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

Brent Saunders [Getty Photos]

UP­DAT­ED: Ab­b­Vie seals $63B deal to buy a trou­bled Al­ler­gan — spelling out $1B in R&D cuts

Brent Saunders has found his way out of the current fix he’s in at Allergan $AGN. He’s selling the company to AbbVie for $63 billion in the latest example of the hot M&A market in biopharma.

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Af­ter rais­ing $158M, this up­start's founders have star back­ers and plans to break new ground in gene ther­a­py

Back in 2014, Stephanie Tagliatela opted to take an early exit out of her PhD program after working in Mark Bear’s lab at MIT, where she specialized in the synaptic connections between neuronal cells in the brain. She never finished that PhD, but she and fellow MIT student Kartik Ramamoorthi — who was on the founding team at Voyager — came away with some ideas for a gene therapy startup.

Today, fully 5 years later, she and Ramamoorthi are taking the wraps off of a $104 million mega-round designed to take the cumulative work of their preclinical formative stage for Encoded Therapeutics into human studies. They’ve now raised $158 million since starting out in Illumina’s incubator in the Bay Area, and they believe they are firmly on track to do something unique in gene therapy.

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Sanofi/Re­gen­eron mus­cle ahead of a ri­val No­var­tis/Roche team, win first ap­proval in key rhi­nos­i­nusi­tis field

Re­gen­eron and their part­ners at Sanofi have beat the No­var­tis/Roche team to the punch on an­oth­er key in­di­ca­tion for their block­buster an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry drug Dupix­ent. The drug team scored an ac­cel­er­at­ed FDA ap­proval for chron­ic rhi­nos­i­nusi­tis with nasal polyps, mak­ing this the first such NDA for the field.

An­a­lysts have been watch­ing this race for awhile now, as Sanofi/Re­gen­eron won a snap pri­or­i­ty re­view for what is now their third dis­ease in­di­ca­tion for this treat­ment. And they’re not near­ly done, build­ing up hopes for a ma­jor fran­chise.

Novotech CEO Dr. John Moller

Novotech CRO Award­ed Frost & Sul­li­van Best Biotech CRO Asia-Pa­cif­ic 2019

Known in the in­dus­try as the Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO, Novotech is now lead CRO ser­vices provider for the grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al biotechs se­lect­ing the re­gion for their stud­ies.

Re­flect­ing this Asia-Pa­cif­ic growth, Novotech staff num­bers are up 20% since De­cem­ber 2018 to 600 in-house clin­i­cal re­search peo­ple across a full range of ser­vices, across the re­gion.

Novotech’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties have been rec­og­nized by an­a­lysts like Frost & Sul­li­van, most re­cent­ly with the pres­ti­gious Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO Biotech of the year award for best prac­tices in clin­i­cal re­search for biotechs for the fifth year. See oth­er awards here.

Two biotech uni­corns swell pro­posed IPOs, eye­ing a $600M-plus wind­fall

We’ve been wait­ing for the ar­rival of Bridge­Bio’s IPO to top off the wave of new biotech of­fer­ings sweep­ing through Nas­daq at the end of H1. And now we learn that it’s been sub­stan­tial­ly up­sized.

Ini­tial­ly pen­ciled in at a uni­corn-sized $225 mil­lion, the KKR-backed biotech has spiked that to the neigh­bor­hood of $300 mil­lion, look­ing to sell 20 mil­lion shares at $14 to $16 each. That’s an added 5 mil­lion shares, re­ports Re­nais­sance Cap­i­tal, which fig­ures the pro­posed mar­ket val­u­a­tion for Neil Ku­mar’s com­pa­ny at $1.8 bil­lion.

No­var­tis holds back the copy­cat brigade's at­tack on its top drug fran­chise — for now

A fed­er­al judge has put a gener­ic chal­lenge to No­var­tis’ block­buster mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis drug Gilenya on hold while a patent fight plays out in court.

Judge Leonard P. Stark is­sued a tem­po­rary in­junc­tion ear­li­er this week, forc­ing My­lan, Dr. Red­dy’s Lab­o­ra­to­ries and Au­robindo Phar­ma to shelve their launch plans to al­low the patent fight to pro­ceed. He ruled that al­low­ing the gener­ics in­to the mar­ket now would per­ma­nent­ly slash the price for No­var­tis, even if it pre­vails. 

Top an­a­lyst finds a sil­ver lin­ing in Ab­b­Vie’s $63B Al­ler­gan buy­out — but there’s a catch

Af­ter get­ting beat up on all sides from mar­ket ob­servers who don’t much care for the lat­est mega-deal to ar­rive in bio­phar­ma, at least one promi­nent an­a­lyst now is start­ing to like what he sees in the num­bers for Ab­b­Vie/Al­ler­gan.

But it’s go­ing to take some en­cour­age­ment if Ab­b­Vie ex­ecs want it to last.

Ab­b­Vie’s mar­ket cap de­clined $20 bil­lion on Tues­day as the stock took a 17% hit dur­ing the day. And SVB Leerink’s Ge­of­frey Porges can see a dis­tinct out­line of an up­side af­ter re­view­ing the fun­da­men­tals of the deal.

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While Ako­rn works to re­vive its for­tunes, the FDA hits it with an­oth­er warn­ing let­ter

Ako­rn just can’t dig it­self out of its hole.

The spe­cial­ty gener­ic drug­mak­er has re­ceived yet an­oth­er warn­ing let­ter from the FDA this year. With­out dis­clos­ing any specifics, the Lake For­est, Illi­nois-based drug­mak­er on Wednes­day said the US reg­u­la­tor had is­sued the let­ter, cit­ing an in­spec­tion of its Som­er­set, New Jer­sey man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty in Ju­ly and Au­gust of 2018. The com­pa­ny’s shares $AKRX dipped about 1.7% to $4.65 be­fore the bell.

Image: Chris Varma. Frontier

UP­DAT­ED: Chris Var­ma un­veils MP­M's lat­est start­up — eye­ing 'un­drug­gable' can­cer tar­gets and pow­ered by ma­chine learn­ing, $67M

Two years af­ter MPM Cap­i­tal en­list­ed Chris Var­ma on its busy on­col­o­gy team, the for­mer en­tre­pre­neur-in-res­i­dence is un­veil­ing his first ven­ture project out of his new stomp­ing grounds in the Bay Area: Fron­tier Med­i­cines.

For Var­ma, who’s al­so co-found­ed Blue­print Med­i­cines and built com­pa­nies at Third Rock and Flag­ship, this marks an­oth­er op­por­tu­ni­ty to ap­ply some cut­ting-edge sci­ence to “sev­er­al of the most im­por­tant and dif­fi­cult tar­gets in can­cer” — tar­gets that oth­ers have tried to tack­le with more clas­si­cal meth­ods and failed. The launch round comes in at $67 mil­lion, which should go some way in scaf­fold­ing a pre­clin­i­cal pipeline and push one or more as­sets in­to the clin­ic three years from now, he tells me.