Joanna Shields, BenevolentAI CEO

As­traZeneca taps two more tar­gets from its AI part­ner, again in CKD and IPF

As­traZeneca is dou­bling down in chron­ic kid­ney dis­ease and id­io­path­ic pul­monary fi­bro­sis by se­lect­ing one tar­get for each of those via its AI-pow­ered part­ner.

Orig­i­nal­ly teamed up in 2019, the Big Phar­ma has now se­lect­ed a to­tal of five tar­gets via its UK coun­ter­part, Benev­o­len­tAI. The tal­ly in­cludes two tar­gets in CKD and three in IPF, a lung-scar­ring and breath­ing-con­stric­tion dis­ease with two ap­proved drugs — Boehringer In­gel­heim’s Ofev and Roche’s Es­bri­et, both giv­en the nod in 2014 — and a re­cent gener­ic en­try.

The two new tar­gets trig­ger two mile­stone pay­ments to the Lon­don-based start­up, Benev­o­len­tAI said Thurs­day morn­ing. As­traZeneca EVP of Bio­Phar­ma R&D, Mene Pan­ga­los, said the new tar­gets are “nov­el rare vari­ants,” in a state­ment.

The news comes nine months af­ter the pair upped the col­lab­o­ra­tion with two more dis­ease ar­eas — heart fail­ure and sys­temic lu­pus ery­the­mato­sus — in a three-year ex­ten­sion to the orig­i­nal tie-up. No­var­tis al­so en­list­ed the help of Benev­o­len­tAI in 2019 to work on clin­i­cal-stage on­col­o­gy as­sets.

Benev­o­len­tAI al­so touts iden­ti­fy­ing Eli Lil­ly and In­cyte’s JAK in­hibitor baric­i­tinib as a treat­ment can­di­date for Covid-19. The atopic der­mati­tis and hair loss drug end­ed up get­ting emer­gency use au­tho­riza­tion and then ap­proval in May of this year for adults with Covid-19 who need sup­ple­men­tal oxy­gen, ven­ti­la­tion or EC­MO.

In-house work is al­so part of Benev­o­len­tAI’s ap­proach, with an in­ter­nal pipeline that com­pris­es a Phase I atopic der­mati­tis as­set and mul­ti­ple pre­clin­i­cal can­di­dates across ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis, ALS and glioblas­toma mul­ti­forme. An an­tivi­ral, on­col­o­gy as­sets, Parkin­son’s dis­ease can­di­dates and NASH hope­fuls sit fur­ther down the pipeline.

A com­pa­ny that went pub­lic via a SPAC, Benev­o­len­tAI is one of many up­starts claim­ing to up­end drug dis­cov­ery via an ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence mod­el that it touts as a start-from-scratch ap­proach as com­pared to its com­peti­tors’ re­verse-en­gi­neer­ing route.

“It’s not a right and wrong sit­u­a­tion … it’s a re­al­ly mul­ti­di­men­sion­al pic­ture of hu­man bi­ol­o­gy across the com­mon­al­i­ties of hu­man dis­ease,” CSO Anne Phe­lan pre­vi­ous­ly told End­points News. “For ex­am­ple, de­pend­ing on the cell type that’s af­fect­ed, the graph could end up con­nect­ing to Alzheimer’s or di­a­betes, where un­der­ly­ing phys­i­ol­o­gy could be re­al­ly quite sim­i­lar.”

The list of AI shops in­cludes Ex­sci­en­tia, Atom­wise, Re­cur­sion Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, in­sitro, XtalPi, Deep Ge­nomics, In­sil­i­co and, among oth­ers, Cy­toRe­a­son, which boost­ed its Pfiz­er part­ner­ship by five years in a Sep­tem­ber deal.

Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

How Pur­due's $272M ad­dic­tion pay­out fund­ed a new home for its dis­card­ed non-opi­oid re­search

Don Kyle spent more than 20 years working for Purdue Pharma, right through the US opioid epidemic that led to the company’s rise and eventual infamy. But contrary to Purdue’s focus on OxyContin, Kyle was researching non-opioid painkillers — that is, until the company shelved his research.

As the company’s legal troubles mounted, Kyle found an unlikely way to reboot the project. In 2019, he took his work to an Oklahoma State University center that’s slated to receive more than two-thirds of the state’s $272 million settlement with Purdue over claims that the drugmaker’s behavior ignited the epidemic of opioid use and abuse.

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Bill Haney, Dragonfly CEO (Dave Pedley/Getty Images for SXSW)

Drag­on­fly chief: Bris­tol My­ers shouldn’t blame IL-12’s clin­i­cal per­for­mance for de­ci­sion to scrap the deal — eco­nom­ics played a key role

Bristol Myers Squibb says the IL-12 drug they were developing out of Dragonfly Therapeutics was scrubbed from the pipeline for a simple reason: It didn’t measure up on clinical performance.

