Kate Yen, Auron Therapeutics founder and CEO

Armed with a $48M Se­ries A, Au­ron is look­ing to ap­ply ma­chine learn­ing in can­cer treat­ment

The hype of ma­chine learn­ing has man­aged to bag se­ri­ous cash from in­vestors over the past year, and the lat­est biotech to en­ter the for­ay is look­ing to ap­ply it to can­cer.

Mass­a­chu­setts-based Au­ron Ther­a­peu­tics fo­cus­es on ther­a­pies that tar­get dys­reg­u­lat­ed cells that can lead to tu­mors and can­cer.

Ac­cord­ing to Au­ron CEO and founder Kate Yen, the biotech is de­vel­op­ing ther­a­pies that tar­get dis­rupt­ed cel­lu­lar dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion. To do that it has built a pro­pri­etary ma­chine learn­ing and com­pu­ta­tion­al plat­form dubbed AU­Ri­gin. The plat­form al­lows it to in­te­grate mul­ti omics da­ta sets from both nor­mal hu­man tis­sue and tu­mor sam­ples to help iden­ti­fy path­ways that are crit­i­cal for both nor­mal cel­lu­lar dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion and then how those path­ways have been hi­jacked by tu­mor cells.

“By un­der­stand­ing how tu­mor cells have hi­jacked nor­mal cel­lu­lar dif­ferenta­tion process­es, we can iden­ti­fy nov­el tar­gets to per­turb with the goal of caus­ing can­cer cells to stop pro­lif­er­at­ing by pro­mot­ing ter­mi­nal dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion, and/or cell death,” Yen told End­points News.

Ac­cord­ing to Yen, the rea­son the com­pa­ny went with ma­chine learn­ing mod­els is be­cause it al­lows Au­ron to un­der­stand the path­ways that are crit­i­cal for pro­mot­ing nor­mal dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion. And the ma­chine learn­ing al­go­rithms al­so al­low bio­mark­ers to be iden­ti­fied that can ac­cu­rate­ly pre­dict dif­fer­ent stages of nor­mal dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion and how those bio­mark­ers are dys­reg­u­lat­ed in the tu­mor cells.

“By build­ing those mod­els, we can track how these mark­ers are dif­fer­ent in can­cer cells de­ter­mine dri­vers of dys­reg­u­lat­ed dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion in can­cer and ul­ti­mate­ly iden­ti­fy nov­el tar­gets,” she said.

Funds from the round give the com­pa­ny a run­way of two years, Yen said, which will be used to ad­vance Au­ron’s lead pro­gram to­ward clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment and dri­ve ad­di­tion­al pro­grams in­to even­tu­al drug dis­cov­ery, but no time­line has been set for that. It will al­so be used to ex­pand the AU­Ri­gin plat­form as well as bring on four to five staff mem­bers.

The com­pa­ny cur­rent­ly sits at 11 staff mem­bers.

Yen sees the com­pa­ny, by tar­get­ing cel­lu­lar dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion, as what sets them apart from the com­pe­ti­tion.

“Most cur­rent can­cer ther­a­pies don’t tar­get cel­lu­lar dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion, but rather at­tack rapid­ly di­vid­ing cells like chemother­a­py, or they fo­cus on tar­get­ing path­ways that af­fect pro­lif­er­a­tion and tu­mor growth,” she said. “Our ap­proach is to tar­get al­tered dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion path­ways to push pa­tients in­to long-term durable treat­ment re­spons­es. We think this opens up an un­tapped op­por­tu­ni­ty to bring nov­el ther­a­pies to pa­tients.”

The round was led by DCVC Bio with sup­port from new in­vestors Mubadala Cap­i­tal and Apol­lo Health Ven­tures. Ex­ist­ing in­vestors who par­tic­i­pat­ed in­clude Arkin Bio Ven­tures, Po­laris Part­ners, Qim­ing Ven­ture Part­ners USA, Eli Lil­ly, the Amer­i­can Can­cer So­ci­ety’s in­vest­ment arm Bright­Edge, Franklin Berg­er and Cas­din Cap­i­tal.

UP­DAT­ED: In a fresh dis­ap­point­ment, Am­gen spot­lights a ma­jor safe­ty is­sue with KRAS com­bo

Amgen had hoped that its latest study matching its landmark KRAS G12C drug Lumakras with checkpoint inhibitors would open up its treatment horizons and expand its commercial potential. Instead, the combo spurred safety issues that blunted efficacy and forced the pharma giant to alter course on its treatment strategy, once again disappointing analysts who have been tracking the drug’s faltering sales and limited therapeutic reach.

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Ad­dress­ing the ‘Ca­pac­i­ty Crunch’ with a Scal­able Plat­form Process Ap­proach

The field of gene therapy has been diligently moving forward over the past several decades to bring potentially life-saving treatments to patients with genetic diseases. In addition to two approved adeno-associated viral (AAV) gene therapies, there are more than 250 AAV gene therapies in various clinical trial stages.1 AAV vectors remain the most frequently used vector for delivering therapeutic transgenes to target tissues due to their demonstrated and lasting clinical efficacy and extensive safety track record. As AAV therapies advance through clinical trials and into commercialization, many biotech companies are turning to contract development and manufacturing organizations (CDMOs) to prepare their programs for late-stage clinical and commercial scale manufacturing. Given the scope and scale of the manufacturing needs that will accompany regulatory approvals for these assets, CDMOs continue to expand their capacity to meet the needs of increasing prevalent patient populations. However, despite rapid growth, projected gene therapy manufacturing demands still outpace the collective capacity of the CDMO industry.

