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

Jason Kelly, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO (Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Af­ter Ko­dak de­ba­cle, US lends $1.1B to a syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy com­pa­ny and their big Covid-19, mR­NA plans

In mid-August, as Kodak’s $765 million government-backed push into drug manufacturing slowly fell apart in national headlines, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO Jason Kelly got a message from his company’s government liaison: HHS wanted to know if they, too, might want a loan.

The government’s decision to lend Kodak three quarters of a billion dollars raised eyebrows because Kodak had never made drugs before. But Ginkgo, while not a manufacturing company, had spent the last decade refining new ways to produce materials inside cells and building automated facilities across Boston.

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UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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Covid-19 roundup: Eu­rope pur­chas­es 80M dos­es of Mod­er­na's vac­cine; CO­V­AXX se­cures $2.8B in emerg­ing mar­ket pre-or­ders

With the announcement of its vaccine efficacy data last week, Moderna is starting to line up customers for its Covid-19 mRNA jabs.

The Massachusetts-based biotech announced Wednesday it has agreed to sell an initial round of 80 million doses to the European Commission, with the option to double the amount to 160 million. Once the member states rubber stamp the approval, the deal will be finalized.

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FDA hands Liq­uidia and Re­vance a CRL and de­fer­ral, re­spec­tive­ly, as Covid-19 cre­ates in­spec­tion chal­lenge

Two biotechs said they got turned away by the FDA on Wednesday, in part due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.

North Carolina-based Liquidia Technologies was handed a CRL for its lead pulmonary arterial hypertension drug, citing the need for more CMC data and on-site pre-approval inspections, which the FDA hasn’t been able to conduct due to travel restrictions. The agency also deferred its decision on Revance Therapeutics’ BLA for its frown line treatment, because it needs to inspect the company’s northern California manufacturing facility. The action, Revance emphasized, was not a CRL.

News brief­ing: FDA re­quests new tri­al for Reata's Friedre­ich's atax­ia pro­gram; J&J's Trem­fya picks up ex­pand­ed la­bel in Eu­rope

Three months after Reata Pharmaceuticals suggested its Friedreich’s ataxia program omaveloxolone could be delayed, the company revealed that is indeed going to be the case.

Reata $RETA shares took a nosedive Wednesday after the biotech revealed that the FDA said supplemental data for its pivotal trial did not strengthen the case for approval. As a result, the drug is likely to need another study before the FDA takes up the case.

Jef­frey Hat­field takes over from Diego Mi­ralles as CEO of Vi­vid­ion; Drag­on­fly scores a new ex­ec with COO Alex Lu­gov­skoy

→ San Diego protein degradation startup Vividion Therapeutics has made a change at the top with Jeffrey Hatfield taking the helm as CEO, replacing Diego Miralles six months after Roche forked over $135 million to collaborate with Vividion on their small molecule degraders. Hatfield is chairman of the board at miRagen Therapeutics and previously held the CEO job at Zafgen and Vitae Pharmaceuticals. He also had a series of leadership roles at Bristol Myers Squibb from 1996-2004, including SVP, immunology and virology divisions.

Chi­na opens the door for biotech in­vestors in Hong Kong to buy Shang­hai stocks, and vice ver­sa

When Shanghai’s STAR board began opening its doors to biotech, it was considered not just a rival to Nasdaq but also the stock exchange in Hong Kong. Those perceptions may take an amicable turn as China expands a mutual access program with the city.

The changes mean investors in mainland China will be able to own Hong Kong biotech chapter stocks, while those in Hong Kong — a much more internationally connected group — would have access to those listed on STAR. In effect, it turns the Shanghai market into a globally accessible exchange overnight while also broadening a key source of revenue for HKEX.

Bax­ter con­tin­ues on-shoring push with $50M In­di­ana ex­pan­sion

It’s been a banner year for the once humdrum business of manufacturing drugs, particularly vaccines. Billions have been spent ramping up facilities for Covid-19 jabs, while individual CDMOs have expanded their facilities, apparently anticipating demand or responding to a government-led push to onshore drug manufacturing.

Now Baxter Biopharma Solutions, the CDMO wing of the many-armed healthcare giant Baxter, is getting in on the game. On Tuesday, they announced plans to spend $50 million to expand their flagship, 600,000 square-foot facility in Bloomington, IN.

Eu­ro­pean Union aims to es­tab­lish patent workaround in case of emer­gen­cies while try­ing to strength­en its own IP

The European Union is looking at ways to bypass patent protections and make it easier to make generic drugs in cases of emergency such as the Covid-19 pandemic, a new document says.

Normally, under WTO regulations, the practice known as “compulsory licensing” is allowed in exceptional circumstances and could be applied as a waiver to bypass patent holders. Wednesday’s document was published as part of the EU’s plan to shore up the intellectual property rights of its member states.