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Jorge Conde (Andreessen Horowitz via YouTube)

Q&A with Jorge Conde as An­dreessen Horowitz launch­es $750M bio fund III

When the tech VCs at Andreessen Horowitz entered biotech 4.5 years ago with the $200 million bio fund I, the idea was simple and hubristic: “We’re not going to do biotech,” Vijay Pande said at the time, keeping a16z’s longtime stance. Instead, “the bio fund is really about funding software companies in the bio space.”

In the near-half decade since, they haven’t softened their rhetoric. Pande and general partner Jorge Conde’s frequent blog posts often have the tone of”Burning Man” technofuturists. Talking of a “foundational shift in biology,” “bio-revolution,” and “the meaning of life,” and dropping koans like “what is medicine?” has turned them into the well-financed New Age mystics of an AI-driven and bioengineered future.

Julie Yoo

Today, Andreessen Horowitz is launching bio fund III and putting $750 million behind it – more than funds I and II combined. They’ve added new partners, as they did before fund I and II, picking up technologist and entrepreneur Julie Yoo and Vineeta Agarwala, a GV and Broad Institute alumn. It’ll take much of the same tack as the earlier funds, investing early and occasionally up to Series B, and pouring funds not only into therapeutics, but also diagnostics, synthetic biology and startups bringing biological advances into other sectors, such as agriculture.

But Conde tells Endpoints News that the group has learned a thing or two since fund I. Pande had talked about extending Moore’s law to biology through “digital therapeutics” but they were wrong. It wasn’t just about software and artificial intelligence. It was about the long list of ways how biology was done, how drugs were discovered and how the whole healthcare system functions. It was biotechs that worked both with machine learning and wet labs, and founders conversant in both.

Vineeta Agarwala

Since then, they’ve invested in companies like Insitro that integrate AI as a core but not sole part of a drug development chain and Asimov, which is trying to use AI and other tech systems to design a genome from scratch. They even invested in EQRx, Alexander Borisey’s startup trying to use me-too drugs to change pricing.

In October, Conde, Pande and Yoo published their most soaring blog post yet: “Biology is Eating the World: A Manifesto.” They wrote: “We are at the beginning of a new era, where biology has shifted from an empirical science to an engineering discipline.”

Before the fund’s launch, though, Conde told Endpoints we’re “at the end of the beginning” for that era.

He talked about what they’ve learned since bio I, where biology and biotech is headed and how we’ll know when the convergence between engineering and biology he’s been prophesizing has arrived.

You called this the “end of the beginning” for a new era. What does that mean?

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BenchSci founders, clockwise from top left: Liran Belenzon, Elvis Wianda, David Chen and Tom Leung

F-Prime backs a niche AI soft­ware start­up hunt­ing lofty goals in $22M Se­ries B

For many of the AI companies sprouting on the biopharma field, validation — often meaning confirmation of whether the targets and drugs they identified or generated would actually work — won’t come in years, if at all. But for BenchSci, the drug hunting field is their home turf.

To be sure, the Toronto-based startup is doing something very different from the rest of the pack. Rather than staking claims about the results of drug discovery, it’s out to change the process by hunkering down on a specific problem: helping scientists select the right reagents to conduct their preclinical experiments.

Striv­ing for high­er res imag­ing of cells, Har­vard team de­buts start­up with back­ing from ARCH, North­pond

As scientists race to find new ways to look into what’s going on inside cells, ARCH Venture Partners and Northpond Ventures are injecting $14 million into a Harvard team promising to visualize activity on a “subcellular level” — down to every RNA.

Xiaowei Zhuang and David Walt are two of the prominent scientists behind Vizgen. Zhuang, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and Harvard professor, was the inventor of another popular super-resolution microscopy method while David Walt was a scientific founder of the sequencing giant Illumina.

Ted Tisch, Janice Chen, Lucas Harrington, Trevor Martin and Peter Nell. (Mammoth)

Doud­na-found­ed CRISPR up­start bags $45M for new Cas re­search, ex­tends its reach in­to ther­a­peu­tics

The South San Francisco-based CRISPR upstart that set out to develop diagnostics under co-founder Jennifer Doudna’s guidance is back with $45 million in funding — and new ambitions in therapeutics.

