Biotech uni­corn's 'brain' at­tracts a $115M mega-round as in­vestors em­brace AI up­start

Ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence in drug de­vel­op­ment is still gain­ing mo­men­tum. Just ask Benev­o­len­tAI, which has brought in a new $115 mil­lion round for its tech­nol­o­gy that promis­es to process vast amounts of bio­science in­for­ma­tion and churn out new dis­cov­er­ies.

Ken Mul­vany

Backed by new, undis­closed in­vestors from the Unit­ed States as well as ex­ist­ing sup­port­ers like Wood­ford In­vest­ment Man­age­ment, the round puts Lon­don-based Benev­o­len­tAI at a pre-mon­ey val­u­a­tion of $2 bil­lion. The syn­di­cate fea­tures a mix of fam­i­ly of­fices and some strate­gic back­ers but not “more tra­di­tion­al VCs,” TechCrunch re­ports.

Since its found­ing in 2013, the biotech has raised more than $200 mil­lion. The new cash will go in­to scal­ing its drug de­vel­op­ment ac­tiv­i­ties, broad­en­ing fo­cus dis­ease area, and ex­tend its plat­form ca­pa­bil­i­ties — not just in phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals but al­so in ma­te­r­i­al sci­ence, en­er­gy and agri­cul­ture.

De­spite con­tin­ued skep­ti­cism and scruti­ny as to how much AI can shave off the painful­ly lengthy drug de­vel­op­ment process and in­crease suc­cess rates, it con­tin­ues to in­spire en­thu­si­asm es­pe­cial­ly in Big Phar­ma, where ex­ecs are al­ways look­ing for ways to trim spend­ing. In fact, J&J hand­ed some clin­i­cal-stage drug can­di­dates for Benev­o­len­tAI to guide de­vel­op­ment back in 2016 with plans to start Phase IIb tri­als last year.

Jack­ie Hunter

The core of Benev­o­len­tAI’s promise is an AI “brain” that now holds “50 bil­lion bi­o­log­i­cal da­ta points and com­plex bi­o­log­i­cal con­cepts – the world’s largest most so­phis­ti­cat­ed bio­science knowl­edge graph,” founder and chair­man Ken Mul­vany writes in a blog post. “The tech­nol­o­gy that sits on this knowl­edge is able to gen­er­ate new in­sights in­to the cause of dis­ease at a scale not pos­si­ble for hu­man be­ings.”

Un­der the lead­er­ship of GSK vet Jack­ie Hunter, Benev­o­len­tAI is work­ing on 22 pro­grams across ar­eas span­ning Parkin­son’s dis­ease, mo­tor neu­ron dis­ease, glioblas­toma and sar­cope­nia, though on­ly two are in ad­vanced stages.

Re­cent­ly, the com­pa­ny ac­quired a drug dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment fa­cil­i­ty on the Babra­ham Re­search Cam­pus in Cam­bridge, UK, bring­ing a new sci­en­tif­ic team and late-stage clin­i­cal test­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties in­to its fold. Mul­vany told TechCrunch that he hopes to al­most dou­ble the size of the team by the end of the year, from 155 to 300.

“We have come a very long way since we found­ed the busi­ness in 2013. The ca­pa­bil­i­ties of our tech­nol­o­gy didn’t ex­ist 6 years ago,” he said in a state­ment.

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.

Pfiz­er, Sarep­ta and two oth­ers sug­gest Duchenne drug safe­ty is­sues tied to "class ef­fect"

Since the first experimental Duchenne gene therapy programs came about, the space has proven rife with safety issues and patient deaths in clinical trials. Pfizer and three biotechs now think they’ve found a reason why.

The four companies suggested there may be a “class effect” causing the adverse events in Duchenne gene therapies, they wrote in a new study. They specifically highlighted how side effects in five patients across three trials, who all showed muscle weakness with cardiac involvement, were “strikingly similar.”

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Pre­sent­ing a live End­points News event: Man­ag­ing a biotech in tur­bu­lent times

Biotech is one of the smartest, best educated industries on the planet. PhDs abound. We’ve had a long enough track record to see a new generation of savvy, experienced execs coming together to run startups.

