An­dreessen drums up a $450M fund to back their vi­sion for en­gi­neer­ing bi­ol­o­gy

Im­age: Vi­jay Pande, An­dreessen Horowitz.


An­dreessen Horowitz be­lieves that AI and ma­chine learn­ing are cre­at­ing a new biotech world with a lot less guess­work in­volved. And to­day they have a fresh $450 mil­lion fund to in­vest in the emerg­ing field.

Jorge Conde

Two years ago, Stan­ford’s Vi­jay Pande took the first step with a $200 mil­lion in­au­gur­al fund. Then a few months ago Jorge Conde joined as a new part­ner in the small group, sig­nal­ing to­day’s an­nounce­ment. Conde jumped to An­dreessen from Sy­ros, where he was chief strat­e­gy of­fi­cer. And he got out just ahead of a dis­as­trous pre­sen­ta­tion a few days ago at ASH on weak re­sults for their lead drug, which tanked the stock.

The part­ners told TechCrunch that they have the same ba­sic strat­e­gy for this new fund, in­vest­ing $2 mil­lion or $3 mil­lion in promis­ing seed com­pa­nies and up­ping that to the $5 mil­lion to $10 mil­lion mark for the launch round in search of en­gi­neered prod­ucts.

In a blog post, they ex­plained their vi­sion of the new world ahead, and the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind their in­vest­ment strat­e­gy.

To hear them tell it, ma­chine learn­ing holds the key to a much more ra­tio­nal biotech world, where com­pu­ta­tion­al pow­er will be able to point pre­cise­ly to ther­a­peu­tic and re­lat­ed break­throughs. Pande has been do­ing some of the work at Stan­ford, where he’s been ex­per­i­ment­ing with us­ing da­ta points to pre­dict tox­i­col­o­gy for drugs. The in­tu­itive as­pect of drug de­vel­op­ment, based on years in the lab, he be­lieves will fade away.

From their blog:

We’ve made 12 in­vest­ments to date, span­ning ear­ly de­tec­tion of can­cer, heart dis­ease, and longevi­ty to pa­tient co­or­di­na­tion and ad­vances in food sci­ence re­mov­ing the need for pes­ti­cides while in­creas­ing shelf life. What they all share in com­mon — what we look for — is some­thing that came in to ac­cel­er­ate the in­dus­try, much like Moore’s Law did for com­put­ing… and for the a16z bio funds, that some­thing is the abil­i­ty to en­gi­neer bi­ol­o­gy. This is the point at which bio ad­vances be­yond em­piri­cism — time-con­sum­ing, in­com­plete, un­pre­dictable — and be­comes more of an en­gi­neered dis­ci­pline, al­low­ing us to plan along a roadmap, make in­cre­men­tal in­no­va­tions, and progress in a very sys­tem­at­ic way. It’s the point at which you can build a vi­able, scal­able com­pa­ny, not just a re­search project.

To be sure, they’re back­ing small steps in that di­rec­tion right now.

An­dreessen’s in­vest­ments so far span com­pa­nies like Freenome — a liq­uid biop­sy di­ag­no­sis tech — and Car­dio­gram’s app to de­tect atri­al fib­ril­la­tion us­ing the da­ta gath­ered by an Ap­ple watch. Apeel is de­vel­op­ing a nat­ur­al coat­ing to ex­tend the shelf life of food. Pa­tient­Ping keeps physi­cians up­dat­ed on all the var­i­ous points of care their pa­tients use.

That leaves a wide health­care scope for these two as the pi­o­neers in AI and ma­chine learn­ing ramp up new biotech projects.

Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

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Janet Woodcock is set to be the most powerful person at the FDA in less than a week.

The veteran regulator and longtime director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research has been tapped as acting commissioner of the FDA, according to reports by BioCentury’s Steve Usdin and Pink Sheet’s Sarah Karlin-Smith.

The appointment was requested by the incoming Biden team, Karlin-Smith added, as they sort out the nomination of a permanent successor to Stephen Hahn — whose one-year tenure has been defined by Covid-19.

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Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

Janet Wood­cock is in the run­ning for FDA com­mis­sion­er — what does that mean for the agen­cy's fu­ture?

Just a day after reports emerged that Janet Woodcock will serve as interim chief of the FDA, word has gotten out that she is also in the running for the permanent job.

The decision, as the initial wave of reactions suggest, could have dramatic implications for where the agency is headed in the next four years — if not beyond.

Woodcock, the longtime CDER director, is being vetted alongside former FDA principal deputy commissioner Joshua Sharfstein, Bloomberg reported. Already tapped as acting head of the agency, she’s set to take over from Stephen Hahn right after Biden’s inauguration next week.

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Steve Harr (L) and Hans Bishop

Paint­ing by the num­bers, Sana founders carve up a gi­ant uni­corn-sized IPO — for a biotech that has­n't quite made it to the clin­ic

Sana Biotechnology is one of those startups that was sketched in on the chalkboard day one in the shape of a unicorn.

A giant unicorn.

And from the numbers the cell therapy 2.0 play spelled out in their S-1 $SANA, it’s clear that the company founders — led by a pair of major VCs aligned with some high-profile industry figures — are hunting a big chunk of that value for themselves.

The raise they penciled in — $150 million — isn’t likely what they actually have in mind, and it doesn’t do justice to the size of their ambitions.

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Eli Lil­ly re-ups di­ver­si­ty pledge, pitch­ing in $30M to ven­ture fund for mi­nor­i­ty-owned health­care firms

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Lilly will infuse $30 million into the Unseen Capital Health Fund, a venture fund looking to invest in early-stage minority-owned healthcare companies that have been historically “unseen” by the investment community, the pharma said Friday.

Laurie Glimcher, Dana-Farber president and CEO (Getty Images)

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The pace of innovation at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in recent years has seen a wave of startups launch with IP or leadership sourced from the nonprofit’s ranks. Now, looking for its own returns on that success, Dana-Farber has launched a new venture fund to invest in those fledgling businesses.

On Thursday, Dana-Farber unveiled Binney Street Capital — its first-ever venture fund. Roche and Verily veteran Luba Greenwood has been tapped to lead the fund, which was named after the location of the institute’s Boston site.

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Monia, one of the handful of young scientists who in 1989 followed Stanley Crooke across the country from SmithKline (now GSK) in Philadelphia to found Ionis in Northern California, replaced Crooke as CEO last January. By then, they had proven antisense, an RNA-based method for manipulating gene expression, could work dramatically well in at least some instances, transforming spinal muscular atrophy with the Biogen-partnered blockbuster Spinraza.

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David Kessler in April 2009 (Eric Risberg/AP Images)

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There’s a new twist on the EMA Covid-19 hacking story.

Friday the European agency put out the 5th in a series of statements about the hackers who broke into their system, noting that some of the information on vaccines that was gleaned in the attack is showing up online — altered to raise questions about the Covid-19 vaccines now in use.

This included internal/confidential email correspondence dating from November, relating to evaluation processes for COVID-19 vaccines. Some of the correspondence has been manipulated by the perpetrators prior to publication in a way which could undermine trust in vaccines.

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Terry Rosen, Arcus CEO

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News brief­ing: Five Prime fi­nal­izes PhI­II plans for gas­tric can­cer; AI di­ag­nos­tics-fo­cused Paige ex­pands staff

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The South San Francisco-based biotech released full Phase II data for bemarituzumab on Friday, which Five Prime said in November met all of its pre-specified efficacy endpoints in a topline readout. Now, the company is announcing it plans to launch a Phase III trial for the program in 2021. Following November’s readout, the future of bemarituzumab had not yet been finalized.