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.

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

Covid-19 vac­cine boost­ers earn big thumbs up, but Mod­er­na draws ire over world sup­ply; What's next for Mer­ck’s Covid pill?; The C-suite view on biotech; 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.

You may remember that at the beginning of this year, Endpoints News set a goal to go broader and deeper. We are still working towards that, and are excited to share that Beth Snyder Bulik will be joining us on Monday to cover all things pharma marketing. You can sign up for her weekly Endpoints MarketingRx newsletter in your reader profile.

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No­var­tis de­vel­op­ment chief John Tsai: 'We go deep in the new plat­form­s'

During our recent European Biopharma Summit, I talked with Novartis development chief John Tsai about his experiences over the 3-plus years he’s been at the pharma giant. You can read the transcript below or listen to the exchange in the link above.

John Carroll: I followed your career for quite some time. You’ve had more than 20 years in big pharma R&D and you’ve obviously seen quite a lot. I really was curious about what it was like for you three and a half years ago when you took over as R&D chief at Novartis. Obviously a big move, a lot of changes. You went to work for the former R&D chief of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan, who had his own track record there. So what was the biggest adjustment when you went into this position?

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Amit Etkin, Alto Neuroscience CEO (Alto via Vimeo)

A star Stan­ford pro­fes­sor leaves his lab for a start­up out to re­make psy­chi­a­try

About five years ago, Amit Etkin had a breakthrough.

The Stanford neurologist, a soft-spoken demi-prodigy who became a professor while still a resident, had been obsessed for a decade with how to better define psychiatric disorders. Drugs for depression or bipolar disorder didn’t work for many patients with the conditions, and he suspected the reason was how traditional diagnoses didn’t actually get at the heart of what was going on in a patient’s brain.

Susan Galbraith, Executive VP, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

As­traZeneca on­col­o­gy R&D chief Su­san Gal­braith: 'Y­ou're go­ing to need or­thog­o­nal com­bi­na­tion­s'


Earlier in the week we broadcast our 4th annual European Biopharma Summit with a great lineup of top execs. One of the one-on-one conversations I set up was with Susan Galbraith, the oncology research chief at AstraZeneca. In a wide-ranging discussion, Galbraith reviewed the cancer drug pipeline and key trends influencing development work at the pharma giant. You can watch the video, above, or stick with the script below. — JC

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Roche's Tecen­triq cross­es the fin­ish line first in ad­ju­vant lung can­cer, po­ten­tial­ly kick­ing off gold rush

While falling behind the biggest PD-(L)1 drugs in terms of sales, Roche has looked to carve out a space for its Tecentriq with a growing expertise in lung cancer. The drug will now take an early lead in the sought-after adjuvant setting — but competitors are on the way.

The FDA on Friday approved Tecentriq as an adjuvant therapy for patients with Stage II-IIIA non small cell lung cancer with PD-(L)1 scores greater than or equal to 1, making it the first drug of its kind approved in an early setting that covers around 40% of all NSCLC patients.

John Oyler, BeiGene CEO (Paul Yeung/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Bris­tol My­ers wants to pull out of its Abrax­ane deal in Chi­na. BeiGene says no way

A year and a half after Chinese officials ordered BeiGene to stop selling Bristol Myers Squibb’s Abraxane in the wake of an alarming inspection of a US facility, the manufacturing issues at the root of the import suspension still appear unresolved.

And Bristol Myers wants to axe the Abraxane supply deal altogether.

But BeiGene, which is currently in arbitration proceedings against its Big Pharma partner, won’t let it off the hook so easily.

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FDA ad­comm votes unan­i­mous­ly in sup­port of a J&J Covid-19 boost­er two months af­ter one-dose shot

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) on Friday voted 19-0 in favor of authorizing a second shot of J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine to follow at least two months after the initial dose.

Regulators don’t have to follow VRBPAC’s recommendation, but they almost always do. Considering that the CDC’s advisory committee has already been set to review the expanded EUA, VRBPAC’s recommendation is likely to be adopted.

Madhu Natarajan, Takeda rare disease development head

Drawn to the idea of turn­ing B cells in­to 'pro­tein fac­to­ries,' Take­da jumps in­to a mile­stone-heavy, $900M pact

Madhu Natarajan can trace his fascination with the idea of taking B cells and turning them into protein factories back 20 years, when he had his own lab at UT Southwestern. So when Natarajan, now the rare disease development head for Takeda, sat down for a meet-up with execs from Seattle-based Immusoft at the last in-person JP Morgan conference, they went straight into a brainstorming session.

“That B cells can take up residence and do what they do for a long time,” says Natarajan, pumping out proteins and “leveraging it into a therapeutic context,” hits his sweet spot for discovery deals. And he was deeply impressed by what he heard.

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