Laksh Aithani, CHARM Therpeutics CEO

Big names, big back­ers: David Bak­er joins Or­biMed, F-Prime, Khosla and oth­ers as pro­tein-lig­and biotech launch­es

David Bak­er

David Bak­er, one of the biggest names in the pro­tein de­sign space with mul­ti­ple sci­en­tif­ic prizes, his own in­sti­tute at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton and a few com­pa­nies to his name, is throw­ing his weight be­hind an­oth­er biotech — one that seeks to take his famed work in pro­tein fold­ing and ex­tend it fur­ther in­to drug dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment.

CHARM Ther­a­peu­tics, based out of the UK, an­nounced its launch bright and ear­ly Thurs­day morn­ing, with $50 mil­lion in eq­ui­ty fi­nanc­ing. CEO Laksh Aithani de­clined to give specifics on the fi­nanc­ing run­way, but he did say that, “His­tor­i­cal­ly, these sorts of Se­ries A rounds have been able to bankroll com­pa­nies of­ten to a sort of de­vel­op­ment can­di­date stage.”

Aithani told End­points News that Bak­er got in­volved with the biotech in the af­ter­math of the re­lease of RoseTTAFold, a ma­chine learn­ing soft­ware de­signed by Bak­er and post­doc Minkyung Baek last year that ef­fec­tive­ly re­verse en­gi­neered Google sub­sidiary Deep­Mind’s Al­phaFold, which was a plat­form that could pre­dict a pro­tein’s 3D struc­ture from its DNA se­quence alone.

At the time, Aithani was al­ready work­ing on the “next it­er­a­tion,” as he called it, that could not just pre­dict the pro­tein, but al­so try to pre­dict the lig­and.

“I then es­sen­tial­ly sort of reached out to David. And it wasn’t on­ly me, be­cause F-Prime was prob­a­bly go­ing to in­vest at that point. So that def­i­nite­ly helped, be­cause David ac­tu­al­ly was a co-founder at Sana,” Aithani said. Sana, a cell and gene ther­a­py com­pa­ny, is one of F-Prime’s port­fo­lio com­pa­nies.

“So, there were mul­ti­ple con­nec­tions. And we just sort of got along re­al­ly quite well. So he end­ed up want­i­ng to ac­tu­al­ly come on as co-founder,” the CEO added.

This is not Aithani’s first for­ay in biotech, as he was part of the team at UK deep learn­ing play­er Ex­sci­en­tia, which re­cent­ly scored $100 mil­lion up­front from Sanofi in a mas­sive deal with $5.2 bil­lion down­stream mile­stones.

Es­sen­tial­ly, the fo­cus at CHARM is to uti­lize 3D deeplearn­ing, a form of ma­chine learn­ing, in small mol­e­cule drug dis­cov­ery with an ini­tial fo­cus on can­cer. And ac­cord­ing to Aithani, the sci­ence of pro­tein and lig­and co-fold­ing is not any­where near as sim­ple as just plug­ging in a lig­and in­to a soft­ware that al­ready looks to pre­dict pro­tein struc­ture.

“So if you think about how a pro­tein is or­ga­nized — it’s a lin­ear se­quence of amino acids, rep­re­sent­ed al­most as a one di­men­sion­al sort of string of let­ters. With a small mol­e­cule lig­and, it’s much more com­pli­cat­ed, be­cause you can’t rep­re­sent it as a lin­ear se­quence of let­ters … you need to make a lot of com­pu­ta­tion­al mod­el­ing changes in or­der to ac­count for that,” Aithani told End­points, call­ing CHARM’s plat­form — Drag­on­Fold — a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent mod­el than ei­ther RoseTTAFold or Al­phaFold.

“So what we do is we start off with the pro­to­type of the in­puts in­to the AI, let’s say, is the se­quence of the pro­tein, and the chem­i­cal struc­ture of a po­ten­tial small mol­e­cule drug,” the CEO added. “And these po­ten­tial small mol­e­cule drugs can be ac­cessed in vir­tu­al li­braries, which con­tain bil­lions of mol­e­cules that that haven’t been made, but we know we can make them. So we can then take this li­brary, and then sort of screen it against can­cer caus­ing pro­teins of in­ter­est to see if any of these small mol­e­cules bind to the can­cer caus­ing pro­tein.”

Be­yond Bak­er, there are a few oth­er no­table names to keep in mind. The fi­nanc­ing was co-led by F-Prime Cap­i­tal and Or­biMed, with oth­er VCs such as Gen­er­al Cat­a­lyst and Khosla on board. CHARM al­so has Gary Glick, founder and CEO of Odyssey Ther­a­peu­tics, as board chair.

Aithani said that the com­pa­ny has a few key ob­jec­tives over the next few months. First is hir­ing more peo­ple, de­vel­op­ing the plat­form and in­creas­ing pro­duc­tion, and then push­ing for­ward po­ten­tial can­di­dates in­to prop­er de­vel­op­ment.

