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

Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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Bris­tol My­ers is clean­ing up the post-Cel­gene merg­er pipeline, and they’re sweep­ing out an ex­per­i­men­tal check­point in the process

Back during the lead up to the $74 billion buyout of Celgene, the big biotech’s leadership did a little housecleaning with a major pact it had forged with Jounce. Out went the $2.6 billion deal and a collaboration on ICOS and PD-1.

Celgene, though, also added a $530 million deal — $50 million up front — to get the worldwide rights to JTX-8064, a drug that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages.

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Leen Kawas, Athira CEO (Athira)

Can a small biotech suc­cess­ful­ly tack­le an Ever­est climb like Alzheimer’s? Athi­ra has $85M and some in­flu­en­tial back­ers ready to give it a shot

There haven’t been a lot of big venture rounds for biotech companies looking to run a Phase II study in Alzheimer’s.

The field has been a disaster over the past decade. Amyloid didn’t pan out as a target — going down in a litany of Phase III failures — and is now making its last stand at Biogen. Tau is a comer, but when you look around and all you see is destruction, the idea of backing a startup trying to find complex cocktails to swing the course of this devilishly complicated memory-wasting disease would daunt the pluckiest investors.

Fangliang Zhang, AP Images

UP­DAT­ED: Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom as shares soar

Amid a flurry of splashy pandemic IPOs, a J&J-partnered Chinese biotech has emerged with one of the largest public raises in biotech history.

Legend Biotech, the Nanjing-based CAR-T developer, has raised $424 million on NASDAQ. The biotech had originally filed for a still-hefty $350 million, based on a range of $18-$20, but managed to fetch $23 per share, allowing them to well-eclipse the massive raises from companies like Allogene, Juno, Galapagos, though they’ll still fall a few dollars short of Moderna’s record-setting $600 million raise from 2018.

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As it hap­pened: A bid­ding war for an an­tibi­ot­ic mak­er in a mar­ket that has rav­aged its peers

In a bewildering twist to the long-suffering market for antibiotics — there has actually been a bidding war for an antibiotic company: Tetraphase.

It all started back in March, when the maker of Xerava (an FDA approved therapy for complicated intra-abdominal infections) said it had received an offer from AcelRx for an all-stock deal valued at $14.4 million.

The offer was well-timed. Xerava was approved in 2018, four years after Tetraphase posted its first batch of pivotal trial data, and sales were nowhere near where they needed to be in order for the company to keep its head above water.

RA Cap­i­tal, Hill­house join $310M rush to back Ever­est's climb to com­mer­cial heights in Chi­na

Money has never been an issue for Everest Medicines. With an essentially open tab from their founders at C-Bridge Capital, the biotech has gone two and a half years racking up drug after drug, bringing in top exec after top exec, and issuing clinical update after update.

But now other investors want in — and they’re betting big.

Everest is closing its Series C at $310 million. The first $50 million comes from the Jiashan National Economic and Technological Development Zone; the remaining C-2 tranche was led by Janchor Partners, with RA Capital Management and Hillhouse Capital as co-leaders. Decheng Capital, GT Fund, Janus Henderson Investors, Rock Springs Capital, Octagon Investments all joined.

Por­tion of Neil Wood­ford’s re­main­ing in­vest­ments, in­clud­ing Nanopore, sold off for $284 mil­lion

It’s been precisely one year and one day since Neil Woodford froze his once-vaunted fund, and while a global pandemic has recently shielded him from the torrent of headlines, the fallout continues.

Today, the California-based patent licensing firm Acacia Research acquired the fund’s shares for 19 healthcare and biotech companies for $284 million.  Those companies include shares for public and private companies and count some of Woodford’s most prominent bio-bets, such as Theravance Biopharma, Oxford Nanopore and Mereo Biopharma, according to Sky News, which first reported the sale. It won’t include shares for BenevelontAI, the machine learning biotech once valued at $2 billion.

Drug man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Lon­za taps Roche/phar­ma ‘rein­ven­tion’ vet as its new CEO

Lonza chairman Albert Baehny took his time headhunting a new CEO for the company, making it absolutely clear he wanted a Big Pharma or biotech CEO with a good long track record in the business for the top spot. In the end, he went with the gold standard, turning to Roche’s ranks to recruit Pierre-Alain Ruffieux for the job.

Ruffieux, a member of the pharma leadership team at Roche, spent close to 5 years at the company. But like a small army of manufacturing execs, he gained much of his experience at the other Big Pharma in Basel, remaining at Novartis for 12 years before expanding his horizons.

Covid-19 roundup: Ab­b­Vie jumps in­to Covid-19 an­ti­body hunt; As­traZeneca shoots for 2B dos­es of Ox­ford vac­cine — with $750M from CEPI, Gavi

Another Big Pharma is entering the Covid-19 antibody hunt.

AbbVie has announced a collaboration with the Netherlands’ Utrecht University and Erasmus Medical Center and the Chinese-Dutch biotech Harbour Biomed to develop a neutralizing antibody that can treat Covid-19. The antibody, called 47D11, was discovered by AbbVie’s three partners, and AbbVie will support early preclinical work, while preparing for later preclinical and clinical development. Researchers described the antibody in Nature Communications last month.