Mammoth Biosciences is also putting its tech to the test amid heightened vigilance surrounding the novel coronavirus emerging out of Wuhan, China. The goal is to prototype a rapid molecular test that can be used at point of care.

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Samantha Truex (file photo)

Bruce Booth and Saman­tha Truex's lat­est ven­ture aims just above Hu­mi­ra

In 2000, about a year after the first trial data on Humira came out, a Japanese team identified a new gene that appeared to prevent GI cancer in mice: gasdermin, they called it, after the particular proteins it expressed.

Over the next decade-and-a-half, researchers found five more genes in the same family – often identified as gasdermin A, B, C, D, E and F – and yet their purpose baffled scientists. Mutations in appeared to make mice bald (alopecia), but deleting it had no effect. Mutations in F and A were linked to deafness. Mutant E caused human cells to self-destruct.

“The exact biological function of these proteins remained unknown for more than 15 years,” three of the field’s top researchers wrote in a  Nature review in November.

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Mer­ck KGaA spin­out gets first fund­ing to bring dual-act­ing can­cer mol­e­cules in­to the clin­ic

Two and a half years after launch, Merck KGaA spinout iOnctura is getting its first major round of funding.

The oncology startup raised €15 million ($16.6 million) to put its lead drug into the clinic and get its second drug past IND-enabling tests. INKEF Capital and VI Partners co-led the round and were joined by the biotech’s longtime backer M Ventures, an arm of Merck KGaA, and Schroder Adveq.

Brex­it fears, Wood­ford woes over­shad­owed UK biotech and cut 2019 fi­nanc­ing by al­most half

The venture tide might have subsided, the IPO window may be closing and certain listed biotechs may be having a tough time amid Neil Woodford’s well-publicized demised, but there’s still plenty to celebrate in the UK BioIndustry Association’s eyes.

Overall investment in UK biotech last year fell from the record-breaking £2.2 billion levels of 2018 to £1.3 billion — including £679 million in venture capital, a meager £64 million in IPOs plus £596 million when you add up all public financings, according to a new report from the BIA.

Eric Halioua (PDC*line Pharma via Andrew Lloyd & Associates)

French-Bel­gian biotech banks €20M to break ground in blood-splat­tered field of ther­a­peu­tic can­cer vac­cines

About a decade ago, the ill-fated therapeutic cancer vaccine — Provenge — was approved, eventually bankrupting its developer Dendreon. Since then, a number of drugmakers have seen similar efforts splutter and fizzle, although the emergence of immunotherapies — checkpoint inhibitors and CAR-T drugs — offered a glimmer of hope in resuscitating the field. Banking on that promise is PDC*line Pharma, which secured a €20 million injection on Wednesday.

Boehringer, No­vo-backed Ger­man biotech banks €11M in liv­er re­gen­er­a­tion push

When the Greek god of forethought, Prometheus, ran into conflict with the king of gods, the mighty Zeus — his punishment was peculiar. Chained to a rock in the Caucasus mountains, Prometheus’ liver was offered to an eagle. Every day the bird would eat part of the organ, and every night it would regenerate — making his sentence eternal. This myth has enthralled artists and scientists — and within medicine, it is seen symbolically representative of the regenerative capacity of the liver.

Fra­zier clos­es 12th fund in 30 years, with $617M to bet on cell/gene ther­a­py, Big Phar­ma spin­offs and more

The team at Frazier Healthcare did a number of deals that exemplified its wide-ranging strategy in 2019: Tachi Yamada worked with gene therapy pioneer Jim Wilson to launch Passage Bio; Mike Gallatin sold Mavupharma and its STING-targeted small molecule to AbbVie; and Bhaskar Chaudhuri flipped Arcutis to an IPO just months after introducing it to the world via a crossover round close to $100 million. They’re now kicking off 2020 with a new, bigger fund that will give them firepower to do more.