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.”

The Price of Re­lief: Ex­plor­ing So­lu­tions to the Ris­ing Costs of On­col­o­gy Drugs

In 2020, The National Cancer Institute estimated about 1.8 million new cases of cancer diagnosed in the United States, while the costs associated with treatment therapies continued to escalate. Given the current legislative climate on drug pricing, it’s never been more important to look at the evolution of drug pricing globally and control concerns of sustainable and affordable treatments in oncology.

Lat­est news on Pfiz­er's $3B+ JAK1 win; Pacts over M&A at #JPM22; 2021 by the num­bers; Bio­gen's Aduhelm reck­on­ing; The sto­ry of sotro­vimab; 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.

For those of you who attended #JPM22 in any shape or form, we hope you had a fruitful time. Regardless of how you spent the past hectic week, may your weekend be just what you need it to be.

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A $3B+ peak sales win? Pfiz­er thinks so, as FDA of­fers a tardy green light to its JAK1 drug abroc­i­tinib

Back in the fall of 2020, newly crowned Pfizer chief Albert Bourla confidently put their JAK1 inhibitor abrocitinib at the top of the list of blockbuster drugs in the late-stage pipeline with a $3 billion-plus peak sales estimate.

Since then it’s been subjected to serious criticism for the safety warnings associated with the class, held back by a cautious FDA and questioned when researchers rolled out a top-line boast that their heavyweight contender had beaten the champ in the field of atopic dermatitis — Dupixent — in a head-to-head study.

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Robert Califf, FDA commissioner nominee (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Rob Califf ad­vances as Biden's FDA nom­i­nee, with a close com­mit­tee vote

Rob Califf’s second confirmation process as FDA commissioner is already much more difficult than his near unanimous confirmation under the Obama administration.

The Senate Health Committee on Thursday voted 13-8 in favor of advancing Califf’s nomination to a full Senate vote. Several Democrats voted against Califf, including Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Maggie Hassan. Several other Democrats who aren’t on the committee, like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, also said Thursday that they would not vote for Califf. Markey, Hassan and Manchin all previously expressed reservations about the prospect of Janet Woodcock as an FDA commissioner nominee too.

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Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (World Economic Forum/Ciaran McCrickard)

Bio­gen vows to fight CM­S' draft cov­er­age de­ci­sion for Aduhelm be­fore April fi­nal­iza­tion

Biogen executives made clear in an investor call Thursday they are not preparing to run a new CMS-approved clinical trial for their controversial Alzheimer’s drug anytime soon.

As requested in a draft national coverage decision from CMS earlier this week, Biogen and other anti-amyloid drugs will need to show “a meaningful improvement in health outcomes” for Alzheimer’s patients in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial to get paid for their drugs, rather than just the reduction in amyloid plaques that won Aduhelm its accelerated approval in June.

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CRO own­er pleads guilty to ob­struct­ing FDA in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to fal­si­fied clin­i­cal tri­al da­ta

The co-owner of a Florida-based clinical research site pleaded guilty to lying to an FDA investigator during a 2017 inspection, revealing that she falsely portrayed part of a GlaxoSmithKline pediatric asthma study as legitimate, when in fact she knew that certain data had been falsified, the Department of Justice said Wednesday.

Three other employees — Yvelice Villaman Bencosme, Lisett Raventos and Maytee Lledo — previously pleaded guilty and were sentenced in connection with falsifying data associated with the trial at the CRO Unlimited Medical Research.

Susan Galbraith, AstraZeneca EVP, Oncology R&D

Can­cer pow­er­house As­traZeneca rolls the dice on a $75M cash bet on a buzzy up­start in the on­col­o­gy field

After establishing itself in the front ranks of cancer drug developers and marketers, AstraZeneca is putting its scientific shoulder — and a significant amount of cash — behind the wheel of a brash new upstart in the biotech world.

The pharma giant trumpeted news this morning that it is handing over $75 million upfront to ally itself with Scorpion Therapeutics, one of those biotechs that was newly birthed by some top scientific, venture and executive talent and bequeathed with a fortune by way of a bankroll to advance an only hazily explained drug platform. And they are still very much in the discovery and preclinical phase.

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‘Skin­ny la­bels’ on gener­ics can save pa­tients mon­ey, re­search shows, but re­cent court de­ci­sions cloud fu­ture

New research shows how generic drug companies can successfully market a limited number of approved indications for a brand name drug, prior to coming to market for all of the indications. But several recent court decisions have created a layer of uncertainty around these so-called “skinny” labels.

While courts have generally allowed generic manufacturers to use their statutorily permitted skinny-label approvals, last summer, a federal circuit court found that Teva Pharmaceuticals was liable for inducing prescribers and patients to infringe GlaxoSmithKline’s patents through advertising and marketing practices that suggested Teva’s generic, with its skinny label, could be employed for the patented uses.

A patient in Alaska receiving an antibody infusion to prevent Covid hospitalizations in September. All but one of these treatments has been rendered useless by Omicron (Rick Bowmer/AP Images)

How a tiny Swiss lab and two old blood sam­ples cre­at­ed one of the on­ly ef­fec­tive drugs against Omi­cron (and why we have so lit­tle of it)

Exactly a decade before a novel coronavirus broke out in Wuhan, Davide Corti — a newly-minted immunologist with frameless glasses and a quick laugh — walked into a cramped lab on the top floor of an office building two hours outside Zurich. He had only enough money for two technicians and the ceiling was so low in parts that short stature was a job requirement, but Corti believed it’d be enough to test an idea he thought could change medicine.

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