shares, and soared 88% on its first trading day.

Cal­lid­i­tas bets up to $102M on a biotech buy­out, snag­ging a once-failed PBC drug

After spending years developing its oral formulation of the corticosteroid budesonide, Sweden’s Calliditas now has its sights set on the primary biliary cholangitis field.

The company will buy out France-based Genkyotex, and it’s willing to bet up to €87 million ($102 million) that Genkyotex’s failed Phase II drug, GKT831, will do better in late-stage trials.

Under the current agreement, Calliditas $CALT will initially pay €20.3 million in cash for 62.7% of Genkyotex (or €2.80 a piece for 7,236,515 shares) in early October, then circle back for the rest of Genkyotex’s shares under the same terms. If nothing changes, the whole buyout will cost Calliditas €32.3 million, plus up to  €55 million in contingent rights.

Qi­a­gen in­vestors spurn Ther­mo Fish­er’s takeover of­fer, de­rail­ing a $12B+ deal

Thermo Fisher Scientific had announced an $11.5 billion takeover of Dutch diagnostics company Qiagen back in March, but the deal apparently did not sit well with Qiagen investors.

After getting hammered by critics who contended that Qiagen $QGEN was worth a lot more than what Thermo Fisher wanted to spend, investors turned thumbs down on the offer — derailing the buyout even after Thermo Fisher increased its offer to $12.6 billion in July. Qiagen’s share price has been boosted considerably by Covid-19 as demand for its testing kits surged.

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James Wilson, WuXi Global Forum at JPM20

FDA puts up a red light for Pas­sage Bio’s first gene ther­a­py pro­gram, de­lay­ing a pro­gram from James Wilson's group at Penn

Gene therapy pioneer James Wilson spearheaded animal studies demonstrating the potential of new treatments injected directly into the brain, looking to jumpstart a once-and-done fix for an extraordinarily rare disease called GM1 gangliosidosis in infants. His team at the University of Pennsylvania published their work on monkeys and handed it over to Passage Bio, a Wilson-inspired startup building a pipeline of gene therapies — with an IND for PBGM01 to lead the way.

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No­var­tis’ CAR-T part­ner in Chi­na wraps $383M take-pri­vate deal en­gi­neered by CEO

After 13 years on Nasdaq, Cellular Biomedicine Group is returning to private hands.

CEO Tony (Bizuo) Liu is a key advocate of the deal, leading a consortium of mostly Chinese investors including other top company execs, Yunfeng Capital and TF Capital — even as the company is getting more entrenched in the US with its CAR-T and other cell therapy work.

Shareholders are receiving $19.75 per share $CBMG, which translates to a premium of 31.4% over the 30 trading-day average price as of August 11. The stock, though, has dropped significantly since the consortium first put in its proposal in November. Compared to then, the acquisition price marks only a 11.8% increase.