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.”

Ugur Sahin, BioNTech CEO (Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa via AP Images)

BioN­Tech is spear­head­ing an mR­NA vac­cine de­vel­op­ment pro­gram for malar­ia, with a tech trans­fer planned for Africa

Flush with the success of its mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, BioNTech is now gearing up for one of the biggest challenges in vaccine development — which comes without potential profit.

The German mRNA pioneer says it plans to work on a jab for malaria, then transfer the tech to the African continent, where it will work with partners on developing the manufacturing ops needed to make this and other vaccines.

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How one start­up fore­told the neu­ro­science re­nais­sance af­ter '50 years of shit­show'

In the past couple of years, something curious has happened: Pharma and VC dollars started gushing into neuroscience research.

Biogen’s controversial new Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm has been approved on the basis of removing amyloid plaque from the brain, but the new neuro-focused pharma and biotechs have much loftier aims. Significantly curbing or even curing the most notorious disorders would prove the Holy Grail for a complex system that has tied the world’s best drug developers in knots for decades.

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Why is On­col­o­gy Drug De­vel­op­ment Re­search Late to the Dig­i­tal Bio­mark­ers Game?

During the recent Annual ASCO Meeting, thousands of cancer researchers and clinicians from across the globe joined together virtually to present and discuss the latest findings and breakthroughs in cancer research and care. There were more than 5000+ scientific abstracts presented during this event, yet only a handful involved the use of motion-tracking wearables to collect digital measures relating to activity, sleep, mobility, functional status, and/or quality of life. Although these results were a bit disappointing, they should come as no surprise to those of us in the wearable technology field.

Bob Bradway, Amgen CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Am­gen bel­lies back up to the M&A ta­ble for an­oth­er biotech buy­out, this time with a $2.5B deal for an an­ti­body play­er fo­cused on PS­MA

Five months after Amgen CEO Bob Bradway stepped up to the M&A table and acquired Five Prime for $1.9 billion, following up with the smaller Rodeo acquisition, he’s gone back in for another biotech buyout.

This time around, Amgen is paying $900 million cash while committing up to $1.6 billion in milestones to bag the privately held Teneobio, an antibody drug developer that has expertise in developing new bispecifics and multispecifics. In addition, Amgen cited Teneobio’s “T-cell engager platform, which expands on Amgen’s existing leadership position in bispecific T-cell engagers by providing a differentiated, but complementary, approach to Amgen’s current BiTE platform.”

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Art Levinson (Calico)

Google-backed Cal­i­co dou­bles down on an­ti-ag­ing R&D pact with Ab­b­Vie as part­ners ante up $1B, start to de­tail drug tar­gets

Seven years after striking up a major R&D alliance, AbbVie and Google-backed anti-aging specialist Calico are doubling down on their work with a joint, $1 billion commitment to continuing their work together. And they’re also beginning to offer some details on where this project is taking them in the clinic.

According to their statement, each of the two players is putting up $500 million more to keep the labs humming.

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Andrea Pfeifer, AC Immune CEO (AC Immune)

Look­ing to repli­cate Covid-19 suc­cess in neu­ro, BioN­Tech back­ers bet on AC Im­mune and its new­ly-ac­quired Parkin­son's vac­cine

The German billionaires behind BioNTech have found a new vaccine project to back.

Through their family office Athos Service, twin brothers Thomas and Andreas Strüngmann are leading a $25 million private placement into Switzerland’s AC Immune — which concurrently announced that it’s shelling out $58.7 million worth of stock to acquire Affiris’ portfolio of therapies targeting alpha-synuclein, including a vaccine candidate, for Parkinson’s disease.

Rajiv Shukla, Constellation Alpha Holdings

Can­del gets busy IPO week mov­ing with down­sized raise as Ra­jiv Shuk­la's third SPAC goes pub­lic

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

In a week that’s expected to see several biotechs price their IPOs, Candel Therapeutics got things kicked off Tuesday with a muted opener.

The company helmed by former GlaxoSmithKline vet Paul Peter Tak made its way to Nasdaq thanks to a $72 million raise, which was downsized by about 15% than originally anticipated, according to Renaissance Capital. Candel priced at $8 per share after initially seeking to launch in the $13 to $15 range.

Busi­ness­es and schools can man­date the use of Covid-19 vac­cines un­der EUAs, DOJ says

As public and private companies stare down the reality of the Delta variant, many are now requiring that their employees or students be vaccinated against Covid-19 prior to attending school or to returning or starting a new job. Claims that such mandates are illegal or cannot be used for vaccines under emergency use authorizations have now been dismissed.

Setting the record straight, the Department of Justice on Monday called the mandates legal in a new memo, even when used for people with vaccines that remain subject to EUAs.

Gerry Brunk (Lumira)

What will Lu­mi­ra Ven­tures do with $220M? Stay out of the com­fort zone and off the beat­en biotech path

Lumira Ventures closed its largest fund on Monday, raking in $220 million to pump into the life sciences — but instead of targeting biotech hubs like San Francisco and Boston, the company is rolling the dice on “underserved geographies” in the US and Canada.

“We find oftentimes companies located in places like Montreal, or Fort Lauderdale, FL, or Kansas City or Phoenix, AZ just have more capital efficiency and better valuations, without having to compromise anything at all in the quality of the innovation and the management talent,” co-founder and managing partner Gerry Brunk told Endpoints News.