British bil­lion­aire Jim Mel­lon and high-pro­file part­ners roll the dice on an an­ti-ag­ing up­start

When British bil­lion­aire Jim Mel­lon wants to map out an in­vest­ment strat­e­gy, he likes to write a book first. Out of that process came his most re­cent work — Ju­ve­nes­cence: In­vest­ing in the Age of Longevi­ty. Now he and some close as­so­ciates with some of the best con­nec­tions in biotech are us­ing the book as in­spi­ra­tion to launch a new com­pa­ny — al­so named Ju­ve­nes­cence — with plans to make a big splash in an­ti-ag­ing re­search.

Jim Mel­lon

And they’re plant­i­ng the first seeds now with a new joint ven­ture that will start to lay the foun­da­tion for the pipeline with ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence tech­nol­o­gy.

“We are at an in­flec­tion point for the treat­ment of ag­ing,” says Greg Bai­ley, who likes to high­light some of the new cel­lu­lar path­ways that are point­ing to new ther­a­pies that can counter the ef­fects of ag­ing.

“I think this is go­ing to be the biggest deal I’ve ever done,” Bai­ley tells me in a phone in­ter­view, as his plane was prepar­ing for a take­off.  “It will need repet­i­tive fi­nanc­ing.  Five to $600 mil­lion was raised for Medi­va­tion. As we hit in­flec­tion points, we will need to raise a dra­mat­ic amount of mon­ey.”

Gre­go­ry Bai­ley

Bai­ley, the CEO of Ju­ve­nes­cence, was one of the ear­ly back­ers of Medi­va­tion, where he was a board di­rec­tor for 7 years — be­fore Pfiz­er stepped in to buy the biotech for $14 bil­lion. More re­cent­ly, he helped po­si­tion Bio­haven for an IPO, as­sem­bling a pipeline that in­cludes a late-stage drug in-li­censed from Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb be­fore rais­ing $190 mil­lion a few months ago in their maid­en of­fer­ing. The chair­man at Bio­haven is his long­time col­league De­clan Doogan, a for­mer top Pfiz­er re­search ex­ec who is com­ing in as a prin­ci­pal to the new ven­ture along­side Mel­lon and Bai­ley.

The pri­ma­ry game plan at Ju­ve­nes­cence, ex­plains Bai­ley, is to come up with var­i­ous op­er­a­tions en­gaged in de­vel­op­ing new an­ti-ag­ing drugs. Ju­ve­nes­cence AI is a joint ven­ture they’ve just set up with Alex Zha­voronkov, who runs In­sil­i­co Med­i­cine, based in Bal­ti­more. Mel­lon met Zha­voronkov while he was re­search­ing his book, says Bai­ley, and be­lieves that the tech the sci­en­tist de­vel­oped can il­lu­mi­nate new pro­grams with a bet­ter chance of suc­cess.

“They are go­ing to take up to 5 mol­e­cules from us every year for de­vel­op­ment,” says Zha­voronkov, an en­thu­si­as­tic ad­vo­cate of AI in drug re­search who’s al­so been work­ing on some al­liances with Big Phar­ma play­ers. The group has in­vest­ed about $7 mil­lion in the tech­nol­o­gy so far, he says, get­ting the JV set up. More will fol­low.

Alex Zha­voronkov

“We can gen­er­ate mol­e­cules with spe­cif­ic mol­e­c­u­lar prop­er­ties,” adds Zha­voronkov, who al­so has a spe­cial fo­cus on an­ti-ag­ing re­search.

“The mas­sive lib­er­a­tion of new da­ta needs to trans­form in­to knowl­edge,” says Doogan. “AI is the buzz word; can we take in­cre­men­tal steps, in an it­er­a­tive learn­ing process, cap­ture all knowl­edge?”

