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.

Late Fri­day ap­proval; Trio of biotechs wind down; Stem cell pi­o­neer finds new fron­tier; Biotech icon to re­tire; 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.

I hope your weekend is off to a nice start, wherever you are reading this email. As for me, I’m trying to catch the tail of the Lunar New Year festivities.

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Pfiz­er lays off em­ploy­ees at Cal­i­for­nia and Con­necti­cut sites

Pfizer has laid off employees at its La Jolla, CA, and Groton, CT sites, according to multiple LinkedIn posts from former employees.

The Big Pharma confirmed to Endpoints News it has let go of some employees, but a spokesperson declined to specify how many workers were impacted and the exact locations affected. Earlier this month, the drug developer had confirmed to Endpoints it was sharpening its focus and doing away with some early research on areas such as rare disease, oncology and gene therapies.

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Rodney Rietze, iVexSol CEO

Bris­tol My­ers, Charles Riv­er join Se­ries A fund­ing for iVex­Sol

Massachusetts-based iVexSol has secured funding to the tune of $23.8 million in its latest Series A round. The new investors include Bristol Myers Squibb, manufacturer Charles River Laboratories and Asahi Kasei Medical.

iVexSol is a manufacturer of lentiviral vectors (LVV), used in making gene therapies, and this latest round of fundraising brings its total Series A total over $39 million, which will be used to recruit more employees and bolster its technology.

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Jake Van Naarden, Loxo@Lilly CEO

Lil­ly en­ters ripe BTK field with quick FDA nod in man­tle cell lym­phoma

Eli Lilly has succeeded in its attempt to get the first non-covalent version of Bruton’s tyrosine kinase, or BTK, inhibitors to market, pushing it past rival Merck.

The FDA gave an accelerated nod to Lilly’s daily oral med, to be sold as Jaypirca, for patients with relapsed or refractory mantle cell lymphoma.

The agency’s green light, disclosed by the Indianapolis Big Pharma on Friday afternoon, catapults Lilly into a field dominated by covalent BTK inhibitors, which includes AbbVie and Johnson & Johnson’s Imbruvica, AstraZeneca’s Calquence and BeiGene’s Brukinsa.

Tony Johnson, Goldfinch Bio CEO (Goldfinch via YouTube)

Kid­ney dis­ease drug­mak­er Goldfinch Bio shuts down

Goldfinch Bio, attempting to make treatments for kidney diseases and diabetic nephropathy, is shutting down.

President and CEO Tony Johnson confirmed to Endpoints News Friday afternoon that the biotech shut down after “fundraising challenges in the current macro-environment.” Fierce Biotech first reported the news.

Johnson, who joined in 2017 after a stint as SVP of early clinical development at AstraZeneca, said in a text that the company “entered the ABC process recently,” referring to an assignment for the benefit of the creditors, which provides a different wind-down avenue than a bankruptcy.

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Filip Dubovsky, Novavax CMO

No­vavax gets ready to take an­oth­er shot at Covid vac­cine mar­ket with next sea­son plans

While mRNA took center stage at yesterday’s FDA vaccine advisory committee meeting, Novavax announced its plans to deliver an updated protein-based vaccine based on new guidance.

Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) members voted unanimously in favor of “harmonizing” Covid vaccine compositions, meaning all future vaccine recipients would receive a bivalent vaccine, regardless of whether they’ve gotten their primary series.

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Eliot Forster, F-star CEO (Rachel Kiki for Endpoints News)

F-star gets down to the wire with $161M sale to Chi­nese buy­er as na­tion­al se­cu­ri­ty con­cerns linger

With the clock ticking on F-star Therapeutics’ takeover by a Chinese buyer, the companies are still scrambling to remove a hold on the deal from the US government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

F-star and invoX Pharma said they are “actively negotiating” with CFIUS “about the terms of a mitigation agreement to address CFIUS’s concerns regarding potential national security risks posed by the transaction.”

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CBER Director Peter Marks (Susan Walsh/AP Images)

FDA ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee votes unan­i­mous­ly in fa­vor of bi­va­lent Covid shots re­plac­ing pri­ma­ry se­ries

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) voted unanimously in favor of “harmonizing” Covid vaccine compositions, meaning all current vaccine recipients would receive a bivalent vaccine, regardless of whether they’ve gotten their primary series.

The vote marks an effort to clear up confusion around varying formulations and dosing schedules for current primary series and booster vaccines, as well as “get closer to the strains that are circulating,” according to committee member Paul Offit, professor of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Elon Musk (GDA via AP Images)

Neu­ralink em­ploy­ees cite lay­offs at Elon Musk’s brain-com­put­er in­ter­face start­up

At least two Neuralink employees have posted to LinkedIn in recent days saying they’ve been laid off from Elon Musk’s brain-computer interface startup, which has received backlash for animal testing.

A former staffer working on preclinical study design and an ex-lab director working on assessing the safety of Neuralink’s implanted devices (prior to human testing) announced recently they’d been laid off, specifically using that terminology. Both had worked at the startup for at least two years.

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