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.”

MedTech clinical trials require a unique regulatory and study design approach and so engaging a highly experienced CRO to ensure compliance and accurate data across all stages is critical to development milestones.

In­no­v­a­tive MedTech De­mands Spe­cial­ist Clin­i­cal Tri­al Reg­u­la­to­ry Af­fairs and De­sign

Avance Clinical is the Australian CRO for international biotechs providing world-class clinical research services with FDA-accepted data across all phases. With Avance Clinical, biotech companies can leverage Australia’s supportive clinical trials environment which includes no IND requirement plus a 43.5% Government incentive rebate on clinical spend. The CRO has been delivering clinical drug development services for international biotechs for FDA and EMA regulatory approval for the past 24 years. The company has been recognized for the past two consecutive years with the prestigious Frost & Sullivan CRO Best Practices Award and a finalist in Informa Pharma’s Best CRO award for 2022.

His­toric drug pric­ing re­forms pass; Pfiz­er ac­quires GBT; The long search for non-opi­oid pain drugs; 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.

The Endpoints Weekly has officially crossed the 60,000 mark on subscribers — thanks to all of your support. As the editorial team grows, we’ve been able to do a lot more, with many of those on display this week. Be sure to check out Lei Lei Wu’s deep dive on pain R&D. If you missed it, you may also rewatch her companion panel here.

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Gold for adults, sil­ver for in­fants: Pfiz­er's Pre­vnar 2.0 head­ed to FDA months af­ter Mer­ck­'s green light

Pfizer was first to the finish line for the next-gen pneumococcal vaccine in adults, but Merck beat its rival with a jab for children in June.

Now, two months after Merck’s 15-valent Vaxneuvance won the FDA stamp of approval for kids, Pfizer is out with some late-stage data on its 20-valent shot for infants.

Known as Prevnar 20 for adults, Pfizer’s 20vPnC will head to the FDA by the end of this year for an approval request in infants, the Big Pharma said Friday morning. Discussions with the FDA will occur first and more late-stage pediatric trials are expected to read out soon, informing the regulatory pathway in other countries and regions.

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Seagen interim CEO Roger Dansey and Daiichi Sankyo CEO Sunao Manabe

Paving the way for Mer­ck­'s buy­out, Seagen los­es ar­bi­tra­tion dis­pute with Dai­ichi over ADC tech

As Seagen awaits a final buyout offer from Merck that could be in the territory of $40 billion, Seagen revealed Friday afternoon that it lost an arbitration dispute with Daiichi Sankyo relating to the companies’ 2008 collaboration around the use of antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) technology.

But that loss likely won’t matter much when it comes to Merck’s deal.

After breaking off its pact with Daiichi in mid-2015, the two companies battled over “linker” tech — a chemical bridge between an ADC’s antibody component and the cytotoxic payload — that Seagen claims Daiichi would improve upon and implement in its current generation of ADCs.

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Tony Coles, Cerevel CEO

Cerev­el takes the pub­lic of­fer­ing route, with a twist — rais­ing big mon­ey thanks to ri­val da­ta

As public biotechs seek to climb out of the bear market, a popular strategy to raise cash has been through public offerings on the heels of positive data. But one proposed raise Wednesday appeared to take advantage not of a company’s own data, but those from a competitor.

Cerevel Therapeutics plans to raise $250 million in a public offering and another $250 million in debt, the biotech announced Wednesday afternoon, even though it did not report any news on its pipeline. However, the move comes days after rival Karuna Therapeutics touted positive Phase III data in schizophrenia, a field where Cerevel is pursuing a similar program.

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House pass­es his­toric drug pric­ing re­forms, lin­ing up decades-in-the-mak­ing win for Biden and De­moc­rats

The US House of Representatives today voted along party lines (all Dems voted for it), 220-207 to pass new, wide-ranging legislation that will allow Medicare drug price negotiations for the first time ever, and cap seniors’ drug expenses to $2,000 per year and seniors’ insulin costs at $35 per month.

Setting up a major victory for President Joe Biden, representatives returned from their summer recess to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, even as many noted the bill would only modestly reduce inflation.

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Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) (Francis Chung/E&E News/POLITICO via AP Images)

Sen­ate Fi­nance chair con­tin­ues his in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to phar­ma tax­es with re­quests for Am­gen

Amgen is the latest pharma company to appear on the radar of Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR), who is investigating the way pharma companies are using subsidiaries in low- or zero-tax countries to lower their tax bills.

Like its peers Merck, AbbVie and Bristol Myers Squibb, Wyden notes how Amgen uses its Puerto Rico operations to consistently pay tax rates that are substantially lower than the U.S. corporate tax rate of 21%, with an effective tax rate of 10.7% in 2020 and 12.1% in 2021.

FDA ap­proves sec­ond in­di­ca­tion for As­traZeneca and Dai­ichi's En­her­tu in less than a week

AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo’s antibody-drug conjugate Enhertu scored its second approval in less than a week, this time for a subset of lung cancer patients.

Enhertu received accelerated approval on Thursday to treat adults with unresectable or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) whose tumors have activating HER2 (ERBB2) mutations, and who have already received a prior systemic therapy.

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J&J to re­move talc prod­ucts from shelves world­wide, re­plac­ing with corn­starch-based port­fo­lio

After controversially spinning out its talc liabilities and filing for bankruptcy in an attempt to settle 38,000 lawsuits, Johnson & Johnson is now changing up the formula for its baby powder products.

J&J is beginning the transition to an all cornstarch-based baby powder portfolio, the pharma giant announced on Thursday — just months after a federal judge ruled in favor of its “Texas two-step” bankruptcy to settle allegations that its talc products contained asbestos and caused cancer. An appeals court has since agreed to revisit that case.