Andrew Hopkins, Exscientia

Black­Rock push­es Ex­sci­en­tia Se­ries C to $100M as AI biotech boom con­tin­ues

The ju­ry’s still out on whether the first wave of AI com­pa­nies can sig­nif­i­cant­ly change drug de­vel­op­ment, but in­vestors are in­creas­ing­ly buy­ing in­to the hype.

Ex­sci­en­tia, the decade-old UK ma­chine learn­ing out­fit, an­nounced Thurs­day that they’ve ex­pand­ed their Se­ries C, first an­nounced in May, from $60 mil­lion to $100 mil­lion. The ex­pan­sion most no­tably in­cludes Black­Rock, the pri­vate eq­ui­ty firm that has been wad­ing deep­er and deep­er in­to biotech. They now join No­vo Hold­ings, Bris­tol My­ers Squibb and oth­ers among the com­pa­ny’s most re­cent back­ers.

William Abecas­sis

“Ex­sci­en­tia is break­ing ground in small mol­e­cule drug de­sign, with a plat­form that rad­i­cal­ly im­proves drug dis­cov­ery” William Abecas­sis, head of Black­Rock’s biotech fund In­no­va­tion Cap­i­tal, said in a state­ment. “We are thrilled to be in­vest­ing in this world-class team, who are al­ready de­liv­er­ing re­sults with AI-de­signed drugs now en­ter­ing clin­i­cal tri­als.”

One of the first AI biotechs that emerged in the ear­ly 2010s promis­ing to ac­cel­er­ate drug de­vel­op­ment by screen­ing for mol­e­cules far faster than hu­man chemists, Ex­sci­en­tia an­nounced in 2020 that they brought the first AI-dis­cov­ered drug in­to hu­man tri­als. It was a du­bi­ous claim, de­pen­dent on pre­cise­ly what one means by AI-de­vel­oped; Re­cur­sion Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals had claimed the same man­tle not long be­fore.

Still, Ex­sci­en­tia has emerged as a clear win­ner of the first round of AI drug de­vel­op­ers, part­ner­ing with Bay­er, Bris­tol My­ers, Sanofi, Glax­o­SmithK­line, Evotec and Sum­it­o­mo Da­nip­pon among oth­ers.

Oth­er com­pa­nies that emerged around the same time have al­so found mo­men­tum and dol­lars. Re­cur­sion land­ed a $239 mil­lion mega-round and a $1 bil­lion Bay­er part­ner­ship in Sep­tem­ber.  Atom­wise, a com­pa­ny that start­ed out at Y Com­bi­na­tor and re­ceived crit­i­cism for over­hyp­ing its ser­vices, more than tripled its to­tal ever fundrais­ing with a $123 mil­lion Se­ries B.

At the same time, oth­er com­pa­nies have popped up, most promi­nent­ly Daphne Koller’s In­sitro, which raised near­ly $250 mil­lion and scored a big-mon­ey part­ner­ship with Gilead with­in 2 years of its 2018 launch. But al­so a raft of oth­er small­er biotechs, in­clud­ing Gen­e­sis Ther­a­peu­tics and Rever­ie Labs, that have launched teamed with big biotech or Big Phar­ma and raised small to mid-sized rounds.

The pan­dem­ic al­so brought the AI field one of its first con­crete suc­cess­es: Ear­ly in the out­break, Benev­o­lent AI iden­ti­fied Eli Lil­ly’s JAK in­hibitor baric­i­tinib as a po­ten­tial treat­ment for Covid-19. Lil­ly pushed it through pre­clin­i­cal and clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment on their sug­ges­tion, even­tu­al­ly show­ing it im­proved time-to-re­cov­ery in hos­pi­tal­ized pa­tients and land­ing an EUA from the FDA.

Ex­sci­en­tia will use the cash to keep scal­ing the ma­chine learn­ing plat­form they’ve used to iden­ti­fy can­di­dates for Big Phar­ma but al­so to ex­pand their abil­i­ty to de­vel­op their own pipeline of drugs. It’s a piv­ot sev­er­al of the first AI biotechs have made as they raise more cap­i­tal and ex­pand op­er­a­tions. Ex­sci­en­tia said they’ve dou­bled in size over the past year and now em­ploy over 100 peo­ple.

“We are de­light­ed that Black­Rock shares our vi­sion for rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing how drugs are dis­cov­ered,” CEO An­drew Hop­kins said in a state­ment. “Black­Rock’s in­vest­ment is an im­por­tant step in our vi­sion that all drugs will be de­signed by AI. I be­lieve that our com­pa­ny’s reimag­ined ap­proach to drug dis­cov­ery will be­come the new de fac­to stan­dard.”

How Pa­tients with Epilep­sy Ben­e­fit from Re­al-World Da­ta

Amanda Shields, Principal Data Scientist, Scientific Data Steward

Keith Wenzel, Senior Business Operations Director

Andy Wilson, Scientific Lead

Real-world data (RWD) has the potential to transform the drug development industry’s efforts to predict and treat seizures for patients with epilepsy. Anticipating or controlling an impending seizure can significantly increase quality of life for patients with epilepsy. However, because RWD is secondary data originally collected for other purposes, the challenge is selecting, harmonizing, and analyzing the data from multiple sources in a way that helps support patients.

