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.

Ven­ture Cap­i­tal as a Strate­gic Part­ner: Fu­el­ing In­no­va­tion be­yond Fi­nance

The average level of investment required for a biotech start-up to succeed is increasing every year, elevating the pressure even further on venture capital to make smart financial investments. Financial investment alone, however, does not always guarantee that exciting innovations can be transformed into real businesses that make a meaningful difference to patients.

Beyond just capital

At Astellas Venture Management (AVM) – a wholly-owned venture capital organization within Astellas, headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area – capital is just one of the ingredients we offer to add value to our biotechnology investments and partnerships. We generally take a strategic investor approach for companies in our invested portfolio, providing access to expertise, technology and/or resources in addition to the injection of finance. An equity investment from AVM can include access to Astellas’ research and development (R&D) capabilities and expertise, and a global network of partner academic institutions and biotechnology companies, to help advance and accelerate the start-up’s innovation.

UP­DAT­ED: Ver­tex joins Mer­ck, Pfiz­er — re­vamp­ing multi­bil­lion-dol­lar tri­al strat­e­gy as biotech R&D crum­bles

You can add Pfizer, Merck and — as we found out Friday morning — Vertex to the growing list of pharma giants hitting the pause button on a range of clinical trials. But not everyone in R&D is getting a red light.

Vertex says that it’s doing its best to keep working its pipeline strategy, coming up with a plan “to enable virtual clinic visits and home delivery of study drug to ensure study continuity and medical monitoring, and to facilitate study procedures.”

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 76,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Covid-19 roundup: In­ter­cept, blue­bird and a grow­ing list of biotechs feel the pain as pan­dem­ic man­gles FDA, R&D sched­ules

Around 100 staffers at Boston area hospitals have now tested positive for Covid-19, spotlighting the growing risk that the pandemic will sideline many of the most essential workers in healthcare as caseloads peak in the US and around the globe. With more than 3,400 deaths, Spain has become the latest country to surpass the official death count attributed to the new coronavirus in China, where the outbreak originated. As of Thursday morning, confirmed global cases had crossed 470,000 and the death count eclipsed 21,000.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 76,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Af­ter crit­ics lam­bast­ed Gilead for grab­bing the FDA's spe­cial rare drug sta­tus on remde­sivir, they're giv­ing it back

Two days after Gilead won orphan drug status for remdesivir as a potential treatment for Covid-19, they’re handing it back.

The company was slammed from several sides after Gilead reported that the FDA had come through with the special status, which comes with 7 years of market exclusivity, the waiver of FDA fees and some tax credits as well. Typically, everyone who can get orphan status lands it without much of a fuss, but Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Public Citizen and other consumer groups were outraged.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 76,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel out­lines a short path for emer­gency use of a coro­n­avirus vac­cine

NIAID director Anthony Fauci has left no doubts that it takes 12 to 18 months to get a new vaccine tested and in commercial use, in the best of circumstances. But in times of a global emergency — like these — maybe there’s another, faster route to follow.

In an SEC filing on Tuesday, Moderna $MRNA staked out a record-setting pathway to getting their mRNA vaccine into the frontline of the healthcare response as early as this fall. The SEC filing notes that CEO Stéphane Bancel told Goldman Sachs that an emergency use approval could allow the vaccine to go to healthcare workers and certain individuals in a matter of months — presumably provided the NIH sees the safety and efficacy data they would need from the Phase I.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 76,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Caught in a Covid-19 mael­strom, Eli Lil­ly locks down clin­i­cal tri­als as multi­bil­lion-dol­lar R&D ops de­rail

The Covid-19 pandemic has derailed Eli Lilly’s $6 billion R&D operations.

The pharma giant reported Monday morning that it has decided to hit the brakes on most new study starts and pause enrollment for most ongoing studies. Lilly adds that it is continuing dosing for ongoing studies, “but with study-by-study consideration.”

The pandemic has severely disrupted healthcare systems around the globe, says Lilly, making it difficult or impossible to conduct studies at many research sites. And there’s no timeline for when it expects to get back on track.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 76,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

As share buy­backs come un­der scruti­ny, what's in store for the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try?

Stock buybacks are not to be permitted for companies that will be bailed out in the coronavirus stimulus package, Congressional leaders have signaled. To what degree the biopharma industry has relied on buybacks for earnings growth in recent years, and if the trend continues, are the big questions as scrutiny into the practice heightens and balance sheets weaken with the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on global economies.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 76,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

A Sin­ga­pore VC rais­es $200M for a new round, but will Covid-19 pre­vent it from rais­ing the rest?

A top Singaporean biotech venture fund is nearly halfway toward its largest ever fund, but in a sign of what could be in store for VCs amid a global economic freeze, said they could face headwinds raising the other half.

Vickers Venture Partners has secured $200 million out of a targeted $500 million for its 6th fund, first announced in early 2018. They’ve given themselves 13 months to complete the financing, Vickers founder Finian Tan told Deal Street Asia, but the financial frost settling amid the Covid-19 pandemic could slow efforts.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 76,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Strug­gling Unum ex­ecs are ready to con­sid­er a sale, merg­er or any deal that comes its way

Unum $UMRX is working its way through a survival plan of sorts.

After getting hit with a trio of FDA holds in its brief public history and triggering its second pivot to a new lead drug program while laying off 60% of the staff, the troubled penny stock biotech Unum Therapeutics has hatched new plans to secure financial backing while lining up a go-forward strategy for the company.

First, Lincoln Park Capital Fund has agreed to buy up to $25 million of the long-suffering stock, as Unum directs. And the executive team — led by CEO Chuck Wilson — has put everything on the table for consideration: a sale, acquisition, merger, licensing deal, you name it. The ACTR707 program, meanwhile, is being formally wrapped up — their second failed lead program.