Mati Gill, AION Labs CEO

Big Phar­ma com­pa­nies join hands with Ama­zon on new Is­rael-based AI in­cu­ba­tor

What do Mer­ck, Pfiz­er, As­traZeneca and Te­va have in com­mon with Ama­zon? As of Wednes­day, they’re all join­ing forces with the Is­rael Biotech Fund to launch a new in­cu­ba­tor for star­tups walk­ing the line be­tween AI and drug de­vel­op­ment — and they’re gear­ing up to make some big in­vest­ments.

AION Labs plans to seed be­tween four and six new biotech com­pa­nies per year, start­ing in ear­ly 2022, CEO Mati Gill told End­points News. The funds should sup­port two to four years of run­way for each start­up.

“We have com­peti­tors that are work­ing to­geth­er…be­cause the chal­lenge of har­ness­ing AI and com­pu­ta­tion­al ca­pa­bil­i­ties for phar­ma is so im­mense and it re­al­ly hasn’t been tapped in­to,” Gill said in an in­ter­view.

AION’s roots trace back to Te­va where Gill was most re­cent­ly a se­nior ex­ec­u­tive in charge of out­reach. The phar­ma com­pa­ny was ini­tial­ly look­ing to strength­en its ties with Is­rael’s ro­bust tech com­mu­ni­ty when it came up with the idea for the col­lab­o­ra­tion. Then in De­cem­ber, they won more than $9 mil­lion in an Is­raeli gov­ern­ment ten­der to get start­ed.

How will it work? AION is copy­ing its mod­el from Bio­Med X, a part­ner and bio­med­ical in­cu­ba­tor based in Hei­del­berg, Ger­many. Each year, AION’s phar­ma part­ners will se­lect at least four of the biggest chal­lenges faced by drug­mak­ers in the AI space and is­sue calls for so­lu­tions. Five to 10 fi­nal­ists will be of­fered a chance to spend a week in Is­rael at a boot­camp, where they’ll de­vel­op their pro­pos­als. In the end, the win­ners will be of­fered seed fund­ing to form a com­pa­ny around their ideas.

Jim Weather­all

Gill ex­pects to an­nounce the first round of ap­pli­ca­tions lat­er this month.

“Da­ta, an­a­lyt­ics and AI are al­ready start­ing to trans­form the way we dis­cov­er and de­vel­op new med­i­cines and I be­lieve we are on­ly at the tip of the ice­berg in terms of its promise,” Jim Weather­all, As­traZeneca’s VP of da­ta sci­ence and AI R&D, said in a state­ment.

This isn’t the first in­stance of Big Phar­ma dip­ping its toes in the AI space. Back in May, Bris­tol My­ers Squibb ex­pand­ed a Cel­gene-era deal with AI out­fit Ex­sci­en­tia. And be­fore that, back in Feb­ru­ary, As­traZeneca said it added the first tar­get gen­er­at­ed by AI to its port­fo­lio, com­ing out of a col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Lon­don-based com­pa­ny, Benev­o­len­tAI.

Sev­er­al oth­er biotechs have cropped up with big promis­es to speed up the drug de­vel­op­ment process us­ing ma­chine learn­ing and oth­er AI-fo­cused mod­els, in­clud­ing In­sil­i­co, Deep Ge­nomics, Re­cur­sion, XtalPi and oth­ers.

Op­ti­miz­ing Cell and Gene Ther­a­py De­vel­op­ment and Pro­duc­tion: How Tech­nol­o­gy Providers Like Corn­ing Life Sci­ences are Spurring In­no­va­tion

Remarkable advances in cell and gene therapy over the last decade offer unprecedented therapeutic promise and bring new hope for many patients facing diseases once thought incurable. However, for cell and gene therapies to reach their full potential, researchers, manufacturers, life science companies, and academics will need to work together to solve the significant challenges facing the industry.

Amid mon­key­pox fears, biotechs spring to ac­tion; Mod­er­na’s CFO trou­ble; Cuts, cuts every­where; Craft­ing the right pro­teins; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

It’s always a bittersweet moment saying goodbye, but as Josh Sullivan goes off to new adventures we are grateful for the way he’s built up the Endpoints Manufacturing section — which the rest of the team will now carry forward. If you’re not already, this may be a good time to sign up for your weekly dose of drug manufacturing news. Thank you for reading and wish you a restful weekend.