Ju­ve­nes­cence Bio will be charged with build­ing the pipeline, says Bai­ley, in part with the mol­e­cules that will be iden­ti­fied through the AI ven­ture. And Doogan will play a lead role in or­ga­niz­ing the team now, much as he was cred­it­ed with at Bio­haven.

Aside from the cel­lu­lar path­ways that have at­tract­ed their at­ten­tion, the biotech will look to ef­fect change in the mi­to­chon­dria, the cell’s pow­er­house, as well as clean up senes­cent cells that ac­cu­mu­late as the body grows old­er. And Bai­ley ex­pects he’ll be work­ing some Bio­haven-like deals to de­vel­op an ad­vanced pipeline at a rapid pace.

The prin­ci­pals chipped in the seed mil­lions for the com­pa­ny and in­vest­ed in the JV with Zha­voronkov. Bai­ley says you can ex­pect to see $20 mil­lion to $50 mil­lion more from a friends-and-fam­i­ly raise be­fore the end of the year. And it’s ex­pect­ed to grow from there.

De­clan Doogan

Doogan plans to re­cruit var­i­ous team lead­ers, in­di­vid­u­als who will be in charge of spe­cif­ic projects with 10 or few­er peo­ple on the crew. Like any biotech, he notes, they plan to re­ly on a se­mi-vir­tu­al struc­ture, with a ma­jor amount of out­sourc­ing in place of staff.

The biotech won’t just be a biotech, says Doogan. It will cov­er “mul­ti­ple do­mains: di­ag­nos­tics, con­sumer, con­ven­tion­al drug de­vel­op­ment — broad ideas to en­gage the con­sumer.”

The key, he says, is fo­cus­ing on not just a longer life, but a bet­ter one.

“Not just longer, but bet­ter longer,” is the way Doogan puts it. “Healthy ag­ing is the ob­jec­tive here.”

That leaves a lot of room.

“There are 52 ways to drop blood pres­sure, but we’ve done noth­ing for os­teoarthri­tis,” says Doogan by way of ex­am­ple.

“We have to be re­al­ly clever,” says Bai­ley. Drugs like No­var­tis’ mTOR in­hibitor everolimus, which con­trols cell growth and pro­lif­er­a­tion, can be a mod­el. Os­teoarthri­tis, a dis­ease as­so­ci­at­ed with ag­ing, can be the kind of dis­ease fo­cus that can dri­ve ear­ly work.

It’s ear­ly days yet for an­ti-ag­ing drug re­search. A few stal­warts like Bob Nelsen at Arch have backed the first few star­tups in the field. But Mel­lon and his col­leagues say now’s the time.

The longevi­ty in­dus­try, Mel­lon said re­cent­ly, is des­tined to grow “in­to the world’s largest in­dus­try.”

And he wants in.

Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk gestures to the audience after being recognized by President Trump following the successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center. (via Getty Images)

Tes­la chief Elon Musk teams up with Covid-19 play­er Cure­Vac to build 'R­NA mi­cro­fac­to­ries'

Elon Musk has joined the global tech crusade now underway to revolutionize vaccine manufacturing — now aimed at delivering billions of doses of a new mRNA vaccine to fight Covid-19. And he’s cutting right to the front.

In a late-night tweet Wednesday, the Tesla chief announced:

Tesla, as a side project, is building RNA microfactories for CureVac & possibly others.

That’s not a lot to go on. But the tweet comes a year after Tesla’s German division in Grohmann and CureVac filed a patent on a “bioreactor for RNA in vitro transcription, a method for RNA in vitro transcription, a module for transcribing DNA into RNA and an automated apparatus for RNA manufacturing.” CureVac, in the meantime, has discussed a variety of plans to build microfactories that can speed up the whole process for a global supply chain.