But Bill Haney, the CEO of Dragonfly, is taking issue with that.

The early-stage drug, still in Phase I development, has passed muster with Bristol Myers’ general clinical expectations, advancing successfully while still in Phase I, he says.

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President Joe Biden at the State of the Union address with Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

The drug pric­ing pres­i­dent: Biden warns of ve­to for any IRA re­peal at­tempts

President Joe Biden made clear in his “finish the job” State of the Union address last night that one of those jobs to be finished is insulin prices.

Biden’s push again to tackle insulin prices, after Republicans rebuffed the idea last summer and just after Biden won Medicare drug price negotiations/caps via the Inflation Reduction Act, shows how heavily he’s leaning into this work.

Rupert Vessey, Bristol Myers Squibb head of research and early development

Up­dat­ed: R&D tur­bu­lence at Bris­tol My­ers now in­cludes the end of a $650M al­liance and the de­par­ture of a top re­search cham­pi­on

This morning biotech Dragonfly put out word that Bristol Myers Squibb has handed back all rights to its IL-12 clinical-stage drug after spending $650 million to advance it into the clinic.

The news arrives amid a turbulent R&D stage for the pharma giant, which late last week highlighted Rupert Vessey’s decision to depart this summer as head of early-stage R&D following a crucial three-year stretch after he jumped to Bristol Myers in the big Celgene buyout. During that time he struck a series of deals for Bristol Myers, and also shepherded a number of Celgene programs down the pipeline, playing a major role for a lineup of biotechs which depended on him to champion their drugs.

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Utpal Koppikar, new Verily CFO

Ex­clu­sive: Ver­i­ly wel­comes Atara Bio­ther­a­peu­tics vet­er­an as new CFO

Verily, Alphabet’s life sciences outfit, has plucked a new CFO from the ranks of Atara Biotherapeutics, the company announced on Wednesday.

Utpal Koppikar joins Verily after a nearly five-year stint as CFO and senior VP at Atara, though his résumé also boasts roles at Gilead and Amgen.

The news follows a major reshuffling at Verily, including several senior departures earlier this year and a round of layoffs.

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Singer Nick Jonas is back at work for Dexcom, this time for its new G7 glucose monitor.

Dex­com's spokescelebri­ty Nick Jonas re­turns to Su­per Bowl in new glu­cose mon­i­tor com­mer­cial

Dexcom is going back to the Super Bowl with its pop singer and patient spokesperson Nick Jonas. Jonas takes center stage as the lone figure in the 30-second commercial showcasing Dexcom’s next-generation G7 continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device.

Jonas’ sleight-of-hand tricks populate the commercial — he pinches his empty fingers together and pops them open to reveal the small CGM — even as he ends the ad, saying, “It’s not magic. It just feels that way.” Jonas then disappears in a puff of smoke.

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Richard Francis, newly-appointed Teva CEO (Novartis via Facebook)

New Te­va CEO Richard Fran­cis repri­or­i­tizes to 'get back to growth'

Six weeks into his new role at the helm of Teva Pharmaceutical, Richard Francis said it’s time to “get back to growth,” starting with a good look at the company’s priorities.

The chief executive has kicked off a strategic review, he announced during Teva’s quarterly call, which will continue over the next several months and produce results sometime in the middle of 2023. That means some pipeline cuts may be in store, he told Endpoints News, while declining to offer much more detail.

FDA Commissioner Robert Califf on Capitol Hill, Feb. 8, 2023 (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

FDA com­mis­sion­er floats ideas on how to bet­ter han­dle the pan­dem­ic

FDA Commissioner Rob Califf joined the heads of the CDC and NIH in the hot seat today before a key House subcommittee, explaining that there needs to be a much faster, more coordinated way to oversee vaccine safety, and that foreign biopharma inspections, halted for years due to the pandemic, are slowly ramping up again.

Califf, who stressed to the House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health that the CDC also needs better data, made clear that the FDA’s ability to monitor the safety of vaccines “would also benefit greatly by a coordinated federal public health data reporting authority.”

Sanofi is renewing its #VaccinesForDreams campaign with more stories, such as Juan's in Argentina (Sanofi)

Sanofi re­news so­cial cam­paign to re­mind that vac­cines let peo­ple ‘Dream Big’

Sanofi is highlighting people’s dreams — both big and small — to make the point that vaccines make them possible.

The renewed “Dream Big” global social media campaign’s newest dreamer is Juan, a teacher in the Misiones rainforest in Argentina whose story is told through videos on Instagram and Sanofi’s website with the hashtag #VaccinesForDreams.

The campaign ties to Sanofi’s broader umbrella initiative “Vaccine Stories” to promote the value of vaccines and drive awareness of the need for improved vaccination coverage.

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