A $5B Pfiz­er buy­out? Am­gen, Gilead head­line M&A Thurs­day; Al­ny­lam's AT­TR sweep; An­drew Lo's rare dis­ease quest; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

One of the cool things about adding EndpointsPharma to the daily roster is that my colleagues can now dedicate time to tracking quarterly updates and tuning into calls with Big Pharma companies. Check out their dispatch from the Q2 earnings below.

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Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP)

Break­ing: Pfiz­er in hot pur­suit of a $5B buy­out of Glob­al Blood Ther­a­peu­tics — re­port

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has vowed to leave no stone unturned in the search for new biotech deals, and the BD team is not letting him down.

The Wall Street Journal reported today that Pfizer is in the final stages of acquiring Global Blood Therapeutics for $5 billion. According to the Journal report, though, Pfizer is not the only buyer at the deal table and while the pharma giant may be close to clinching it, there are no guarantees it will continue.

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Bob Bradway, Amgen CEO (Justin Kase Conder/AP Images for Amgen)

UP­DAT­ED: Am­gen chief Brad­way nabs a rare dis­ease play­er in $4B buy­out as the M&A tem­po ac­cel­er­ates

Amgen CEO Bob Bradway is bellying up to the M&A table today, scooping up the newly anointed commercial biotech ChemoCentryx $CCXI and its recently approved rare disease drug for $3.7 billion out of the cash stockpile. The deal comes in at $52 a share — a hefty increase over the $24.11 close yesterday.

Bradway and the Amgen team get a drug called Tavneos (avacopan) in the deal, a complement factor C5a inhibitor OK’d to treat anti-neutrophil cytoplasmic autoantibody (ANCA)-vasculitis, an autoimmune disease which can be lethal.

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George Yancopoulos, Regeneron president and CSO (Brendan McDermid/Reuters/Alamy)

George Yan­copou­los says he's on the trail of the holy grail: ‘This could rep­re­sent the next break­through for im­munother­a­py’

Two of the most outspoken — and successful — drug developers in biotech say they’ve collected early-stage clinical data that are pointing them down the trail to the holy grail in cancer immunotherapy R&D.

While analysts largely busied themselves today with chronicling the ongoing success of Regeneron’s two big cash cows — Dupixent and Eylea — chief scientist George Yancopoulos and CEO Len Schleifer used the Q2 call to spotlight their early success with a combination of the “homegrown” PSMAxCD28 costimulatory bispecific antibody REGN5678 in combination with their PD-1 checkpoint Libtayo. The presentation comes just weeks after Regeneron completed a deal to gather all rights to the PD-1 that had been in Sanofi’s hands. And the two top execs are unstinting in their praise of the potential of a whole set of costimulatory pipeline projects which they say may finally deliver the long-awaited next-level approach to broadening the immunotherapy field of drugs.

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David Hallal (L) and George Daley (Hallal photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP via Getty Images)

David Hal­lal's El­e­vate­Bio launch­es new com­pa­ny to 'dis­rup­t' off-the-shelf cell ther­a­py, but pro­vides few oth­er de­tails

David Hallal’s ElevateBio is launching a new company Thursday as it looks to continue making its mark in the cell and gene therapy spaces. But Hallal is also keeping his cards close to the vest, preferring to toe the line between bombast and mystique rather than going all-in in one direction.

The new company comes out of a partnership with Boston Children’s Hospital and research from George Daley, the dean of Harvard Medical School. The triumvirate claims to have found a way to design better off-the-shelf cell therapies using new methods discovered in Daley’s Boston Children’s Hospital lab (Harvard is not involved in the collaboration).

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(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

US de­clares mon­key­pox a na­tion­al health emer­gency, as new drug­mak­ers con­sid­er en­ter­ing vac­cine race

Rising monkeypox cases have put the US on high alert as it announces a national health emergency, which grants the government more power in its response.

The news comes as Bavarian Nordic continues to fill orders for its Jynneos vaccine and other companies – including Moderna – consider jumping into the vaccine race. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that the US has allowed around 20 million doses of smallpox vaccine in its stockpile to expire.

Vlad Coric, Biohaven CEO

Bio­haven touts surge in Nurtec sales ahead of Pfiz­er takeover

Forget buyer’s remorse, Pfizer is likely feeling pretty good about its $11.6 billion Biohaven takeover deal following reports of a 57% sales boost for migraine med Nurtec.

Biohaven reported in Q2 results on Friday that it’s cleared the necessary antitrust hurdles to move forward with the sale of its calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) assets to Pfizer. However, because the company is “focused on workstreams related to the closing” of the deal, it did not host a call with analysts and investors.