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George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

UP­DAT­ED: Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

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Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

Elias Zer­houni dis­cuss­es ‘am­a­teur hour’ in DC, the de­struc­tion of in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D and how we need to prep for the next time

Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

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Sec­ond death trig­gers hold on Astel­las' $3B gene ther­a­py biotech's lead pro­gram, rais­ing fresh con­cerns about AAV

Seven months after Astellas shelled out $3 billion to acquire the gene therapy player Audentes, the biotech company’s lead program has been put on hold following the death of 2 patients taking a high dose of their treatment. And there was another serious adverse event recorded in the study as well, with a total of 3 “older” patients in the study affected.

The incidents are derailing plans to file for a near-term approval, which had been expected right about now.

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Douglas Love, Annexon CEO (Annexon)

IPO bound? A Bay Area biotech grabs a mega-round on the road to a piv­otal neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion pro­gram

South San Francisco-based Annexon has added $100 million to its cash reserves, along with a new roster of marquee investors backing their play on the classical complement pathway involved in neurodegeneration. And that may well fit the profile for an IPO — though right now everything seems to be working on that score.

Eighteen months after Bain and their syndicate partners put up $75 million to fuel clinical work, Annexon is back at the trough. And this time they’re adding Redmile Group for the lead role, with supporting investments from these new arrivals: BlackRock, Deerfield Management Company, Eventide Asset Management, Farallon Capital Management, Janus Henderson Investors and Logos Capital.

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Pfiz­er shares surge on pos­i­tive im­pact of their mR­NA Covid-19 vac­cine — part­nered with BioN­Tech — in an ear­ly-stage study

Pfizer and their partners at the mRNA specialist BioNTech have published the first glimpse of biomarker data from an early-stage study spotlighting the “robust immunogenicity” triggered by their Covid-19 vaccine, which is one of the leaders in the race to vanquish the global pandemic.

Researchers selected 45 healthy volunteers 18-55 years of age for the study. They were randomized to receive 2 doses, separated by 21 days, of 10 µg, 30 µg, or 100 µg of BNT162b1, “a lipid nanoparticle-formulated, nucleoside-modified, mRNA vaccine that encodes trimerized SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein RBD.” Their responses were compared against the effect of a natural, presumably protective defense offered by a regular infection.

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Randy Schatzman, Bolt CEO (Bolt Biotherapeutics)

Bolt Bio­ther­a­peu­tics nabs $93.5M to push Provenge in­ven­tor's new idea deep­er in the clin­ic

A cancer-fighting concept from the inventor of the first cancer vaccine is nearing prime time, and its biotech developer has received a significant new infusion of cash to get it there.

Bolt Biotherapeutics announced a $93.5 million Series C round led by Sofinnova Investments and joined by more than 9 others, including Pfizer Ventures and RA Capital Management. That money will go toward pushing the San Francisco biotech’s platform of innate immune-boosting warheads through its first trial on metastatic solid tumors and into several more.

Josh Cohen, Justin Klee

Armed with pos­i­tive ALS da­ta, Amy­lyx scores $30M in fresh fund­ing to com­plete Alzheimer's PhII

Four years after announcing themselves to the biotech world with a new idea for drugging neurodegeneration, backing by the late Henri Termeer and $5 million from Morningside Venture, the young entrepreneurs at Amylyx are back for round 2.

Morningside continued to lead the $30 million Series B, with participation from Termeer’s widow, Belinda, and other unnamed investors. Having celebrated a topline Phase II win for its lead program in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Amylyx expects the cash to fund talks with regulators as well as a separate trial for the same drug in Alzheimer’s — for which they had just finished enrolling.

An ex­pe­ri­enced biotech is stitched to­geth­er from transpa­cif­ic parts, with 265 staffers and a fo­cus on ‘new bi­ol­o­gy’

Over the past few years, different teams at a pair of US-based biotechs and in labs in Japan have labored to piece together a group of cancer drug programs, sharing a single corporate umbrella with research colleagues in Japan. But now their far-flung operations have been knit together into a single unit, creating a pipeline with 10 cancer drug development programs — going from early-stage right into Phase III — and a host of discovery projects managed by a collective staff of some 265 people.

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