Andrew Radin, Aria Pharmaceuticals CEO (Aria)

An­drew Radin or­ches­trates his AI dis­cov­ery plat­for­m's piv­ot to R&D with a har­mo­nious name change and eyes on the clin­ic

An­drew Radin was a straight A stu­dent. So when he stopped turn­ing in as­sign­ments in Nigam Shah’s class at Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty, the pro­fes­sor knew some­thing was up.

“If you don’t hand in as­sign­ments, you’re gonna fail,” Radin re­calls Shah say­ing one day af­ter class. “Every­thing al­right at home?”

Vi­jay Pande

Lit­tle did Shah know that a project Radin did for an­oth­er class had piqued the in­ter­est of An­dreessen Horowitz’s Vi­jay Pande, who al­so taught at the uni­ver­si­ty. As a bio­med­ical in­for­mat­ics stu­dent, Radin was look­ing at how tech­nol­o­gy could be used to comb through large swaths of da­ta and find drug-tar­get match­es — and Pande of­fered him the first in­vest­ment from his new $200 mil­lion biotech fund to turn the plat­form in­to a com­pa­ny.

So Radin dropped his stud­ies, and in 2015 of­fi­cial­ly launched AI-fo­cused twoXAR. Shah, who’s now on the sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­so­ry board, called it the “best F ever.”

The com­pa­ny now boasts mul­ti­ple biotech part­ner­ships and near­ly as many pro­grams as it has em­ploy­ees (19 staffers ver­sus 18 pro­grams) — all ac­com­plished with a mod­est $14 mil­lion in VC funds. And as it tran­si­tions from part­ner­ing on drug dis­cov­ery re­search to ad­vanc­ing its own pipeline, it’s chang­ing its name to Aria Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals.

“An aria, it’s this cap­stone of the mu­si­cal piece that’s typ­i­cal­ly re­served for a very tal­ent­ed per­former,” Radin, the firm’s CEO, told End­points News. “And yet, the aria doesn’t stand alone. It works with­in the con­text of a larg­er piece of mu­sic.”

The “aria” in this case, is the com­pa­ny’s drug dis­cov­ery plat­form, he said: “ex­cep­tion­al­ly gift­ed in its own right,” but more pow­er­ful when cou­pled with ex­per­tise and the right team to bring drugs to pa­tients.

To date, Aria has iden­ti­fied 18 po­ten­tial can­di­dates for com­plex dis­eases like lu­pus, glioblas­toma, chron­ic kid­ney dis­ease and glau­co­ma, four of which are be­ing de­vel­oped with part­ners. No can­di­dates have reached the clin­ic, but the team is prepar­ing for INDs in sev­er­al pro­grams.

Us­ing AI tech­nol­o­gy, Aria has been able to com­plete pre­dic­tions, se­lect hits and be­gin in vi­vo test­ing in an av­er­age of four weeks — a process which nor­mal­ly takes years us­ing tra­di­tion­al dis­cov­ery meth­ods,  ac­cord­ing to Radin.

The ma­chine learn­ing space is packed with play­ers look­ing to rev­o­lu­tion­ize the way new drugs are found and de­vel­oped. Just last week, Ex­sci­en­tia raised a fresh half-bil­lion dol­lars for its AI plat­form and pipeline. Mi­crosoft backed a new AI start­up called 1910 Ge­net­ics back in March. And ear­li­er that month, Daphne Koller pulled in $400 mil­lion for her ma­chine learn­ing start­up, in­sitro.

“What’s spe­cial about our method­olo­gies, is … peo­ple will typ­i­cal­ly use one type of da­ta or maybe, you know, a few types of da­ta to­geth­er in con­cert to try to make a dis­cov­ery,” Radin said. “We in­cor­po­rate dozens of un­re­lat­ed datasets in our pre­dic­tion sys­tems, and what that does is give us a very wide swath of in­for­ma­tion to ba­si­cal­ly un­cov­er new mod­els of patho­gen­e­sis.”

To lead the charge, Aria re­cent­ly tapped Mark Eller, for­mer head of R&D at Jazz Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, as se­nior VP of R&D; and An­jali Pandey, who was most re­cent­ly CSO at Bridge­Bio sub­sidiaries TheRas and Fer­ro, as se­nior VP of non­clin­i­cal R&D and chem­istry.

ZS Per­spec­tive: 3 Pre­dic­tions on the Fu­ture of Cell & Gene Ther­a­pies

The field of cell and gene therapies (C&GTs) has seen a renaissance, with first generation commercial therapies such as Kymriah, Yescarta, and Luxturna laying the groundwork for an incoming wave of potentially transformative C&GTs that aim to address diverse disease areas. With this renaissance comes several potential opportunities, of which we discuss three predictions below.

Allogenic Natural Killer (NK) Cells have the potential to displace current Cell Therapies in oncology if proven durable.

Despite being early in development, Allogenic NKs are proving to be an attractive new treatment paradigm in oncology. The question of durability of response with allogenic therapies is still an unknown. Fate Therapeutics’ recent phase 1 data for FT516 showed relatively quicker relapses vs already approved autologous CAR-Ts. However, other manufacturers, like Allogene for their allogenic CAR-T therapy ALLO-501A, are exploring novel lymphodepletion approaches to improve persistence of allogenic cells. Nevertheless, allogenic NKs demonstrate a strong value proposition relative to their T cell counterparts due to comparable response rates (so far) combined with the added advantage of a significantly safer AE profile. Specifically, little to no risk of graft versus host disease (GvHD), cytotoxic release syndrome (CRS), and neurotoxicity (NT) have been seen so far with allogenic NK cells (Fig. 1). In addition, being able to harness an allogenic cell source gives way to operational advantages as “off-the-shelf” products provide improved turnaround time (TAT), scalability, and potentially reduced cost. NKs are currently in development for a variety of overlapping hematological indications with chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-Ts) today, and the question remains to what extent they will disrupt the current cell therapy landscape. Click for more details.