$DNA is once again on NYSE; FDA clears Soliris chal­lenger for the mar­ket; Flag­ship’s think­ing big again with eR­NA; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

I still remember the uncertainty in the air last year when nobody was sure whether ASCO would cancel their in-person meeting. But it’s now back again for the second virtual conference, and Endpoints News is here for it. Check out our 2-day event reviewing the landscape of cancer R&D and send news our way.

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Michael Dell (Richard Drew, AP Images)

'Dude, you're get­ting a Del­l' — as a new deep-pock­et biotech in­vestor

What happens when you marry longtime insiders in the global biotech VC game with the family fund of tech billionaire Michael Dell, a synthetic biology legend out of MIT and Harvard and the former director of the NCI?

Today, the answer is a newly financed, $200 million biotech SPAC now cruising the industry for a top player interested in finding a short cut to Nasdaq.

Orion Biotech Opportunities priced their blank check company today, raising $200 million with Dell’s multibillion-dollar MSD group’s commitment on investing another $20 million in a forward-purchase agreement.

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Gene ther­a­py from Bio­gen's $800M buy­out flops in mid-stage study, deal­ing blow to new am­bi­tions

The #2 candidate from Biogen’s $800 million ocular gene therapy buyout has failed in a mid-stage trial, dealing an early blow to the big biotech’s plans to revitalize its pipeline with new technologies.

Biogen announced that the candidate, an experimental treatment for a rare and progressive form of blindness called X-linked retinitis pigmentosa (XLRP), failed to sufficiently improve vision in patients’ treated eye — patients only received an injection in one eye — after a year, on a standard scale, compared to their untreated eye. The company said they saw “positive trends” on several secondary endpoints, including visual acuity, but declined to say whether the trial actually hit any of those endpoints.

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Vas Narasimhan (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

No­var­tis whiffs on En­tresto study af­ter heart at­tacks — but that does­n't mean it's go­ing down qui­et­ly

If Novartis learned one thing from its interaction with the FDA over its latest heart failure approval for Entresto, it was that missing a primary endpoint may not be the nail in the coffin. Now, Entresto has missed again on a late-stage study in high-risk heart patients, and it’s already sowing the seeds for a path forward regardless.

Novartis’ Entresto couldn’t best standard-of-care ramipril in staving off a composite of deaths and heart failure events in patients with left ventricular systolic dysfunction and/or pulmonary congestion who have had a prior heart attack, according to topline data from the Phase III PARADISE-MI study revealed Saturday at the virtual American College of Cardiology meeting.

Jason Kelly (Photographer: Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Gink­go nabs $DNA, biotech's most sought af­ter tick­er, for free in sweet­en­er from NYSE

When Ginkgo went comparison shopping for a financial market to list their now $15 billion company, the New York Stock Exchange had a back-pocket sweetener the Nasdaq couldn’t offer: The most sought-after ticker in biotech, $DNA.

DNA — the most famous three letters in biology and the ticker for the world’s first biotech, Genentech, from 1999 until it was bought out by Roche for $48 billion in 2009 — will now be the ticker for Ginkgo, a 12-year-old synthetic biology startup with grand ambitions to change not only how drugs, but also everyday products like meat and perfumes, are made.

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Lark­spur Health Ac­qui­si­tion files to go pub­lic as this year's SPAC flood surges over $14B

Editor’s note: Interested in following biopharma’s fast-paced IPO market? You can bookmark our IPO Tracker here.

Another day, another SPAC vying for a spot on Nasdaq.

On Wednesday, OncoSec Medical CEO Daniel O’Connor filed the S-1 paperwork for a new blank-check company he’s leading called Larkspur Health Acquisition. The former Advaxis chief penciled in a $75 million raise, with plans to offer 7.5 million shares at $10 apiece.

BAR­DA slows its $9B en­gine for new Covid-19 ther­a­peu­tics

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority is cooling its jets in looking for new, potential Covid-19 treatments, at least in the near term.

An HHS spokesperson told Endpoints News via email, “to date, BARDA has obligated more than $9 billion for the development and/or purchase of 13 therapeutics, beginning in February 2020 with support to develop Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody therapeutic. Therapeutics are an important element of the COVID-19 response, and we are focused on the programs currently underway and/or in negotiation using the funds available to us.”

Bris­tol My­ers backs up its case for heart drug mava­camten as FDA weighs app in car­diomy­opa­thy

When Bristol Myers Squibb signed off on its $13 billion acquisition of MyoKardia back in October, it was making a big bet that lead drug mavacamten could prove a game changer in cardiac myopathy. Now, with the drug up for FDA review, Bristol Myers is backing up its case with new quality of life data.

Patients dosed with myosin inhibitor mavacamten posted a clinically significant increase in scores on the Kansas City Cardiomyopathy Questionnaire, a catch-all summary of symptoms and quality of life markers, over placebo at 30 weeks, according to data from the Phase III EXPLORER-HCM study presented Saturday at the virtual American College of Cardiology meeting.