Daphne Koller, Getty

Bris­tol My­er­s' Richard Har­g­reaves pays $70M to launch a neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion al­liance with a star play­er in the ma­chine learn­ing world

Bris­tol My­ers Squibb is turn­ing to one of the star up­starts in the ma­chine learn­ing world to go back to the draw­ing board and come up with the dis­ease mod­els need­ed to find drugs that can work against two of the tough­est tar­gets in the neu­ro world.

Daphne Koller’s well-fund­ed in­sitro is get­ting $70 mil­lion in cash and near-term mile­stones to use their ma­chine learn­ing plat­form to cre­ate in­duced pluripo­tent stem cell-de­rived dis­ease mod­els for ALS and fron­totem­po­ral de­men­tia.

Then they’ll use those in­sights to start build­ing new drugs for those two ail­ments; a com­plex, ground-up ap­proach that has al­ready won a close al­liance with Gilead.

Suc­cess would trig­ger up to $2 bil­lion in mile­stones, run­ning a gamut of re­search and com­mer­cial goals.

Richard Har­g­reaves

“We be­lieve that ma­chine learn­ing and da­ta gen­er­at­ed by nov­el ex­per­i­men­tal plat­forms of­fer the op­por­tu­ni­ty to re­think how we dis­cov­er and de­sign nov­el med­i­cines,” said Richard Har­g­reaves, the chief of the neu­ro group at Bris­tol My­ers, who made the leap from Cel­gene.

Koller’s been mak­ing great strides with a new tech­nol­o­gy that has gained im­mense in­ter­est, but still has a long way to go to prove it­self as the ma­jor play­ers start fig­ur­ing out how to in­te­grate ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and ML in­to their game plans for drug dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment.

As she told me in in­ter­views for the End­points 11 awards, the field has been in­tense­ly hyped by a slew of new play­ers. From her per­spec­tive, the tech holds lots of promise, but there’s a tremen­dous amount of ground­work that has to be done to glean the nec­es­sary da­ta for it to work. And it starts with the right dis­ease mod­els.

I’ve looked for in­stance at cel­lu­lar phe­no­types and I’ve built a mod­el that aligns those with hu­man clin­i­cal out­come: Can I take a group of ge­net­ic back­grounds that I’ve nev­er seen be­fore and pre­dict clin­i­cal out­comes for those pa­tients? That is a con­fi­dence build­ing mea­sure. It says I built a dis­ease mod­el that is ac­tu­al­ly pre­dic­tive of what we see in hu­mans. By the way, an­i­mal mod­els, they don’t even get asked that ques­tion in a lot of cas­es, which I find rather shock­ing.

On top of that, the ex-Stan­ford pro­fes­sor has been frank about un­der­stand­ing the tech bet­ter than drug de­vel­op­ment, a weak­ness she’s been work­ing on by re­cruit­ing top tal­ent from that oth­er side of the R&D di­men­sion. That strat­e­gy re­cent­ly led to the ar­rival of Mer­ck R&D chief Roger Perl­mut­ter on the board.

Koller told me:

The ear­ly days were very chal­leng­ing, I won’t lie. I was al­so ac­tu­al­ly new to the space…To build some­thing from scratch you need a net­work, you need to be con­nect­ed to peo­ple that you can re­cruit, you need to ask ad­vice. When I came in­to this I had none of that. So it was an in­cred­i­bly chal­leng­ing thing to just start from a blank slate in a space where you were a new­com­er and fig­ure out even how to go about build­ing a wet lab that I had nev­er built be­fore.

Now she’s work­ing with Har­g­reaves, one of the top neu­ro­sci­en­tists in the field, as Koller and her team con­tin­ue to build up the com­pa­ny.

IDC: Life Sci­ences Firms Must Em­brace Dig­i­tal Trans­for­ma­tion Now

Pre-pandemic, the life sciences industry had settled into a pattern. The average drug took 12 years and $2.9 billion to bring to market, and it was an acceptable mode of operations, according to Nimita Limaye, Research Vice President for Life Sciences R&D Strategy and Technology at IDC.

COVID-19 changed that, and served as a proof-of-concept for how technology can truly help life sciences companies succeed and grow, Limaye said. She recently spoke about industry trends at Egnyte’s Life Sciences Summit 2022. You should watch the entire session, free and on-demand, but here’s a brief recap of why she’s urging life sciences companies to embrace digital transformation.

Tom Barnes, Orna Therapeutics CEO

UP­DAT­ED: 'We have failed to fail': Mer­ck gam­bles $250M cash on a next-gen ap­proach to mR­NA — af­ter punt­ing its big al­liance with Mod­er­na

Merck went in deep on its collaboration with Moderna on new mRNA programs, and dropped them all over time, including their RSV partnership. But after writing off what turned out as one of the most successful infectious disease players in the business, Merck is coming in this morning with a new preclinical alliance — this time embracing a biotech that hopes to eventually outdo the famously successful mRNA in a new run at vaccines and therapeutics.

