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.

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo: AFP)

Trump’s HHS claims ab­solute au­thor­i­ty over the FDA, clear­ing path to a vac­cine EUA

The top career staff at the FDA has vowed not to let politics overrule science when looking at vaccine data this fall. But Alex Azar, who happens to be their boss’s boss, apparently won’t even give them a chance to stand in the way.

In a new memorandum issued Tuesday last week, the HHS chief stripped the FDA and other health agencies under his purview of their rule making ability, asserting all such power “is reserved to the Secretary.” Sheila Kaplan of the New York Times first obtained and reported the details of the September 15 bulletin.

President Donald Trump (via AP Images)

Signs of an 'Oc­to­ber Vac­cine Sur­prise' alarm ca­reer sci­en­tists

President Donald Trump, who seems intent on announcing a COVID-19 vaccine before Election Day, could legally authorize a vaccine over the objections of experts, officials at the FDA and even vaccine manufacturers, who have pledged not to release any vaccine unless it’s proved safe and effective.

In podcasts, public forums, social media and medical journals, a growing number of prominent health leaders say they fear that Trump — who has repeatedly signaled his desire for the swift approval of a vaccine and his displeasure with perceived delays at the FDA — will take matters into his own hands, running roughshod over the usual regulatory process.

#ES­MO20: Push­ing in­to front­line, Mer­ck and Bris­tol My­ers duke it out with new slate of GI can­cer da­ta

Having worked in parallel for years to move their respective PD-1 inhibitors up to the first-line treatment of gastrointestinal cancers, Merck and Bristol Myers Squibb finally have the data at ESMO for a showdown.

Comparing KEYNOTE-590 and CheckMate-649, of course, comes with the usual caveats. But a side-by-side look at the overall survival numbers also offer some perspective on a new frontier for the reigning checkpoint rivals, both of whom are claiming to have achieved a first.

Is­raeli biotech rais­es $57M to go where cur­rent BRAF in­hibitors can't, with back­ing from No­var­tis, SR One

For the blockbuster potential of Novartis’ Tafinlar and Pfizer’s Braftovi, all the BRAF inhibitors on the market so far only target V600 mutations — which accounts for roughly 50% of patients.

Israeli biotech Novellus now has $57 million to develop a drug that they say can help the other 50% who have everything else.

The Series C will fund a Phase II trial for PLX-8394, a “paradox breaker” that could block RAF without activating MAPK signaling. In a Phase I trial, a patient with a BRAF fusion saw their tumor go away after taking the drug, allowing Novellus to hit the ground running.

Jonathan Rigby, Immune Regulation group CEO

Im­mune Reg­u­la­tion, tak­ing two clin­i­cal pro­grams to 're­set' the im­mune sys­tem, nets $53M+ Se­ries B

A little under two years after a company rebranding, Immune Regulation is taking an even bigger step toward advancing its goals.

Formerly known as Peptinnovate, the British biotech announced a $53.4 million Series B early Monday morning, helping to further advance two clinical programs in rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Though those are the two initial indications the company is focusing on, CEO Jonathan Rigby told Endpoints News he hopes the candidates can be applied to a broad swath of autoimmune disorders.

UP­DAT­ED: Two wild weeks for Grail end in $8B Il­lu­mi­na buy­out

Grail’s whirlwind two weeks have ended in the wealthy arms of its former founder and benefactors.

Illumina has shelled out $8 billion to reacquire the closely-watched liquid biopsy startup they spun out just 5 years ago and sold off much of its shares just 3 years ago. The deal comes nearly two weeks after the well-heeled startup filed for a potentially massive IPO — one that was disrupted just a week later when Bloomberg reported that Illumina was in talks to buy their former spinout for up to $8 billion.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 90,400+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Roche vaults to the front of the NL­RP3 clin­i­cal race, pay­ing $448M up­front to bag In­fla­zome

Roche is going all in on NLRP3.

The pharma giant is putting down $448 million (€380 million) upfront to snatch Novartis-backed Inflazome, which makes it a clinical player in the space overnight.

Dublin and Cambridge, UK-based Inflazome is the second NLRP3-focused biotech Roche has acquired in less than two years, and although no numbers were disclosed in the Jecure buyout, this is almost certainly a much larger deal.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 90,400+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Anthony Fauci (AP Images)

A press of­fi­cer at An­tho­ny Fau­ci’s NI­AID was un­masked as a hard-right Covid troll. He just re­tired to­day

William B Crews had been a public affairs specialist at the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

That ended today when he informed the agency of his decision to retire, after he was identified as the managing editor at RedState, a prominent Trump loyalist website.

Crews’ RedState duties are performed under the alias streiff. While enjoying the benefits of pseudonymity, he disparaged and worked against NIAID with an incendiary level of rhetoric in the midst of a pandemic.

#ES­MO20: Bris­tol My­ers marks Op­di­vo's sec­ond ad­ju­vant win — eye­ing a stan­dard of care gap

Moving into earlier and earlier treatment lines, Bristol Myers Squibb is reporting that adjuvant treatment with Opdivo has doubled the time that esophageal or gastroesophageal junction cancer patients stay free of disease.

With the CheckMate-577 data at ESMO, CMO Samit Hirawat said, the company believes it can change the treatment paradigm.

While a quarter to 30% of patients typically achieve a complete response following chemoradiation therapy and surgery, the rest do not, said Ronan Kelly of Baylor University Medical Center. The recurrence rate is also high within the first year, Hirawat added.