Billing it­self as the first AI biotech to launch hu­man tri­als, Re­cur­sion adds $121M C round

Chris Gib­son

Billing it­self as the first AI biotech with pro­grams in the clin­ic, Salt Lake City-based Re­cur­sion now has a $121 mil­lion bankroll to start gath­er­ing hu­man da­ta to see if it’s on the right track. 

“We’re try­ing to build this dis­cov­ery en­gine,” Re­cur­sion CEO Chris Gib­son tells me ahead of the C round news. “We now have the first two pro­grams in the clin­ic.” And that, he adds, qual­i­fies as a first for any AI es­tab­lish­ment “that ac­tu­al­ly have some­thing in the clin­ic.”

Well, maybe. 

While a buzzy AI field is billed by many as the next big tech wave bound to in­flu­ence the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and de­vel­op­ment of new drugs, tap­ping in­to a grow­ing moun­tain of da­ta to find clues on where and how to look for new drugs, Re­cur­sion’s two lead pro­grams fit more in line with long-es­tab­lished drug de­vel­op­ment norms.

Dean Li

Gib­son read­i­ly con­cedes that one of his 2 clin­i­cal stage drugs, REC-994 for cere­bral cav­ernous mal­for­ma­tion, came out of the lab of co-founder Dean Li, now head of trans­la­tion­al re­search at Mer­ck. REC-2282 for neu­rofi­bro­mato­sis type 2 was in-li­censed from Ohio State some months ago, af­ter a failed Arno sim­ply hand­ed it back to the uni­ver­si­ty fol­low­ing their de­ci­sion to liq­ui­date. It’s not hard to find the drug via Google, and the ear­li­er work done in neu­rofi­bro­mato­sis in 2011.

That may not be a clas­sic AI/ma­chine learn­ing play, says Gib­son, but it does re­flect the com­pa­ny’s abil­i­ty when it comes to what he calls “da­ta ar­bi­trage.” 

“Most of the in­dus­try has thought of AI dis­cov­ery, mak­ing some chem­i­cal struc­ture,” says the CEO. “We don’t need to know the tar­get; we use our plat­form to find ap­pli­ca­tions that peo­ple wouldn’t ex­pect.”

And he says he’s built a work­force of 152 — mas­sive by start­up stan­dards — to cre­ate a plat­form that does com­ply more close­ly with what we’ve come to ex­pect in an AI/ML biotech.

Says Gib­son: “Now that the com­pa­ny has grown we are now do­ing com­pu­ta­tion­al chem­istry.”

Gib­son is quick to tout the high­lights of the biotech’s fast growth; from the rapid ad­di­tion of new staffers, their 100,000-square-foot fa­cil­i­ty in a con­vert­ed Dick’s Sport­ing Goods fa­cil­i­ty in down­town Salt Lake City and an op­tion from Take­da on can­di­dates for 2 rare dis­eases.

The new mon­ey in the C round an­nounced to­day comes from a host of non­tra­di­tion­al biotech in­vestors. Bail­lie Gif­ford’s Scot­tish Mort­gage In­vest­ment Trust led the round, with In­ter­moun­tain Ven­tures, Re­gents of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta, Texas Tech Uni­ver­si­ty Sys­tem, and se­lect an­gel in­vestors com­ing in for the first time. All pri­or in­sti­tu­tion­al in­vestors par­tic­i­pat­ed, in­clud­ing Lux Cap­i­tal, Da­ta Col­lec­tive, Mubadala Ven­tures, Two Sig­ma Ven­tures, Ob­vi­ous Ven­tures, Fe­li­cis Ven­tures, Epic Ven­tures, Men­lo Ven­tures, AME Cloud Ven­tures, and CRV.

So­cial im­age: In­tel­li­gent Health AI via Youtube

George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

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Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

Elias Zer­houni dis­cuss­es ‘am­a­teur hour’ in DC, the de­struc­tion of in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D and how we need to prep for the next time

Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

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Pfiz­er shares surge on pos­i­tive im­pact of their mR­NA Covid-19 vac­cine — part­nered with BioN­Tech — in an ear­ly-stage study

Pfizer and their partners at the mRNA specialist BioNTech have published the first glimpse of biomarker data from an early-stage study spotlighting the “robust immunogenicity” triggered by their Covid-19 vaccine, which is one of the leaders in the race to vanquish the global pandemic.

