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.”

Lina Gugucheva, NewAmsterdam Pharma CBO

Phar­ma group bets up to $1B-plus on the PhI­II res­ur­rec­tion of a once dead-and-buried LDL drug

Close to 5 years after then-Amgen R&D chief Sean Harper tamped the last spade of dirt on the last broadly focused CETP cholesterol drug — burying their $300 million upfront and the few remaining hopes for the class with it — the therapy has been fully resurrected. And today, the NewAmsterdam Pharma crew that did the Lazarus treatment on obicetrapib is taking another big step on the comeback trail with a €1 billion-plus regional licensing deal, complete with close to $150 million in upfront cash.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 144,400+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

How pre­pared is bio­phar­ma for the cy­ber dooms­day?

One of the largest cyberattacks in history happened on a Friday, Eric Perakslis distinctly remembers.

Perakslis, who was head of Takeda’s R&D Data Sciences Institute and visiting faculty at Harvard Medical School at the time, had spent that morning completing a review on cybersecurity for the British Medical Journal. Moments after he turned it in, he heard back from the editor: “Have you heard what’s going on right now?”

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Scoop: Boehringer qui­et­ly shut­ters a PhII for one of its top drugs — now un­der re­view

Boehringer Ingelheim has quietly shut down a small Phase II study for one of its lead drugs.

The private pharma player confirmed to Endpoints News that it had shuttered a study testing spesolimab as a therapy for Crohn’s patients suffering from bowel obstructions.

A spokesperson for the company tells Endpoints:

Taking into consideration the current therapeutic landscape and ongoing clinical development programs, Boehringer Ingelheim decided to discontinue our program in Crohn’s disease. It is important to note that this decision is not based on any safety findings in the clinical trials.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Scoop: Roche scraps one of two schiz­o­phre­nia PhII tri­als af­ter fail­ing the pri­ma­ry end­point

Roche has terminated one of two Phase II trials testing its drug ralmitaront in patients with schizophrenia, the Big Pharma confirmed to Endpoints News.

The study was terminated last month, according to a June 22 update to the registry on Begun in September 2020, the trial was looking at ralmitaront in patients with acute schizophrenia. The trial enrolled 286 patients out of an originally planned 308.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Pearl Huang, Dunad Therapeutics CEO (Ken Richardson, PR Newswire)

Long­time biotech leader Pearl Huang takes the reins as CEO of No­var­tis-backed up­start

It has only been a few months since Pearl Huang exited the top seat at Cygnal Therapeutics, but now she’s back at the helm of another biotech.

After taking a few months off — passing an exam in that time to get her captain’s license from the US Coast Guard — she’s been named CEO of Dunad Therapeutics, a biotech focused on developing a small molecule covalent therapies that was founded in 2020. Huang told Endpoints News that two factors attracted her to going back to the c-suite: the company’s technology and its co-founders.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 144,400+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Years af­ter link­ing arms with Bris­tol My­ers and both Mer­cks, Sutro finds its lat­est part­ner in Tokyo

Astellas and Sutro Biopharma are linking arms on a new field of antibody-drug conjugates that they hope will improve upon existing cancer immunotherapies.

The Tokyo pharma will dole out $90 million in cash for the collaboration, the companies said Monday afternoon. That upfront payment will extend the South San Francisco biotech’s runway from late 2023 into the first half of 2024, Cowen analysts noted.

Ben Zimmer, Priovant CEO

Roivant un­veils lat­est spin­out as Pfiz­er en­trusts JAK1/TYK2 to Pri­o­vant

In November, Pfizer disclosed it’s spun out the Phase II dual JAK1/TYK2 inhibitor to a startup formed in collaboration with an unnamed, experienced partner.

We now know who the partner is. And as Pfizer and Roivant officially take the wraps off Priovant Therapeutics, the companies reveal that they have started two registrational trials of the drug, brepocitinib, as part of a broader plan to develop a big, first-in-class franchise spanning multiple orphan and specialty autoimmune diseases.

Alex­ion puts €65M for­ward to strength­en its po­si­tion on the Emer­ald Isle

Ireland has been on a roll in 2022, with several large pharma companies announcing multimillion-euro projects. Now AstraZeneca’s rare disease outfit Alexion is looking to get in on the action.

Alexion on Friday announced a €65 million ($68.8 million) investment in new and enhanced capabilities across two sites in the country, including at College Park in the Dublin suburb of Blanchardstown and the Monksland Industrial Park in the central Irish town of Athlone, according to the Industrial Development Agency of Ireland.

Members of the G7 from left to right: Prime Minister of Italy Mario Draghi, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Japan Fumio Kishida, French President Emmanuel Macron and European Council President Charles Michel (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Biden and G7 na­tions of­fer funds for vac­cine and med­ical prod­uct man­u­fac­tur­ing project in Sene­gal

Amidst recently broader vaccine manufacturing initiatives from the EU and European companies, the G7 summit in the mountains of Bavaria has brought about some positive news for closing vaccine and medical product manufacturing gaps around the globe.

According to a statement from the White House, the G7 leaders have formally launched the partnership for global infrastructure, PGII. The effort will aim to mobilize hundreds of billions of dollars to deliver infrastructure projects in several sectors including the medical and pharmaceutical manufacturing space.