And in these times, they are being tested as never before.

Biotech is going through quite a rough patch right now. For 2 years, practically anyone with a decent resume and some half-baked ideas on biotech could start a company and get it funded. The pandemic made it easy in many ways to pull off an IPO, with traditional road shows shut down in exchange for a series of quick Zoom meetings. Generalist investors flocked as the numbers raised soared into the stratosphere.

Martin Shkreli (Dennis Van Tine/MediaPunch/IPX)

In­fa­mous biotech ex­ec Mar­tin Shkre­li gets out of prison, hits the street

Martin Shkreli, the infamous biotech CEO who made headlines for his jeering assault on a legion of critics in and out of Congress, is back on the streets after 4 years inside a federal penitentiary.

Shkreli’s attorney put out a statement Wednesday afternoon saying that the “pharma bro” had been transferred to a halfway house in New York with a few more months to go under federal custody, slated to end September 14. Attorney Benjamin Brafman acknowledged the release and vowed that he and Shkreli are keeping quiet.

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De­spite fed­er­al ef­forts to di­ver­si­fy clin­i­cal tri­als, progress re­mains 'stag­nan­t' — re­port

While calls to diversify clinical trials have grown louder in recent years — gaining support from federal agencies such as the FDA and NIH — progress has largely stalled, according to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Swaths of patients in racial and ethnic minority groups, as well as LGBTQIA+, pregnant and older adult populations continue to be left out of clinical trials. While some advances have been made in the last 30 years — women now account for roughly half of clinical trial participants — growth in other areas remains stagnant, according to the report, which was mandated by Congress and sponsored by the NIH.

Paul Chaplin, Bavarian Nordic president and CEO

Bavar­i­an Nordic se­cures BAR­DA con­tract for small­pox vac­cine

It seems that smallpox vaccination production is weighing on the mind of the US government. And manufacturer Bavarian Nordic is the latest company to benefit.

Just a few days after Emergent, a company that has made government contracts its lifeblood, acquired the exclusive rights to Tembexa from Chimerix, with a $225 million cash payment and an expected BARDA contract, the agency has offered a contract for smallpox vaccine production.

Frank Pallone (D-NJ), House Energy and Commerce Committee chair (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP Images)

House com­mit­tee unan­i­mous­ly ad­vances FDA user fee leg­is­la­tion with ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval tweaks

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday offered a rare show of bipartisan support for a bill that would provide the FDA with user fees for the next five years.

The committee voted 55-0 to advance the quinquennial user fee bill to the full House floor, which if approved, will allow the FDA to use biopharma funds to hire new reviewers, and hit new marks as outlined in the user fee deals that the FDA and biopharma companies forged over the past several years.

Lina Khan, FTC chair (Saul Loeb/Pool via AP)

New FTC com­mis­sion­er could turn the tide for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to PBMs

The Senate last week voted along party lines, 51-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaker, to make President Biden appointee Alvaro Bedoya the deciding vote on a split 2-2 Federal Trade Commission.

The addition of Bedoya to the FTC could not only spell more trouble for biopharma M&A activity, as he may align with his Democrat partners to break the FTC ties, but it may also mean that FTC Chair Lina Khan has what she needs to move forward on a study around the pharma middlemen known as pharmacy benefit managers.

Henrietta Lacks

UP­DAT­ED: Fed­er­al judge weighs mo­tion to dis­miss HeLa law­suit against Ther­mo Fish­er

The story of Henrietta Lacks’ immortal cell line and her family’s fight for justice caught the attention of national media outlets and Hollywood years ago. Now, the case faces an uncertain fate as a Baltimore federal judge considers tossing the case.

After a hearing on Tuesday, Judge Deborah Boardman is weighing Thermo Fisher’s motion to dismiss the claims against it on the grounds that the statute of limitations has passed, and the continuing harm doctrine does not apply. Boardman is grappling with the “extraordinarily unique facts” of the case, according to Maryland Matters, which first reported the news.