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.

IDC: Life Sci­ences Firms Must Em­brace Dig­i­tal Trans­for­ma­tion Now

Pre-pandemic, the life sciences industry had settled into a pattern. The average drug took 12 years and $2.9 billion to bring to market, and it was an acceptable mode of operations, according to Nimita Limaye, Research Vice President for Life Sciences R&D Strategy and Technology at IDC.

COVID-19 changed that, and served as a proof-of-concept for how technology can truly help life sciences companies succeed and grow, Limaye said. She recently spoke about industry trends at Egnyte’s Life Sciences Summit 2022. You should watch the entire session, free and on-demand, but here’s a brief recap of why she’s urging life sciences companies to embrace digital transformation.

Martin Landray, Protas CEO (Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News)

Those big bil­lion-dol­lar PhI­II stud­ies? Mar­tin Lan­dray says they can be done for a tiny frac­tion of the cost

Martin Landray knows what controversy in clinical drug development feels like, from first-hand experience.

Landray was the chief architect of RECOVERY, a study that pitted a variety of drugs against Covid-19. And he offered some landmark data that would help push dexamethasone out into broader use as a cheap treatment, while helping ice hydroxy’s reputation as a clear misfire.

“Lots of people told us we shouldn’t use it,” Landray says about dexamethasone and Covid-19. “It was dangerous. We shouldn’t even do a trial. They also cared about hydroxychloroquine and lots of people said we shouldn’t do a trial because it must be used. I’ve got the letters from both sets of people.”

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Geoffrey Porges, new Schrödinger CFO

Long­time an­a­lyst Ge­of­frey Porges de­parts SVB to lead fi­nances at a drug dis­cov­ery shop

Geoffrey Porges has ended his two-decade run as a biotech analyst, as the former SVB Securities vice chair began as CFO of Schrödinger on Thursday.

The long-running analyst, who previously headed up vaccines marketing at Merck before the turn of the millennium, will lead the financial operations of the 700-employee company as Schrödinger broadens its focus from a drug discovery partner to also building out an in-house pipeline, with clinical trial No. 1 set to begin next quarter.

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FDA ap­proves one of the prici­est new treat­ments of all time — blue­bird's gene ther­a­py for be­ta tha­lassemia

The FDA on Wednesday approved the first gene therapy for a chronic condition — bluebird bio’s new Zynteglo (beti-cel) as a potentially curative treatment for those with transfusion-dependent thalassemia.

The thumbs-up from the FDA follows a unanimous adcomm vote in June, with outside experts pointing to extraordinary efficacy, with 89% of subjects with TDT who received beti-cel having achieved transfusion independence.

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Joel Dudley, new partner at Innovation Endeavors (Bosch Health Campus)

For­mer Google CEO’s VC is mak­ing a big­ger push in­to the biotech world, hir­ing promi­nent Ther­a­nos skep­tic

Venture capital firm Innovation Endeavors has mainly had its focus on investments across the tech space, but it has been slowly turning its attention to the biotech world. Now, a new partner is coming into the fold showing that its interest in biotech is likely to grow further.

The Silicon Valley-based company, which is headed up by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, has brought on Joel Dudley as a partner. According to Dudley’s LinkedIn page, he is joining Innovation Endeavors after serving as the chief science officer of biotech startup Tempus Labs since 2020.

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James Sabry, Roche global head of pharma partnering

Roche, Genen­tech plunk down $60M up­front to part­ner with Chi­nese phar­ma on PRO­TAC-based prostate can­cer drug

Roche and Genentech are always on the hunt for deals, and on Thursday they found their newest partner.

The pair will team up with the Chinese pharma company Jemincare to push forward a new program for prostate cancer, the companies announced. Roche is ponying up $60 million upfront to get its hands on the candidate and promising up to $590 million in biobucks, plus royalties, down the line.

In return, Genentech will get a worldwide license to develop the program, known as JMKX002992, and bring it to market.

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Andrew Hopkins, Exscientia CEO

Ex­sci­en­tia ter­mi­nates Bay­er pact half a year ear­ly, col­lect­ing small por­tion of €240M promised

Bayer and Exscientia are winding down their three-year collaboration, leaving the big German pharma to take the AI-designed compounds born out of the pact further.

London-based Exscientia revealed in its Q2 update that the partners have “mutually agreed to end” their collaboration, which kicked off in early 2020, after recently achieving a drug discovery milestone. In an SEC filing, Exscientia said it terminated the pact on May 30, about six months early.

Atomwise CEO and co-founder Abraham Heifets (left) and co-founder Izhar Wallach

A cou­ple bil­lion for Ex­sci­en­tia was on­ly part of Sanofi's AI am­bi­tions, as the Big Phar­ma adds Atom­wise to the ta­ble

Sanofi made clear its AI ambitions were real at the beginning of this year when the Big Pharma took its drug discovery collaboration with Exscientia to the next level, inking a pact that could birth 15 drugs and deliver $5.3 billion to the UK partner.

Seven months later, the AI blueprint is far from over at the French Big Pharma, as another of the much-hyped drug discovery startups is coming to the table in a five-drug deal. Sanofi will pay Atomwise $20 million to kick off the hunt for up to five targets, which are aimed at leading to the creation of new small molecules. Another $1 billion is on the line — as are royalties — and the companies kept mum on the specific diseases or broader therapeutic areas of interest.

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Bayer's first DTC ad campaign for chronic kidney disease drug Kerendia spells out its benefits

Bay­er aims to sim­pli­fy the com­plex­i­ties of CKD with an ABC-themed ad cam­paign

Do you know the ABCs of CKD in T2D? Bayer’s first ad campaign for Kerendia tackles the complexity of chronic kidney disease with a play on the acronym (CKD) and its connection to type 2 diabetes (T2D).

Kerendia was approved last year as the first and only non-steroidal mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist to treat CKD in people with type 2 diabetes.

In the TV commercial launched this week, A is for awareness, B is for belief and C is for cardiovascular, explained in the ad as awareness of the connection between type 2 and kidney disease, belief that something can be done about it, and cardiovascular events that may be reduced with treatment.

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