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Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division

GSK lands first-ever UNICEF con­tract for malar­ia vac­cine worth $170M

GSK has landed a new first from UNICEF the first-ever contract for malaria vaccines, worth up to $170 million for 18 million vaccine doses distributed over the next three years.

The vaccine, known as Mosquirix or RTS,S, won WHO’s backing last October after a controversial start, but UNICEF said these doses will potentially save thousands of lives every year.

“We hope this is just the beginning,” Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division, said. “Continued innovation is needed to develop new and next-generation vaccines to increase available supply, and enable a healthier vaccine market. This is a giant step forward in our collective efforts to save children’s lives and reduce the burden of malaria as part of wider malaria prevention and control programmes.”

Bayer's first DTC ad campaign for chronic kidney disease drug Kerendia spells out its benefits

Bay­er aims to sim­pli­fy the com­plex­i­ties of CKD with an ABC-themed ad cam­paign

Do you know the ABCs of CKD in T2D? Bayer’s first ad campaign for Kerendia tackles the complexity of chronic kidney disease with a play on the acronym (CKD) and its connection to type 2 diabetes (T2D).

Kerendia was approved last year as the first and only non-steroidal mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist to treat CKD in people with type 2 diabetes.

In the TV commercial launched this week, A is for awareness, B is for belief and C is for cardiovascular, explained in the ad as awareness of the connection between type 2 and kidney disease, belief that something can be done about it, and cardiovascular events that may be reduced with treatment.

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James Mock, incoming CFO at Moderna

Mod­er­na taps new CFO from PerkinElmer af­ter for­mer one-day CFO oust­ed

When Moderna hired a new CFO last year,  it didn’t expect to see him gone after only one day. Today the biotech named his — likely much more vetted — replacement.

The mRNA company put out word early Wednesday that after the untimely departure of then brand-new CFO Jorge Gomez, it has now found a replacement in James Mock, the soon-to-be former CFO at diagnostics and analytics company PerkinElmer.

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Atomwise CEO and co-founder Abraham Heifets (left) and co-founder Izhar Wallach

A cou­ple bil­lion for Ex­sci­en­tia was on­ly part of Sanofi's AI am­bi­tions, as the Big Phar­ma adds Atom­wise to the ta­ble

Sanofi made clear its AI ambitions were real at the beginning of this year when the Big Pharma took its drug discovery collaboration with Exscientia to the next level, inking a pact that could birth 15 drugs and deliver $5.3 billion to the UK partner.

Seven months later, the AI blueprint is far from over at the French Big Pharma, as another of the much-hyped drug discovery startups is coming to the table in a five-drug deal. Sanofi will pay Atomwise $20 million to kick off the hunt for up to five targets, which are aimed at leading to the creation of new small molecules. Another $1 billion is on the line — as are royalties — and the companies kept mum on the specific diseases or broader therapeutic areas of interest.

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Joe Jonas (Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

So­lo Jonas broth­er car­ries Merz's new tune in Botox ri­val cam­paign

As the lyrics of his band’s 2019 pop-rock single suggest, Joe Jonas is only human — and that means even he gets frown lines. The 33-year-old singer-songwriter is Merz’s newest celebrity brand partner for its Botox rival Xeomin, as medical aesthetics brands target a younger audience.

Merz kicked off its “Beauty on Your Terms” campaign on Tuesday, featuring the Jonas brother in a video ad for its double-filtered anti-wrinkle injection Xeomin.

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Paul Perreault, CSL Behring CEO

CSL CEO Paul Per­reault de­ter­mined to grow plas­ma col­lec­tion af­ter full-year sales dip

As the ink dries on CSL’s $11.7 billion Vifor buyout, the company posted a dip in profits, due in part to a drop in plasma donations amid the pandemic.

However, CEO Paul Perreault assured investors and analysts on the full-year call that the team has left “no stone unturned” when assessing options to grow plasma volumes. The chief executive also spelled out positive results for the company’s monoclonal antibody garadacimab in hereditary angioedema (HAE), though he isn’t revealing the exact numbers just yet.

Blaise Coleman, Endo International CEO

En­do files for Chap­ter 11 as it looks to fin­ish off its opi­oid lit­i­ga­tion

Irish drugmaker Endo International is entering into bankruptcy as it faces the weight of serious litigation related to its involvement in the opioid epidemic in the US.

The company has filed Chapter 11 proceedings in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, with the company expected to file recognition proceedings in Canada, the UK and Australia. The company’s bankruptcy filing showed the company had assets and liabilities in the range of $1 billion to $10 billion.