Neil Thompson. Healx

As­tex vet Neil Thomp­son looks to build dis­cov­ery from scratch at rare dis­ease AI up­start out of Cam­bridge, UK

David Brown Healx

As a co-in­ven­tor of silde­nafil — a pill orig­i­nal­ly de­signed to treat coro­nary hy­per­ten­sion — David Brown knows how big of an im­pact drug hunters can make when they take a ther­a­py be­ing used to treat one dis­ease and di­rect it to an­oth­er. Af­ter 40 years in the in­dus­try, re­pur­pos­ing is at the cen­ter of his lat­est rare dis­ease ven­ture at Healx.

And now, step­ping the gas ped­al on new dis­cov­ery projects, Brown has re­cruit­ed Neil Thomp­son as the Cam­bridge, UK-based start­up’s new CSO.

Thomp­son, a 15-year vet­er­an of As­tex who’s been work­ing as an in­de­pen­dent con­sul­tant since its sale to Ot­su­ka two years ago, joins an am­bi­tious team of 35 that has its sight set on bring­ing for­ward 100 rare dis­ease treat­ments by 2025.

“Healx has prob­a­bly the most com­pre­hen­sive AI plat­form bring­ing to­geth­er in­for­ma­tion in rare dis­eases,” Thomp­son ex­plains. “So it in­te­grates the in­for­ma­tion around the dis­ease, the pub­lic lit­er­a­ture, patents, drugs, all that in­for­ma­tion and the al­go­rithms tell us which drugs are most like­ly to work in which dis­eases. So it’s a great plat­form for a bi­ol­o­gist like me to read the out­put and add that ex­tra phar­ma­col­o­gy, drug dis­cov­ery ex­per­tise to in­ter­pret and fo­cus the best com­pounds com­ing out of that pre­dic­tion.”

It’s a twist on the AI-dri­ven ap­proach to drug dis­cov­ery mak­ing the rounds, and its on­ly fi­nanc­ing round so far — a Se­ries A to­tal­ly $10 mil­lion — looks tiny com­pared to the re­cent megaround com­mand­ed by fel­low British out­fit Benev­o­len­tAI.

Tim Guil­liams Healx

But Thomp­son says that’s more than enough at this stage for him to build out the team, with the key fo­cus be­ing hir­ing drug dis­cov­ery and phar­ma­col­o­gy ex­perts to start as­sem­bling a port­fo­lio. Un­der its busi­ness mod­el, Healx will then col­lab­o­rate with pa­tient ad­vo­ca­cy groups and bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies to ini­ti­ate clin­i­cal tri­als and ul­ti­mate­ly com­mer­cial­ize the treat­ments.

So far the com­pa­ny, which is led by Brown as well as co-founder and CEO Tim Guil­liams, boasts of one col­lab­o­ra­tion on frag­ile X syn­drome, in which it de­liv­ered a clin­ic-ready as­set with­in 15 months.

Mov­ing for­ward, one key chal­lenge in mar­ry­ing AI with drug dis­cov­ery will be fos­ter­ing smooth team­work among spe­cial­ists in com­pu­ta­tion, bioin­for­mat­ics bi­ol­o­gy and chem­istry who can work to­geth­er smooth­ly, Thomp­son ac­knowl­edges.

“I think the se­cret there is re­cruit­ment of the right in­di­vid­u­als,” he said, peo­ple who are ex­perts in their own area but ready to “peek out of the box,” com­mu­ni­cate to oth­ers out­side their field and be flex­i­ble. “It’s all about get­ting the right team to­geth­er in an en­vi­ron­ment that is mo­ti­va­tion­al but with clear ob­jec­tives.”

Cell and Gene Con­tract Man­u­fac­tur­ers Must Em­brace Dig­i­ti­za­tion

The Cell and Gene Industry is growing at a staggering 30% CAGR and is estimated to reach $14B by 20251. A number of cell, gene and stem cell therapy sponsors currently have novel drug substances and products and many rely on Contract Development Manufacturing Organizations (CDMO) to produce them with adherence to stringent regulatory cGMP conditions. Cell and gene manufacturing for both autologous (one to one) and allogenic (one to many) treatments face difficult issues such as: a complex supply chain, variability on patient and cellular level, cell expansion count and a tight scheduling of lot disposition process. This complexity affects quality, compliance and accountability in the entire vein-to-vein process for critically ill patients.

A lab technician works during research on coronavirus at Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceutical in Beerse, Belgium, Wednesday, June 17, 2020. (Virginia Mayo/AP Images)

End­points News ranks all 28 play­ers in the Covid-19 vac­cine race. Here's how it stacks up to­day

The 28 players now in or close to the clinical race to get a Covid-19 vaccine over the finish line are angling for a piece of a multibillion-dollar market. And being first — or among the leaders — will play a big role in determining just how big a piece.

Endpoints News writer Nicole DeFeudis has posted a snapshot of all the companies, universities and hospital-based groups now racing through the clinic, ranking them according to their place in the pipeline as well as the latest remarks available on timelines. And we’ll keep this lineup updated right through the end of the year, as the checkered flags start to fall, possibly as early as October.

