Andrew Hopkins, Exscientia CEO

UP­DAT­ED: Bris­tol My­ers ex­pands Cel­gene-era deal with Ex­sci­en­tia, tak­ing its AI R&D en­gine to the next step

One day af­ter tak­ing a shot on an an­ti-TIG­IT bis­pe­cif­ic from Agenus, Bris­tol My­ers Squibb is still in a deal­mak­ing mood.

For Wednes­day’s chas­er, Bris­tol My­ers is re­turn­ing to a com­pa­ny that had teamed up with Cel­gene be­fore its ac­qui­si­tion in 2019. That biotech is Ex­sci­en­tia, and they’ve scored an ex­pand­ed deal with Bris­tol My­ers to fur­ther build on its ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence ca­pa­bil­i­ties less than a month af­ter a mas­sive Se­ries D fi­nanc­ing.

The up­dat­ed col­lab­o­ra­tion calls for “up to” a $50 mil­lion up­front pay­ment to the Ox­ford, UK-based biotech, along with $125 mil­lion in “near to mid-term” mile­stones, the com­pa­nies said in a re­lease. Oth­er mile­stones for reg­u­la­to­ry and com­mer­cial as­pects can bring the to­tal val­ue of the deal past $1.2 bil­lion.

Much like the orig­i­nal deal, the ex­pan­sion will cov­er three new projects, Ex­sci­en­tia CEO An­drew Hop­kins told End­points News. The part­ner­ship al­so al­lows the pair an op­tion to go in­to even fur­ther projects, he added. In­di­ca­tions will cov­er pri­mar­i­ly on­col­o­gy and im­munol­o­gy but can cov­er any dis­ease with­in those um­brel­las.

Over the last few years, AI deals have be­gun grab­bing a big­ger foothold through­out the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try. Sev­er­al biotechs have al­so popped up promis­ing to speed up the drug de­vel­op­ment process through ma­chine learn­ing and oth­er AI-fo­cused mod­els, in­clud­ing play­ers like in­sil­i­co, De­n­ovio and Gen­e­sis.

Bris­tol My­ers has made these types of AI plays be­fore, sign­ing on to work with Con­cer­to HealthAI in March 2019 to do just that. They al­so part­nered with ma­chine-learn­ing start­up In­sitro in Oc­to­ber 2020 to po­ten­tial­ly find new ways to cre­ate drugs for ALS.

And As­traZeneca an­nounced in Feb­ru­ary it added the first tar­get gen­er­at­ed by AI to its port­fo­lio, com­ing out of a col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Lon­don-based com­pa­ny, Benev­o­len­tAI. That deal fo­cused on iden­ti­fy­ing and val­i­dat­ing a new way to at­tack chron­ic kid­ney dis­ease.

Ex­sci­en­tia is no stranger to wheel­ing and deal­ing, hav­ing scored sev­er­al ma­jor col­lab­o­ra­tions be­fore its first ma­jor fi­nanc­ing round about a year ago. The biotech net­ted part­ner­ships with a host of Big Phar­mas in­clud­ing Bay­er, Roche, Sanofi and Glax­o­SmithK­line, not lim­it­ing their plat­form to one area: The deals ranged from car­di­ol­o­gy and on­col­o­gy to psy­chi­atric and meta­bol­ic dis­eases.

Those deals al­so fol­lowed a team-up with Sum­it­o­mo Dainip­pon Phar­ma for an ex­per­i­men­tal pill in ob­ses­sive com­pul­sive dis­or­der, which the pair claim was the first AI-de­vel­oped drug to en­ter the clin­ic when it be­gan Phase I in ear­ly 2020.

But back in May 2020, Ex­sci­en­tia be­gan hit­ting the gas in rais­ing cap­i­tal, net­ting a $60 mil­lion Se­ries C to more than dou­ble their pre­vi­ous round from 2018. The Se­ries C was ul­ti­mate­ly ex­pand­ed this past March when Black­Rock pushed its to­tal to $100 mil­lion, and Ex­sci­en­tia quick­ly raised an­oth­er $525 mil­lion in late April — a raise that in­clud­ed a $252 Se­ries D round, plus a $300 mil­lion eq­ui­ty in­vest­ment by Soft­Bank.

“Tech­no­log­i­cal­ly we see our goal is to solve drug de­sign and to then use that tech to then scale how we de­liv­er high-qual­i­ty, pre­ci­sion-en­gi­neered drugs in­to the clin­ic,” Hop­kins told End­points. “The more projects we run, the more our sys­tem learns and the bet­ter it gets. There is a di­rect cor­re­la­tion of learn­ing by do­ing.”

