Benev­o­len­tAI draws $90M from Temasek amid re­ports of halved val­u­a­tion

Days af­ter news leaked that Benev­o­len­tAI had se­cured fund­ing at a rate that would halve its $2 bil­lion val­u­a­tion, the ma­chine learn­ing start­up of­fi­cial­ly an­nounced it raised $90 mil­lion from Sin­ga­pore-based Temasek for a mi­nor­i­ty stake.

The news deals an­oth­er blow to em­bat­tled fund man­ag­er Neil Wood­ford. Benev­o­len­tAI was one of two biotech AI star­tups, along with Ox­ford Nanopore, Wood­ford was re­port­ed­ly prep­ping for auc­tion to raise cash for his still frozen Eq­ui­ty In­come Fund. Nanopore’s $1.5 bil­lion val­u­a­tion re­mains steady, af­firmed by fel­low in­vestor IP Group.

For Wood­ford, the dam­age may have ac­tu­al­ly al­ready been done. Last week, Wood­ford Pa­tient Cap­i­tal Trust an­nounced they were forced to write down the val­ue of one of its as­sets, cost­ing the trust’s net val­ue 4 pence per share and an es­ti­mat­ed $52 mil­lion. The trust has now re­vealed that un­named in­vest­ment is Benev­o­len­tAI.

Nev­er­the­less, Benev­o­len­tAI’s de­flat­ed val­ue may cut in­to the price Wood­ford ul­ti­mate­ly fetch­es for his stake in the com­pa­ny. An FT in­ves­ti­ga­tion from June found Wood­ford’s two firms col­lec­tive­ly owned near­ly a fifth of the Cam­bridge-based biotech. The biotech, in turn, makes up 5,04% of the Eq­ui­ty In­come Fund and, per FT, is Wood­ford Pa­tient Cap­i­tal Trust’s largest sin­gle hold­ing, ac­count­ing for 9.81%.

Wood­ford has said he plans to have enough cash to re­open the Eq­ui­ty In­come Fund by De­cem­ber.

Benev­o­len­tAI’s val­ue rose ex­po­nen­tial­ly af­ter Wood­ford’s ini­tial in­vest­ment in Oc­to­ber, 2014. By its next fund­ing round in 2015, it had reached uni­corn sta­tus, ris­ing from, £190m to £1.16bn, ac­count­ing for 2.86% – near­ly one third – of the com­pa­ny’s 15.9% re­turn that year, ac­cord­ing to num­bers cit­ed by FT. By April 2019, less than two months be­fore Wood­ford was all but forced to sus­pend his fund, it had reached $2 bil­lion.

Benev­o­len­tAI and oth­er ma­chine learn­ing star­tups have been the buzz of biotech the last few years, with their tan­ta­liz­ing promise of cut­ting in­to the steep, now on av­er­age over-$2.5 bil­lion cost it takes to de­vel­op a new drug. Ex­act mod­els vary by com­pa­ny, but broad­ly they promise to cre­ate more tar­get­ed R&D by scan­ning the vast troves of sci­en­tif­ic lit­er­a­ture and mol­e­c­u­lar data­bas­es no hu­man or group of hu­mans could man­age and us­ing it to find pat­terns and de­duce which drugs or com­pounds are most like­ly to be ef­fec­tive. This month, a study from a small­er AI com­pa­ny, In­sil­i­co Med­i­cine, made both in­dus­try-fo­cused and main­stream head­lines when it showed its tech­nol­o­gy could not on­ly scan but al­so in­vent new mol­e­cules tai­lored to tack­le a dis­ease that proved ef­fec­tive in cell cul­tures and mice.

Benev­o­len­tAI ap­pears to have sim­i­lar soft­ware. It dis­tin­guish­es it­self by fo­cus­ing on rare dis­eases and by the re­search fa­cil­i­ty the com­pa­ny ac­quired in Cam­bridge last year, which it says will equip staffers to de­vel­op the drugs from iden­ti­fi­ca­tion by AI sys­tems to clin­i­cal re­search.

The com­pa­ny has part­ner­ships with As­traZeneca and No­var­tis to de­vel­op drugs for chron­ic kid­ney dis­ease and on­col­o­gy. In a state­ment, the com­pa­ny said the cash in­fu­sion will al­low it to “scale” its plat­form for dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment and those col­lab­o­ra­tions will bring in “mean­ing­ful rev­enue” over the next few years.