Researchers selected 45 healthy volunteers 18-55 years of age for the study. They were randomized to receive 2 doses, separated by 21 days, of 10 µg, 30 µg, or 100 µg of BNT162b1, “a lipid nanoparticle-formulated, nucleoside-modified, mRNA vaccine that encodes trimerized SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein RBD.” Their responses were compared against the effect of a natural, presumably protective defense offered by a regular infection.

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Randy Schatzman, Bolt CEO (Bolt Biotherapeutics)

Bolt Bio­ther­a­peu­tics nabs $93.5M to push Provenge in­ven­tor's new idea deep­er in the clin­ic

A cancer-fighting concept from the inventor of the first cancer vaccine is nearing prime time, and its biotech developer has received a significant new infusion of cash to get it there.

Bolt Biotherapeutics announced a $93.5 million Series C round led by Sofinnova Investments and joined by more than 9 others, including Pfizer Ventures and RA Capital Management. That money will go toward pushing the San Francisco biotech’s platform of innate immune-boosting warheads through its first trial on metastatic solid tumors and into several more.

Josh Cohen, Justin Klee

Armed with pos­i­tive ALS da­ta, Amy­lyx scores $30M in fresh fund­ing to com­plete Alzheimer's PhII

Four years after announcing themselves to the biotech world with a new idea for drugging neurodegeneration, backing by the late Henri Termeer and $5 million from Morningside Venture, the young entrepreneurs at Amylyx are back for round 2.

Morningside continued to lead the $30 million Series B, with participation from Termeer’s widow, Belinda, and other unnamed investors. Having celebrated a topline Phase II win for its lead program in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Amylyx expects the cash to fund talks with regulators as well as a separate trial for the same drug in Alzheimer’s — for which they had just finished enrolling.

An ex­pe­ri­enced biotech is stitched to­geth­er from transpa­cif­ic parts, with 265 staffers and a fo­cus on ‘new bi­ol­o­gy’

Over the past few years, different teams at a pair of US-based biotechs and in labs in Japan have labored to piece together a group of cancer drug programs, sharing a single corporate umbrella with research colleagues in Japan. But now their far-flung operations have been knit together into a single unit, creating a pipeline with 10 cancer drug development programs — going from early-stage right into Phase III — and a host of discovery projects managed by a collective staff of some 265 people.

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New stan­dard of care? FDA hands Pfiz­er, Mer­ck KGaA an OK for Baven­cio in blad­der can­cer

The breakthrough therapy designation Pfizer and Merck KGaA notched for Bavencio in bladder cancer has quickly paved way for a full approval.

The PD-L1 drug is now sanctioned as a first-line maintenance treatment for patients with locally advanced or metastatic urothelial carcinoma, applicable in cases where cancer hasn’t progressed after platinum-containing chemotherapy.

Petros Grivas, the principal investigator of the supporting Phase III JAVELIN Bladder 100, called the approval “one of the most significant advances in the treatment paradigm in this setting in 30 years.”

Sec­ond death trig­gers hold on Astel­las' $3B gene ther­a­py biotech's lead pro­gram, rais­ing fresh con­cerns about AAV

Seven months after Astellas shelled out $3 billion to acquire the gene therapy player Audentes, the biotech company’s lead program has been put on hold following the death of 2 patients taking a high dose of their treatment. And there was another serious adverse event recorded in the study as well, with a total of 3 “older” patients in the study affected.

The incidents are derailing plans to file for a near-term approval, which had been expected right about now.

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Anthony Johnson, Goldfinch Bio CEO (Goldfinch via YouTube)

Gilead-part­nered Goldfinch Bio lands $100M as it piv­ots to clin­i­cal stage biotech

A year after landing $109 million in cash for an early-stage discovery deal with Gilead, Goldfinch Bio has scored a similar bounty from investors, raising $100 million in the biotech’s first financing round since its 2016 launch.

The new round, led by Eventide Asset Management and joined by 8 other firms, confirms that last year’s Gilead deal began a new, busier, more vocal era for the company. After launching out of Third Rock with $55 million and a plan to tackle kidney disease, they focused on preclinical research and made few material announcements. But the latest press release is full of plans, including their first Phase II study and a new therapy scheduled to enter the clinic next year.