Hal Barron, GSK R&D chief

Build­ing up its AI op­er­a­tions, GSK opens a $13M Lon­don hub with plans to woo tal­ent now trekking to Sil­i­con Val­ley

Con­tin­u­ing its ef­forts to ramp up glob­al AI op­er­a­tions, Glax­o­SmithK­line has opened a £10 mil­lion ($13 mil­lion-plus) re­search base in Kings Cross, Lon­don.

The AI hotspot is al­ready home to Google’s Deep­Mind, and the Fran­cis Crick and Alan Tur­ing re­search in­sti­tutes. GSK said it hopes to “tap in­to the huge Lon­don tech tal­ent pool” and at­tract can­di­dates who might oth­er­wise head to Sil­i­con Val­ley.

“It’s a vi­brant ecosys­tem that has every­thing from out­stand­ing med­i­cine as well as al­so be­ing a big tech cor­ri­dor. Deep­Mind is there. Google is there. It’s near the Crick In­sti­tute, and of course mod­ern com­put­ing was born, ba­si­cal­ly, with Alan Tur­ing and the Tur­ing In­sti­tute,” GSK R&D pres­i­dent Hal Bar­ron said at a Lon­don Tech Week fire­side chat. “So we are quite con­vinced that both the tal­ent and the ecosys­tem will en­able us to build a very vi­brant hub in Lon­don, get­ting the top tal­ent, the best thinkers and peo­ple to be able to in­ter­act with us in GSK to take tech­nol­o­gy and help us turn it in­to med­i­cines.”

The com­pa­ny be­lieves AI has the pow­er to vast­ly im­prove its drug dis­cov­ery process. It claims that ge­net­i­cal­ly val­i­dat­ed drugs are twice as like­ly to be suc­cess­ful. And GSK has lots of ge­net­ic da­ta to work with. The new work­space, lo­cat­ed in the Stan­ley Build­ing, has al­ready lured in 30 sci­en­tists, 10 of whom are in the com­pa­ny’s AI fel­low pro­gram.

In fact, many biotechs are now turn­ing to AI, which they be­lieve can speed up suc­cess­ful de­vel­op­ment by an­a­lyz­ing hun­dreds of genes at once or rapid­ly screen­ing bil­lions of mol­e­cules.

“GSK is fo­cused on find­ing bet­ter med­i­cines and vac­cines — not just bet­ter prod­ucts, but find­ing them in bet­ter ways, so we are us­ing func­tion­al ge­nomics, hu­man ge­net­ics and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and ma­chine learn­ing,” the com­pa­ny said in a state­ment.

Tony Wood

It al­so has AI re­searchers based in San Fran­cis­co and Boston, and aims to reach 100 AI-fo­cused em­ploy­ees by mid-2021. “Our goal is to have the best and bright­est peo­ple in the world to join us,” Bar­ron said.

“In AI, we are scour­ing the plan­et for the best peo­ple. These folks are very rare to find. Com­pe­ti­tion is high and there aren’t a large num­ber of them,” Tony Wood, GSK’s SVP of med­i­c­i­nal sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy, told The Guardian in De­cem­ber.

The new Lon­don hub has the ca­pac­i­ty for 60 to 80 staff mem­bers. Now all that’s left to do is fill it.

In­side Track: Be­hind the Scenes of a Ma­jor Biotech SPAC

Dr. David Hung and Michelle Doig are no strangers to the SPAC phenomenon. As Founder and CEO of Nuvation Bio, a biotech company tackling some of the greatest unmet needs in oncology, Dr. Hung recently took the company public in one of this year’s biggest SPAC related deals. And as Partner at Omega Funds, Doig not only led and syndicated Nuvation Bio’s Series A, but is now also President of the newly formed, Omega-sponsored, Omega Alpha SPAC (Nasdaq: OMEG; oversubscribed $138m IPO priced January 6, 2021).

Aduhelm OK 'bit­ter­sweet' for ALS ad­vo­cates; Con­trast­ing Covid-19 vac­cine read­outs; GSK joins TIG­IT bat­tle; 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.

With the busiest days of June now behind us, we’re starting to think seriously about the second half of the year. In August, we have scheduled a special report where Endpoints will compile a list of the 20 most influential R&D executives in biopharma. Know a luminary who should definitely be included? Nominate them now.