The biotech has al­so con­tin­ued to tout what it says are the first-ever ex­per­i­men­tal drugs to hit the clin­ic. In the vein of its OCD pill, Ex­sci­en­tia said in April that its AI-de­signed mol­e­cule for im­muno-on­col­o­gy is the first such com­pound to reach in-hu­man test­ing in that area as well.

This ar­ti­cle has been up­dat­ed to in­clude com­ment from Ex­sci­en­tia CEO An­drew Hop­kins.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

FDA hands ac­cel­er­at­ed nod to Seagen, Gen­mab's so­lo ADC in cer­vi­cal can­cer, but com­bo stud­ies look even more promis­ing

Biopharma’s resident antibody-drug conjugate expert Seagen has scored a clutch of oncology approvals in recent years, finding gold in what are known as “third-gen” ADCs. Now, another of their partnered conjugates is ready for prime time.

The FDA on Monday handed an accelerated approval to Seagen and Genmab’s Tivdak (tisotumab vedotin-tftv, or “TV”) in second-line patients with recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer who previously progressed after chemotherapy rather than PD-(L)1 systemic therapy, the companies said in a release.

Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

Zol­gens­ma patent spat brews be­tween No­var­tis and Re­genxbio as top No­var­tis gene ther­a­py ex­ec de­parts

Regenxbio, a small licensor of gene therapy viral vectors spun out from the University of Pennsylvania, is now finding itself in the middle of some major league patent fights.

In addition to a patent suit with Sarepta Therapeutics from last September, Novartis, is now trying to push its smaller partner out of the way. The Swiss biopharma licensed Regenxbio’s AAV9 vector for its $2.1 million spinal muscular atrophy therapy Zolgensma.

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Volker Wagner (L) and Jeff Legos

As Bay­er, No­var­tis stack up their ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal da­ta at #ES­MO21, a key de­bate takes shape

Ten years ago, a small Norwegian biotech by the name of Algeta showed up at ESMO — then the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Conference 2011 — and declared that its Bayer-partnered targeted radionuclide therapy, radium-223 chloride, boosted the overall survival of castration-resistant prostate cancer patients with symptomatic bone metastases.

In a Phase III study dubbed ALSYMPCA, patients who were treated with radium-223 chloride lived a median of 14 months compared to 11.2 months. The FDA would stamp an approval on it based on those data two years later, after Bayer snapped up Algeta and christened the drug Xofigo.

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Rafaèle Tordjman (Jeito Capital)

Con­ti­nu­ity and di­ver­si­ty: Rafaèle Tord­j­man's women-led VC firm tops out first fund at $630M

For a first-time fund, Jeito Capital talks a lot about continuity.

Rafaèle Tordjman had spotlighted that concept ever since she started building the firm in 2018, promising to go the extra mile(s) with biotech entrepreneurs while pushing them to reach patients faster.

Coincidentally, the lack of continuity was one of the sore spots listed in a report about the European healthcare sector published that same year by the European Investment Bank — whose fund is one of the LPs, alongside the American pension fund Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Singapore’s Temasek, to help Jeito close its first fund at $630 million (€534 million). As previously reported, Sanofi had chimed in €50 million, marking its first investment in a French life sciences fund.

Mi­rati tri­umphs again in KRAS-mu­tat­ed lung can­cer with a close­ly watched FDA fil­ing now in the cards

After a busy weekend at #ESMO21, which included a big readout for its KRAS drug adagrasib in colon cancer, Mirati Therapeutics is ready to keep the pressure on competitor Amgen with lung cancer data that will undergird an upcoming filing.

In topline results from a Phase II cohort of its KRYSTAL-1 study, adagrasib posted a response rate of 43% in second-line-or-later patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer containing a KRAS-G12C mutation, Mirati said Monday.

As­traZeneca, Dai­ichi Sanky­o's ADC En­her­tu blows away Roche's Kad­cy­la in sec­ond-line ad­vanced breast can­cer

AstraZeneca and Japanese drugmaker Daiichi Sankyo think they’ve struck gold with their next-gen ADC drug Enhertu, which has shown some striking data in late-stage breast cancer trials and early solid tumor tests. Getting into earlier patients is now the goal, starting with Enhertu’s complete walkover of a Roche drug in second-line breast cancer revealed Saturday.

Enhertu cut the risk of disease progression or death by a whopping 72% (p=<0.0001) compared with Roche’s ADC Kadcyla in second-line unresectable and/or metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer patients who had previously undergone treatment with a Herceptin-chemo combo, according to interim data from the Phase III DESTINY-Breast03 head-to-head study presented at this weekend’s #ESMO21.

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