So­cial im­age: Benev­o­len­tAI via YouTube

At the In­flec­tion Point for the Next Gen­er­a­tion of Can­cer Im­munother­a­py

While oncology researchers have long pursued the potential of cellular immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, it was unclear whether these therapies would ever reach patients due to the complexity of manufacturing and costs of development. Fortunately, the recent successful development and regulatory approval of chimeric antigen receptor-engineered T (CAR-T) cells have demonstrated the significant benefit of these therapies to patients.

All about Omi­cron; We need more Covid an­tivi­rals; GSK snags Pfiz­er’s vac­cine ex­ec; Janet Wood­cock’s fu­ture at FDA; and more

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Usama Malik

Ex-Im­munomedics CFO charged with in­sid­er trad­ing, faces up to 20 years in prison af­ter al­leged­ly tip­ping off girl­friend and rel­a­tives of a PhI­II suc­cess

The former CFO of Immunomedics, who helped steer the company to its $21 billion buyout by Gilead last year, has been charged with insider trading, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.

Usama Malik tipped off his then-girlfriend and four others that a Phase III study for Trodelvy would be stopped early four days before Immunomedics publicly announced the result in April 2020, DoJ alleged in its complaint. The individuals then purchased Immunomedics shares, selling them after the news broke and Immunomedics’ stock price doubled.

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Merck's new antiviral molnupiravir (Quality Stock Arts / Shutterstock)

As Omi­cron spread looms, oral an­tivi­rals ap­pear to be one of the best de­fens­es — now we just need more

After South African scientists reported a new Covid-19 variant — dubbed Omicron by the WHO — scientists became concerned about how effective vaccines and monoclonal antibodies might be against it, which has more than 30 mutations in the spike protein.

“I think it is super worrisome,” Dartmouth professor and Adagio co-founder and CEO Tillman Gerngross told Endpoints News this weekend. Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel echoed similar concerns, telling the Financial Times that experts warned him, “This is not going to be good.”

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Ab­b­Vie tacks on a new warn­ing to Rin­voq la­bel as safe­ty frets crimp JAK class

The safety problems that continue to plague the JAK class as new data highlight some severe side effects are casting a large shadow over AbbVie’s Rinvoq.

As a result of a recent readout highlighting major adverse cardiac events (MACE), malignancy, mortality and thrombosis with Xeljanz a couple of months ago, AbbVie put out a notice late Friday afternoon that it is adding the new class risks to its label for their rival drug.

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Biospec­i­men M&A: Dis­cov­ery ac­quires Al­bert Li's he­pa­to­cyte project; PhI­II tri­al on Bay­er's Nube­qa reached pri­ma­ry end­point

Discovery Life Sciences has acquired what claims to be the Maryland-based host of the world’s largest hepatocyte inventory, known as IVAL, to help researchers select more effective and safer drug candidates in the future.

The combined companies will now serve a wider range of drug research and development scientists, according to Albert Li, who founded IVAL in 2004 and is set to join the Discovery leadership team as the CSO of pharmacology and toxicology.

Pfiz­er, Am­gen and Janssen seek fur­ther clar­i­ty on FDA's new ben­e­fit-risk guid­ance

Three top biopharma companies are seeking more details from the FDA on how the agency conducts its benefit-risk assessments for new drugs and biologics.

While Pfizer, Amgen and Janssen praised the agency for further spelling out its thinking on the subject in a new draft guidance, including a discussion of patient experience data as part of the assessment, the companies said the FDA could’ve included more specifics in the 20-page draft document.

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Re­searchers move clos­er to de­ci­pher­ing blood clots from As­traZeneca, J&J's Covid-19 vac­cines

Researchers may be nearing an answer for the mysterious and life-threatening blood clots that appeared on very rare occasions in people who received the J&J or AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.

The new work builds on an early hypothesis researchers in Norway put forward last spring, when the cases first cropped up. They proposed the events were similar to blood clots that can occur in a small subset of patients who receive heparin, one of the most commonly used blood thinners.

Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

Janet Wood­cock plots her fu­ture at FDA, with se­nior ad­vi­sor role to fall back on if Califf wins con­fir­ma­tion

Acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock has been the face of just about every drug approval decision at the agency since the turn of the century. Since the pandemic began, she’s moved between the top of the drugs center to the head of therapeutics at Operation Warp Speed, leading the drive for work on Covid-targeted mAbs and antivirals.

Looking forward — and pending a quick Senate confirmation to cement Rob Califf’s return to the top of FDA early next year — Woodcock’s role at the agency will again be in flux.

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