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Alex Zha­voronkov fol­lows land­mark AI pa­per with $37M round for In­sil­i­co fea­tur­ing top-notch Chi­na VCs

Nisa Leung

Days after Alex Zhavoronkov’s team demonstrated just how their generative machine learning model could be used to discover new compounds, Chinese investors are once again congregating at Insilico’s corner to offer a fresh round of cash to move that work forward.

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Alex Zhavoronkov, Insilico

AI study led by In­sil­i­co's Alex Zha­voronkov bol­sters case for faster, cheap­er drug dis­cov­ery

Drug development is an arduous and expensive business. The promise of artificial intelligence is that machines can wean manufacturers away from the breadth of resources it takes to discover a potentially potent compound, and leverage the medical conditions it could be used to treat. Alex Zhavoronkov, whose Hong Kong-based AI-shop Insilico Medicine has entrenched itself in the tentacles of biopharma R&D, now has some data to bolster the fervor and investment that AI has drummed up.

[Video] Putting the AI in R&D — with Badhri Srini­vasan, Tony Wood, Rosana Kapeller, Hugo Ceule­mans, Saurabh Sa­ha and Shoibal Dat­ta

During BIO this year, I had a chance to moderate a panel among some of the top tech experts in biopharma on their real-world use of artificial intelligence in R&D. There’s been a lot said about the potential of AI, but I wanted to explore more about what some of the larger players are actually doing with this technology today, and how they see it advancing in the future. It was a fascinating exchange, which you can see here. The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity. — John Carroll

Glax­o­SmithK­line re­cruits a new coach and top play­er for their AI/ML team out of Genen­tech and MIT

GSK R&D chief Hal Barron is aiming high for the pharma giant’s crew for artificial intelligence and machine learning. I learned this week that GSK poached their new chief of the AI/ML group from Genentech, tapping that talent-rich tech zone in South San Francisco which Barron — long based in the Bay Area — always intended to recruit from. 

Genentech, with its storied past and high-profile presence in the drug development field, is also where Barron made his mark. And recruiting Kim Branson — who was head of AI, early clinical development at Genentech — adds to his list of local recruits, which includes Kevin Sin, now running BD for GSK out of the Bay Area.

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Neil Thompson. Healx

As­tex vet Neil Thomp­son looks to build dis­cov­ery from scratch at rare dis­ease AI up­start out of Cam­bridge, UK

As a co-inventor of sildenafil — a pill originally designed to treat coronary hypertension — David Brown knows how big of an impact drug hunters can make when they take a therapy being used to treat one disease and direct it to another. After 40 years in the industry, repurposing is at the center of his latest rare disease venture at Healx.

And now, stepping the gas pedal on new discovery projects, Brown has recruited Neil Thompson as the Cambridge, UK-based startup’s new CSO.

Evotec CEO Werner Lanthaler, File Photo

Ox­ford, Evotec ramp up LAB10x with AI ex­perts at Sen­syne — fo­cused on biotech spin­outs

Oxford is allying itself with Evotec and artificial intelligence outfit Sensyne Health to ramp up some new biotech spinouts while looking to “accelerate data-driven drug discovery and development.”

The big idea here is that Oxford scientists — some of the best drug hunters in the world — can utilize Sensyne’s AI platform for their work, relying on the chemists and hands-on developers at Evotec to push ahead to a critical proof of concept moment. And they’ll do it through a project leader called LAB10x, which gets £5 million over the next three years to fund the work.

Let's talk AI: Top R&D ex­ecs tack­le where we are and where we're head­ed with this cru­cial new tech­nol­o­gy

As a biotech exec with a background in computational chemistry, Rosana Kapeller has been watching the hubbub over artificial intelligence and machine learning in biopharma play out with a considerable degree of skepticism.

“People talk about ML and AI without knowing what they are talking about,” the outspoken Nimbus alum told me earlier in the week. And there are some big pitfalls the uninitiated are likely to drop into without warning if they follow the crowd into AI without thinking things through first. 

As AI per­me­ates clin­i­cal an­a­lyt­ics, Per­cep­tive Ad­vi­sors bets $40M in­to a sto­ried play­er in the field

When it comes to using artificial intelligence to speed up drug discovery and development, the former may be grabbing the most attention with the crop of AI upstarts vowing to find better candidates faster and cheaper, but the possibility of accelerating existing clinical programs is equally enticing — if less visible — to the biopharma industry.

That’s at least part of the rationale behind Perceptive Advisors’ $40 million infusion into Saama, a software company selling a clinical data analytics platform powered by AI.

Faster, cheap­er, bet­ter? Post-buy­out deal Cel­gene jumps in­to AI al­liance with a $25 mil­lion bet on speed­ing dis­cov­ery work

Celgene clearly isn’t waiting in limbo to see when, or if, the big Bristol-Myers Squibb deal will go through. It’s still executing deals, and the R&D side of the business has just enlisted one of the more prominent AI players to go to work on a trio of new drug projects in oncology and immunology. They’re paying $25 million up front to get the tech party started.

Celgene, a top 15 R&D group worldwide by research budget, tied up with Exscientia in Oxford, UK for the work. We aren’t getting any specifics about the targets, but the company is exploring AI to see how it lives up to the emerging field’s big boast: That they can deliver new drugs for human testing faster and more accurately than the standard industry approach the big players have been using. In Celgene’s case, that would commonly mean going out and doing a discovery deal with a biotech, but the majors also have their own in-house operations.

Agenus touts blockchain tech to roll out new ‘dig­i­tal se­cu­ri­ty’ for its PD-1, but will it work?

Beset with setbacks, a once cash-poor Agenus had something to cheer late last year when behemoth Gilead signed on as a partner on up to five of its immuno-oncology programs. On Tuesday, the biotech offered investors an intriguing proposal: fund the development of a single drug, while preserving shareholder equity.

In perhaps the first instance of a biopharma company conducting such a ‘digital security’ offering, Agenus said it was launching a token  designed to enable qualified investors to directly invest in a single biotech product – in this case, the tokens issued will represent a portion of potential future US sales of AGEN2034, Agenus’ late-stage anti-PD-1 antibody.