At the end of our call, Aithani said be­ing 24 is a de­cent­ly young age for a CEO, work­ing di­rect­ly with well-known names and rais­ing $50 mil­lion to boot.

“It’s a hell of a ride, I must say,” the CEO said — adding that “al­though I might not have that ex­pe­ri­ence, I would say, I’m try­ing to make up in oth­er ways, such as work­ing hard and bring­ing po­ten­tial ex­pe­ri­ence to the ta­ble, like ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence.”

2023 Spot­light on the Fu­ture of Drug De­vel­op­ment for Small and Mid-Sized Biotechs

In the context of today’s global economic environment, there is an increasing need to work smarter, faster and leaner across all facets of the life sciences industry.  This is particularly true for small and mid-sized biotech companies, many of which are facing declining valuations and competing for increasingly limited funding to propel their science forward.  It is important to recognize that within this framework, many of these smaller companies already find themselves resource-challenged to design and manage clinical studies themselves because they don’t have large teams or in-house experts in navigating the various aspects of the drug development journey. This can be particularly challenging for the most complex and difficult to treat diseases where no previous pathway exists and patients are urgently awaiting breakthroughs.

Rick Modi, Affinia Therapeutics CEO

Ver­tex-part­nered gene ther­a­py biotech Affinia scraps IPO plans

Affinia Therapeutics has ditched its plans to go public in a relatively closed-door market that has not favored Nasdaq debuts for the drug development industry most of this year. A pandemic surge in 2020 and 2021 opened the doors for many preclinical startups, which caught Affinia’s attention and gave the gene therapy biotech confidence in the beginning days of 2022 to send in its S-1.

But on Friday, Affinia threw in the S-1 towel and concluded now is not the time to step onto Wall Street. The biotech has put out few public announcements since the spring of this year. Endpoints News picked the startup as one of its 11 biotechs to watch last year.

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Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO (Efren Landaos/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Pfiz­er makes an­oth­er bil­lion-dol­lar in­vest­ment in Eu­rope and ex­pands again in Michi­gan

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The New York-based pharma giant’s site in Kalamazoo, MI, has seen a lot of attention over the past year. As a major piece of the manufacturing network for Covid-19 vaccines and antivirals, Pfizer is gearing up to place more money into the site. Pfizer announced it will place $750 million into the facility, mainly to establish “modular aseptic processing” (MAP) production and create around 300 jobs at the site.

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Pfiz­er-backed Me­di­ar Ther­a­peu­tics ropes in an­oth­er Big Phar­ma in­vestor

A biotech centered on treating fibrosis — born out of Mass General and Brigham and Women’s Hospital — has received a financial boost.

According to an SEC filing, the company has raised $31,761,186 in its latest funding round, which includes 17 investors. The filing lists six names attached to the company, including Meredith Fisher, a partner at Mass General Brigham Ventures and Mediar’s acting CEO.

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The Chinese CDMO announced last week that it has started manufacturing at the new facility, which was built to offer process development and manufacturing operations for RNA, plasmid DNA, viral vectors and other cell therapeutics. It will also serve as Innoforce’s corporate HQ.

The company said it’s investing more than $200 million in the 550,000-square-foot manufacturing base for advanced therapies. The GMP manufacturing facility features space for producing plasmids with three 30-liter bioreactors. For viral vector manufacturing, Innoforce also has 200- and 500-liter bioreactors at its disposal, along with eight suites to make cell therapies. The site also includes several labs and warehouse spaces.

Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Thibault Camus/AP Images, Pool)

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The Swiss pharma giant unveiled Phase III results Monday suggesting that Pluvicto was able to halt disease progression in certain prostate cancer patients when administered after androgen-receptor pathway inhibitor (ARPI) therapy, but without prior taxane-based chemotherapy. The drug is currently approved for patients after they’ve received both ARPI and chemo.

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Ken Greenberg, SonoThera CEO

Gene ther­a­py goes acoustic as ARCH-backed biotech launch­es with ul­tra­sound gene de­liv­ery plat­form

After co-founding two biotechs off virus-based therapies, one for pain and one for cancer, Ken Greenberg decided to go in a different direction for his newest biotech, SonoThera.

Based out of San Francisco, SonoThera announced Monday morning that it raised $60.75 million to develop new gene therapies — but delivered by ultrasound, which Greenberg says can address the major challenges facing more conventional viral gene therapies.

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Af­ter M&A fell through, Ther­a­peu­tic­sMD sells hor­mone ther­a­py, con­tra­cep­tive ring for $140M cash plus roy­al­ties

TherapeuticsMD, a women’s health company whose one-time billion-dollar valuation seems a distant memory as its blockbuster aspirations petered out, is finally cashing out.

Australia’s Mayne Pharma is paying $140 million upfront to license essentially TherapeuticsMD’s whole portfolio, including two prescription drugs that treat conditions relating to menopause, a contraceptive vaginal ring as well as its prescription prenatal vitamin brands.

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