Graphic: Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

What kind of biotech start­up wins a $3B syn­di­cate, woos a gallery of mar­quee sci­en­tists and re­cruits GSK's Hal Bar­ron as CEO in a stun­ner? Let Rick Klaus­ner ex­plain

It started with a question about a lifetime’s dream on a walk with tech investor Yuri Milner.

At the beginning of the great pandemic, former NCI chief and inveterate biotech entrepreneur Rick Klausner and the Facebook billionaire would traipse Los Altos Hills in Silicon Valley Saturday mornings and talk about ideas.

Milner’s question on one of those mornings on foot: “What do you want to do?”

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Hal Barron, Endpoints UKBIO20 (Jeff Rumans)

'Al­tos was re­al­ly a once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­ni­ty': Hal Bar­ron re­flects on his big move

By all accounts, Hal Barron had one of the best jobs in Big Pharma R&D. He made more than $11 million in 2020, once again reaping more than his boss, Emma Walmsley, who always championed him at every opportunity. And he oversaw a global R&D effort that struck a variety of big-dollar deals for oncology, neurodegeneration and more.

Sure, the critics never let up about what they saw as a rather uninspiring late-stage pipeline, where the rubber hits the road in the Big Pharma world’s hunt for the next big near-term blockbuster, but the in-house reviews were stellar. And Barron was firmly focused on bringing up the success rate in clinical trials, holding out for the big rewards of moving the dial from an average 10% success rate to 20%.

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Executive Director of the EMA Emer Cooke (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment signs off on strength­en­ing drug reg­u­la­tor's abil­i­ty to tack­le short­ages

The European Parliament on Thursday endorsed a plan to increase the powers of the European Medicines Agency, which will be better equipped to monitor and mitigate shortages of drugs and medical devices.

By a vote of 655 to 31, parliament signed off on a provisional agreement reached with the European Council from last October, in which the EMA will create two shortage steering groups (one for drugs, the other for devices), a new European Shortages Monitoring Platform to facilitate data collection and increase transparency, and on funding for the work of the steering groups, task force, working parties and expert panels that are to be established.

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FDA+ roundup: FDA's neu­ro­science deputy de­parts amid on­go­ing Aduhelm in­ves­ti­ga­tions; Califf on the ropes?

Amid increased scrutiny into the close ties between FDA and Biogen prior to the controversial accelerated approval of Aduhelm, the deputy director of the FDA’s office of neuroscience has called it quits after more than two decades at the agency.

Eric Bastings will now take over as VP of development strategy at Ionis Pharmaceuticals, the company said Wednesday, where he will provide senior clinical and regulatory leadership in support of Ionis’ pipeline.

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Sec­ondary patents prove to be key in biosim­i­lar block­ing strate­gies, re­searchers find

While the US biosimilars industry has generally been a disappointment since its inception, with FDA approving 33 biosimilars since 2015, just a fraction of those have immediately followed their approvals with launches. And more than a handful of biosimilars for two of the biggest blockbusters of all time — AbbVie’s Humira and Amgen’s Enbrel — remain approved by FDA but still have not launched because of legal settlements.

Hal Barron (GSK via YouTube)

GSK R&D chief Hal Bar­ron jumps ship to run a $3B biotech start­up, Tony Wood tapped to re­place him

In a stunning switch, GlaxoSmithKline put out word early Wednesday that R&D chief Hal Barron is exiting the company after 4 years — a relatively brief run for the man chosen by CEO Emma Walmsley in late 2017 to turn around the slow-footed pharma giant.

Barron is being replaced by Tony Wood, a close associate of Barron’s who’s taking one of the top jobs in Big Pharma R&D. He’ll be closer to home, though, for GSK. Barron has been running a UK and Philadelphia-based research organization from his perch in San Francisco.

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Troy Wilson, Kura CEO

FDA lifts par­tial hold on Ku­ra's Phase Ib AML pro­gram as biotech re­dou­bles mit­i­ga­tion ef­forts

Kura Oncology is clear to resume studies for its early-stage leukemia program after the FDA lifted a clinical hold Thursday afternoon.

Regulators had placed the hold on a Phase Ib study of KO-539, an experimental oral treatment for some genetic subsets of acute myeloid leukemia last November after a patient died while taking the drug. Kura expects to begin enrolling patients again imminently, CEO Troy Wilson told Endpoints News.

A Sen­ate bill wants to even an 'un­lev­el play­ing field' for do­mes­tic, for­eign in­spec­tion drop-ins amid back­log

Amid geopolitical tensions between the US and China, two Republican senators are calling for a bill that would aim to strike a balance on domestic and foreign inspection requirements from the FDA.

Sens. Mike Braun (R-IN) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) have penned a bill called the Creating Efficiency in Foreign Inspections Act. It contains a bit of rhetoric, highlighting “communist China” not once, but twice in the release, but states that the goal is to even the playing field between foreign and American manufacturers.

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