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Bayer's Marianne De Backer with Endpoints founder John Carroll, Endpoints@JPM20 (Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News)

UP­DAT­ED: Hunt­ing a block­buster, Bay­er forges an $875M-plus M&A deal to ac­quire women’s health biotech

Bayer has dropped $425 million in cash on its latest women’s health bet, bringing a UK biotech and its non-hormonal menopause treatment into the fold.

KaNDy Therapeutics had its roots in GlaxoSmithKline, which spun out several neuroscience drugs into NeRRe Therapeutics back in 2012. Five years later the team created a new biotech to focus solely on NT-814 — which they considered “one of the few true innovations in women’s health in more than two decades.”

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Phase III read­outs spell dis­as­ter for Genen­tech’s lead IBD drug

Roche had big plans for etrolizumab. Eyeing a hyper-competitive IBD and Crohn’s market where they have not historically been a player, the company rolled out 8 different Phase III trials, testing the antibody for two different uses across a range of different patient groups.

On Monday, Roche released results for 4 of those studies, and they mark a decided setback for both the Swiss pharma and their biotech sub Genentech, potentially spelling an end to a drug they put over half-a-decade and millions of dollars behind.

Eisai moves to 200 Metro Blvd. by late 2021 (ON3)

Ei­sai is cre­at­ing a new US cor­po­rate, R&D HQ in Roche’s old Nut­ley, NJ cam­pus

Eight years after Roche pulled up stakes from Nutley, NJ in a major R&D reorganization, Japan’s Eisai is moving its US corporate and research hub into their old campus.

Now the ON3 property, Eisai — a longtime Biogen partner focused on neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s — will bring together a staff of up to 1,200 employees. And execs are pitching the move to the New Jersey campus as a cultural game-changer.

Atomwise co-founders Abe Heifets and Izhar Wallach (photo courtesy Atomwise)

Plot­ting to be the Bridge­Bio of AI, Atom­wise lands $123 mil­lion Se­ries B for hype-heavy plat­form

The PR-friendly, well-partnered AI biotech that’s provoked stern skepticism in some scientific corners is getting a boatload of new cash.

Atomwise has announced a $123 million Series B round led by Sanabil Investments — a subsidiary of the Saudi royal fund — and B Capital Group and joined by DCVC and Y Combinator, among others. The new round is nearly triple what Atomwise had raised prior and will go towards both scaling their molecule-hunting software and building the growing network of spinouts they’re launching to develop some of the molecules that software has turned up.

Ugur Sahin, BioNTech CEO

Covid-19 roundup: Pfiz­er-backed BioN­Tech plans to seek FDA OK for a new vac­cine 'as ear­ly as' Oc­to­ber — ahead of the elec­tion

BioNTech execs say they’re on track to get their late-stage data on a Covid-19 vaccine — partnered with Pfizer — into the hands of regulators as early as October.

In their Q2 release Tuesday morning, the biotech reported that investigators could have late-stage data as early as October, and they won’t be wasting any time in hustling that over to the FDA.

“I am incredibly proud of our team, who has worked tirelessly to initiate our BNT162 Phase 2b/3 trial in record time and put us in a position to seek regulatory review as early as October of this year, if our trials are successful,” said Ugur Sahin, BioNTech’s CEO and co-founder.

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Gallia Levy, Spark CMO (Roche)

Spark Ther­a­peu­tics nabs new CMO from Genen­tech, fill­ing a ma­jor post-merg­er de­par­ture

Spark Therapeutics is getting a new CMO from their new owners.

The gene therapy company-turned-subsidiary has named Gallia Levy, who had been running rare blood disorders — including clinical development for their blockbuster-potential hemophilia antibody Hemlibra — for Roche’s big biotech sub Genentech to run medical affairs.

The appointment is a fitting one. Roche spent $4.8 billion to acquire Spark last year in large part to get their hands on their hemophilia gene therapy, SPK-8011, and expand the toe-hold Hemlibra gave them in an crowded hemophilia space.  It’s also a somewhat ironic appointment: The FTC held up the Spark acquistions for nearly a year, reportedly over concerns about the anti-trust implications of Roche owning both a top chronic treatment in Hemlibra and a top one-time treatment in Spark’s gene therapy.

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DFC CEO Adam Boehler and Kodak CEO Jim Continenza (Kodak)

Covid-19 roundup: Cure­Vac beefs up its uni­corn IPO dreams as bil­lion­aire own­er takes this Covid-19 mR­NA play­er on a forced march to Nas­daq; Ko­dak's $765M deal is put on hold

When CureVac initially jotted down $100 million for its IPO raise a couple of weeks ago, it seemed small. The German mRNA player, after all, had jumped into a Covid-19 race that swelled the sails of Moderna and BioNTech by tens of billions. And after raising $640 million in a slate of deals, $100 million in a hot market like this seemed like a pittance in the bigger scheme of things.

Today, we got a look at a figure that probably comes closer to the game-changing number the top execs probably have in mind. Selling 15.3 million shares at the high end of their $14 to $16 range would net a $243 million bounty. Majority owner Dietmar Hopp is putting in another €100 million, bringing the total to around $350 million. And what are the chances they want to do even better than that?

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