Always busy, Gary Glick recruits OrbiMed in a massive $218M Series A for enigmatic data science biotech
Gary Glick is back at it again, founding yet another biotech company. And by the sheer size of its first raise, this may be the biggest one yet.
Glick has assembled what he calls an all-star roster and recruited one of the biggest healthcare investors in OrbiMed to put together a massive $218 million Series A for his newest venture, Odyssey Therapeutics. The launch, announced Tuesday morning and co-led by SR One Capital Management, comes not three months after Glick sold First Wave Bio to AzurRx for $229 million.
But Glick has had Odyssey on his mind since at least early this year, first crafting the vision back in March with co-founder David Pompliano, with whom Glick did his postdoc at Jeremy Knowles’ Harvard lab. Likening Odyssey to one of his earlier companies, IFM Therapeutics, Glick said the new biotech is placing a similar bet on ensuring the best people are involved.
“What’s occurring at Odyssey is just something on a much larger scale, with a considerable amount more depth in many of those sort of drug discovery disciplines,” Glick tells Endpoints News. “The financing allows us to support not only a larger number of programs, but quite a bit of technology development and integration to create the platform.
“It’s a recipe for success that’s worked across all my companies,” he added.
So what exactly is Odyssey all about? No one really wants to say. Glick declined to elaborate on any of the details about the biotech’s foundational science, only briefly divulging the company’s disease areas as inflammation and oncology. He vaguely described Odyssey as open to a variety of platforms that are “fused” together and responded to a question about the science behind the biotech with a rhetorical quip: “Imagine asking that to the CEO of Novartis or Merck.”
There’s also a short mention in Odyssey’s press release about how the company will build on the “past approaches” of anti-TNF antibodies, JAK inhibitors and targeted cancer immunotherapies, going “beyond the limitations” of these treatments. It’s not exactly clear, however, what that means at this stage.
What we can report is nearly a third of Odyssey’s 100-ish employees are data scientists. Glick placed a huge emphasis on data science and AI at the biotech, outlining a broad view of how he hopes “physics based molecular simulations” and “quantum machine learning” will set Odyssey apart. As an example, Glick described some of the advances in computational chemistry since he was a grad student in the 1980s.
“A lot of the intense interest recently has been around what molecular simulations, particularly for small molecules, can accomplish given the increased computing power,” Glick said. “That’s just one of the foundational pieces that we’ve made an investment in, but data science is much broader than that.”
Leading this charge will be chief data officer Joe McDonald, a 30-year biopharma vet who led machine learning and physics-based simulation efforts at Celgene and then Bristol Myers Squibb. For McDonald, even though these fields have hit their stride and seen a lot of hype — sometimes to other companies’ chagrin — it’s more about putting the technology in the hands of the right people.
Part of that process involves a quantum machine learning program Odyssey will have to train. Given the nature of the technology, McDonald said it would only require a small fraction of data relative to what would be necessary for a more traditional algorithm. But at the end of the day, it’s how the teams of scientists solve the problem together that matters more.
“What I want to stress is, it is the experience of the scientists that guide the strategy,” McDonald said. “The machine learning methods are there as add-on capabilities that give our scientists the opportunity to make a decision and effective decisions. But we really trust the scientists at Odyssey to make great, great decisions.”
Other members of Odyssey’s starting lineup include former Vividion CSO Robert Abraham as executive VP of cancer biology; Natalie Dales, ex-Novartis director of portfolio and strategy for chemistry discovery, as senior VP of of chemistry and drug discovery; Shifeng Pan, another Novartis chemistry vet from its genomics institute, as head of discovery; Pompliano as chief innovation officer; and Stephen Soisson, a Merck Research Laboratories vet who will head up the protein therapeutics division.
OrbiMed managing director Carl Gordon, who earns himself an Odyssey board seat, said that while many have attempted marrying drug discovery with machine learning, he can’t recall another company that’s gotten off the ground so quickly. That, coupled with the people Glick assembled, will prove a key differentiator, he said.
“It’s increasingly a seller’s market in recruiting,” Gordon said. “So I think it says a lot in regard to the vision of the company. And it’s gratifying to see some of the people that have chosen to work with us.”
Up first are seven pipeline programs in those inflammation and oncology areas, both small molecules and protein therapeutics for “large market indications,” Glick said. If everything goes according to plan, the first candidates will hit the clinic in late 2023 or early 2024.
It will take even longer for Odyssey to report its first batch of clinical data, when investors will begin to realize whether this biotech is worth the massive raise or largely hype. Many companies have garnered big raises — increasingly followed by IPOs with just preclinical data — and ultimately flopped once they began putting their drugs in humans.
But Glick believes the combination of Odyssey’s technology and people won’t give him a reason to sweat.
“Many things in drug discovery and clinical development ultimately wind up not working,” Glick said. “And it’s the people, ultimately. It’s great teams that are able to succeed. And so it’s when you have great technology in the hands of great people. That’s really the bet here.”
In addition to OrbiMed and SR One Capital, other investors included Foresite Capital, Woodline Partners LP, Logos Capital, HBM Healthcare Investments, Colt Ventures, Creacion Ventures, and other institutional investors.