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Brendan Frey. Deep Genomics

Cana­di­an star re­searcher Bren­dan Frey bran­dish­es Deep Ge­nomic­s' first AI-dis­cov­ered drug

A startup harnessing AI in drug discovery has put forward its first therapeutic candidate — and it may not be who you’re thinking.

To be sure, Deep Genomics still has a ways to go in preliminary animal work to ensure safety and non-human primate as well as biodistribution before they can move into clinical testing. But the fact that its AI system was able to go from target identification to declaring a winner in 18 months, said CEO Brendan Frey, is a game-changer.

Frey founded Deep Genomics in Toronto in 2014, a couple years after more well-known players such as Atomwise, BenevolentAI and Recursion popped up, based on a decade of research on how AI can help scientists understand genetic diseases. While other platforms have tended to zero in on one part of the puzzle — Atomwise is focused on accelerating small molecule screening, Recursion relies on cell imaging, and insilico uses AI to modify existing drugs — its tech “does the whole thing.”

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Biotechnopark in Koltsovo, Novosibirsk Oblast. Shutterstock

Ex­plo­sion, fire rip Russ­ian re­search fa­cil­i­ty hous­ing small­pox, Ebo­la

An explosion started a fire at a Russian research center that houses smallpox and Ebola, blowing out glass windows and inflicting third-degree burns on one worker, although state-run media said that there is no danger to the general population.

The State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology, also known as the Vector Institute, is one of only two places in the world that still houses the smallpox virus, after the WHO declared the disease eradicated in 1980. The other is — somewhat controversially — the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta.

Ver­sant-backed Chi­nook gets a $65M launch round for its dis­cov­ery quest in a resur­gent kid­ney field

Versant is once again stepping off the beaten track in biotech to see if they can blaze a trail of their own in a field that has looked too thorny to many investors for years.

The venture group and their partners at Apple Tree are bringing their latest creation out of stealth mode today. Born in Versant’s Inception Sciences’ Chinook Therapeutics is betting that its preclinical take on kidney disease can get an early lead among the companies starting up in the field.

How does TDP-43 bog up the brains of ALS, FTLD pa­tients? AC Im­mune en­lists Penn sci­en­tists to find out

AC Immune, the Swiss biotech known for its tau approach to Alzheimer’s, is shining light on another misfolding protein believed to be responsible for other neurodegenerative diseases in a new research pact with the University of Pennsylvania.

The transactive response (TAR) DNA binding protein, or TDP-43 in short, is found in most human tissues but its misfolded form was identified in 2006 as a common pathologic substance linking frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Researchers have since suggested that when in the wrong shape, the protein activates the “cell autophagy gene” ATG7, which prompts neurons to decompose.

Bay­er’s $240M up­front for Blue­Rock ac­qui­si­tion puts them in the high rollers club for pre­clin­i­cal biotech buy­outs

Bayer’s deal today marks a major, top-10 acquisition for a preclinical biotech, but it’s also significantly different than the average big-buck pacts in the field, which typically revolve around a single drug or target. Bayer wants to build a whole new pipeline covering a variety of disease fields.

The pharma giant’s $600 million gamble — $240 million in cash upfront with $360 million for development goals — ranks as the 6th largest money-down deal on the top 20 list of preclinical M&A deals, as gathered by DealForma’s Chris Dokomajilar.

The list is topped by Bristol-Myers Squibb’s misguided $800 million upfront for Flexus’ IDO program — later scrapped. Tekmira — now Arbutus — followed with a motherlode of dollars for OnCore’s hep B effort. That stands out as an unusual play for a biotech. The top 15 players dominate the preclinical M&A game when it comes to large upfronts.

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Adrian Hayday. Crick

Adri­an Hay­day re­futes chal­lenge on in­flu­en­tial au­toan­ti­body pa­per by Karolin­s­ka sci­en­tists

Back in 2016, Adrian Hayday and his colleagues at King’s College London — together with some collaborators in Germany and Estonia — made a splash in the immunology world with a paper, published in Cell, suggesting that patients with a particular genetic defect produce more autoantibodies than previously known. These self-generated antibodies, they proposed, offered therapeutic potential for autoimmune diseases, most prominently Type 1 diabetes.

Irv Weissman, Stanford

PD-L1, CD47 and now CD24? Star Stan­ford I/O sci­en­tist Irv Weiss­man points to a ‘ma­jor’ new can­cer tar­get

Famed Stanford drug researcher Irv Weissman, who helped set off a scramble to develop new drugs that can silence the “don’t eat me” signal sent by CD47, says he and a team of investigators in his lab have found a complementary target on the menu that promises to work where the pioneering drugs fall far short of the mark.

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Lady Eliza Manningham-Buller. Imperial College London

Well­come Trust joins warn­ing for no-deal Brex­it, calls on Boris John­son to cast R&D vi­sion

Boris Johnson may have pledged to continue building on Britain’s “enormous strengths” in life science as he blazes a path toward Brexit, but one of the country’s top funders of biomedical research is demanding more.

In a letter to the UK’s new Prime Minister, Wellcome Trust warned that “the final months of 2019 could be a tipping point for UK science” and leaving the EU without a deal is a threat to the thriving sector. Lady Eliza Manningham-Buller, who chairs the charity, urged Johnson to make a significant statement on science to lay out his vision in the face of global health emergencies and the looming loss of access to collaboration with European peers.

PACT Phar­ma says it's per­fect­ed the tech to se­lect neoanti­gens for per­son­al­ized ther­a­py — now on­to the clin­ic

At PACT Pharma, the lofty goal to unleash a “tsunami” of T cells personalized for each patient has hinged on the ability to correctly identify the neoantigens that form something of a fingerprint for each tumor, and extract the small group of T cells primed to attack the cancer. It still has a long way to go testing a treatment in humans, but the biotech says it has nailed that highly technical piece of the process.

Bill Haney, Skyhawk

Genen­tech inks its lat­est dis­cov­ery deal — this time turn­ing to RNA up­start Sky­hawk

Roche’s Genentech has just completed the latest in a string of discovery deals with a lineup of much, much smaller companies looking to do new things in drug development.

Right on the heels of the news of Sosei’s coup bringing Genentech on board as a partner for its GPCR platform, the prolific dealmakers at Skyhawk — run by Bill Haney — have just added the storied biotech subsidiary as its latest partner in the world of drugging RNA.