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Who are the lu­mi­nar­ies dri­ving the biggest ad­vances in bio­phar­ma R&D? End­points News is ask­ing for your nom­i­na­tions for a spe­cial re­port

In biopharma, driving a drug to market is the ultimate goal — but none of that happens without a strong research and development program. At the most successful companies, those R&D efforts are spearheaded by true innovators in the field who are always looking for that next novel mechanism of action or breakthrough safety profile.

Now, Endpoints News is asking you to tell us who those guiding lights are.

Leen Kawas, Athira CEO

Biotech founder placed on leave as $400M Alzheimer's start­up idea comes un­der scruti­ny

Athira Pharma, the Alzheimer’s biotech that emerged out of obscurity last year and raised nearly $400 million for a dark-horse approach to treating neurodegeneration, has found itself in sudden turmoil.

On Tuesday evening, the company released a terse statement announcing that CEO and founder Leen Kawas had been placed on administrative leave while an independent review board investigated “actions stemming” from her doctoral research at Washington State University. Mark Litton, who joined the company as COO two years ago, will take over day-to-day operations, they said.

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Bris­tol My­ers breaks the bank on Ei­sai's fo­late re­cep­tor ADC drug, lay­ing out more than $3B+ for rights

For years, innovation in oncology has been a crapshoot with Big Pharma — the whales at the table — dropping the big bucks for the key to the next generation of tumor fighters. Bristol Myers Squibb hasn’t exactly made a name for being an innovator in the space, but that doesn’t mean it won’t splash in when it sees a potential winner.

Now, with a massive check in hand, the drugmaker is willing to put its intuition to the test.

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Michael Chambers (L) and John Ballantyne

Dana­her strikes deal to buy boom­ing next-gen man­u­fac­tur­er Alde­vron for $9.6B

Life sciences conglomerate Danaher Corp. $DHR has struck a deal to buy the fast-growing Aldevron, one of the world’s top manufacturers of hotly sought-after plasmid DNA, mRNA and recombinant proteins for the burgeoning world of vaccine and drugmakers pushing some game-changing technologies.

Buyout talks set the stage for Danaher to settle on a $9.6 billion cash pact to acquire the private Fargo, ND-based company — a key supplier for a disruptive new Covid vaccine as well as a host of gene and cell therapy and CRISPR gene editing players — founded by Michael Chambers and CSO John Ballantyne as a crew of 2 back in 1998.

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FDA's con­tro­ver­sial Aduhelm de­ci­sion leaves ALS pa­tients feel­ing spurned

The FDA’s controversial approval of Biogen’s Aduhelm drug for Alzheimer’s disease has been met with fierce resistance from all corners of the biopharma industry, but few seem to be as upset with the decision as ALS patients and advocacy groups.

For all that’s already been written and discussed about the agency’s announcement, from the drug’s exorbitantly high price of $56,000 per year to criticism over lowered standards, ALS patients see something more. ALS patients and associations say they largely regarded Aduhelm’s approval as a bittersweet double standard: happy that those with Alzheimer’s have a new drug available, but questioning how the FDA evaluated Biogen’s drug compared to the experimental programs being studied for their own disease.

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Spring reg­u­la­to­ry agen­da: What’s com­ing soon-ish from the FDA

The FDA’s lack of a permanent commissioner does not seem to be halting its progress to propose and finalize dozens of new regulations, with the latest batch covering everything from adverse event reporting to supplemental application submissions to annual reports for INDs.

Overall, FDA expects to release more than 40 new proposed regulations and finalize another 24 in the coming months and years.

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Christian Hogg, Hutchmed CEO

Hutchmed files for $600M+ IPO in Hong Kong as lead on­col­o­gy drug su­r­u­fa­tinib awaits FDA's good graces

In oncology, a flush of Chinese-developed drugs has the biopharma industry rethinking the poles of power in R&D as the blossoming nation continues to make a name for itself and pick up bundles of cash in the process. Now, as its lead drug faces a pivotal FDA review, the company formerly known as Chi-Med is planting its flag on home soil with a massive public offering.

Hutchmed — recently renamed from Chi-Med, or Hutchison China MediTech — will look to raise $603 million as part of a Hong Kong IPO that serves as a homecoming of sorts for the Chinese-based oncology player, which has listed on Nasdaq since 2016.