Bay­er sounds re­treat from a $670 mil­lion CAR-T pact in the wake of a pa­tient death

Two months after Atara Biotherapeutics hit the hold button on its lead CAR-T 2.0 therapy following a patient death, putting the company under the watchful eye of the FDA, its Big Pharma partners at Bayer are bowing out of a $670 million global alliance. And the move is forcing a revamp of Atara’s pipeline plans, even as research execs vow to continue work on the two drugs allied with Bayer 18 months ago, which delivered a $60 million cash upfront.

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Sanofi and Re­gen­eron clear the fin­ish line in an in­flam­ma­to­ry esoph­a­gus dis­ease, leav­ing Take­da in the dust

With atopic dermatitis rivals breathing down Dupixent’s neck, Sanofi and Regeneron on Friday secured a first win in new territory in what Sanofi’s head of immunology and inflammation Naimish Patel called the fastest approval he’s ever seen.

The FDA approved Dupixent on Friday to treat patients 12 years and older with eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), an inflammatory condition that causes swelling and scarring of the esophagus. The approval came just a couple months after regulators granted Dupixent priority review, and months ahead of its PDUFA date on Aug. 3.

Fu­ji­film con­tin­ues its biotech build­ing spree with new fa­cil­i­ty in Chi­na

A Japanese conglomerate is making a big play in China with the opening of a new facility, as it continues to expand.

Fujifilm Irvine Scientific has opened its new Innovation and Collaboration Center in Suzhou New District, China, an area in Jiangsu province specifically designated for technological and industrial development.

According to Fujifilm, the 12,000-square-foot site will be responsible for the company’s cell culture media optimization, analysis and design services. Cell culture media itself often requires customization of formulas and protocols to achieve the desired quantity and quality of therapeutic desired. Fujifilm Irvine Scientific is offering these services from its headquarters in California and Japan to its customers globally, as well as in China now.

Daisy Robinton, Oviva Therapeutics co-founder and CEO

A new spin­out wades in­to ovar­i­an ag­ing, armed with a seed round and ex­per­i­men­tal drugs from Mass Gen­er­al

There aren’t many biotechs emphasizing women’s health, but a new spinout is trying to change that.

Oviva Therapeutics, a pipeline company of New York-based Cambrian Biopharma, emerged from stealth earlier this week to dive into the idea of extending women’s “healthspans,” or what it says is the part of a person’s life spent in generally good health, with a specific focus on ovaries. The emergence comes both with a seed financing worth $11.5 million from Cambrian, and an in-licensing agreement with Massachusetts General Hospital for a trio of patents.

Castle Creek Biosciences chair Jeff Aronin

Scoop: Af­ter pulling IPO am­bi­tions last De­cem­ber, Jeff Aron­in's Cas­tle Creek turns to pri­vate back­ers

Jeff Aronin’s cell and gene therapy biotech Castle Creek Biosciences has raised $112 million in equity, Endpoints News has learned.

The Exton, PA, biotech secured the financing from 54 investors, according to an SEC filing dated May 2. The late-stage startup had last year considered a $100 million Nasdaq debut, but in a sign of the bear market that has plagued hundreds of newly minted public biotechs, Castle Creek pulled those ambitions in the last few weeks of 2021.

Rob Etherington, Clene CEO

Mary­land of­fers loan to Clene de­spite ALS tri­al bumps

Even after Utah-based Clene failed to hit its primary endpoints for its ALS drug last year, the state of Maryland is putting its money at least behind Clene’s manufacturing facility.

The Maryland Board of Public Works has finalized a $3 million, 60-month loan facility with Clene Nanomedicine. The loan was provided by the state’s Neighborhood BusinessWorks program within the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

Chuck Grassley (R-IA) (via AP Images)

Bi­par­ti­san trio of sen­a­tors ask FTC to look at PBMs and tac­tics to keep in­sulin prices high

Just this week, the Senate voted 51-50 along party lines (with tie breaker from VP Kamala Harris) to make President Biden appointee Alvaro Bedoya the deciding vote on a split 2-2 Federal Trade Commission. And now that it is no longer split, a group of senators wants the commission to actually move forward on investigating pharmacy benefit managers.

Republican senators Chuck Grassley (IA) and Mike Braun (IN), alongside Democrat senator Ron Wyden (OR), submitted a letter to FTC chair Lina Khan earlier this week, after the commissioners remained deadlocked in a 2-2 vote in February to formally look into anti-competitive practices at the hands of PBMs.