Deep tech, round 2: DCVC Bio bags $350M fund to chase the tip of the life sci­ence spear

It took one trip from San Fran­cis­co to Van­cou­ver for Kier­sten Stead and her DCVC Bio crew to feel con­fi­dent about throw­ing their weight — and cash — be­hind Ab­Cellera.

Kier­sten Stead

CEO Carl Hansen’s aca­d­e­m­ic back­ground and the po­ten­tial of the plat­form, which com­bined ma­chine vi­sion and ro­bot­ics with mi­croflu­idics, were promis­ing. But the site vis­it sealed the Se­ries A deal, where DCVC was the lead and on­ly in­vestor.

“We saw a com­pa­ny that had a high­ly ad­van­taged method for ba­si­cal­ly turn­ing an­ti­body de­vel­op­ment in­to a deep search mech­a­nism, sim­i­lar to what Google might do,” she said.

As Ab­Cellera bur­nish­es its pro­file through an Eli Lil­ly-part­nered an­ti­body de­signed to help end the pan­dem­ic, Stead and John Hamer, the oth­er man­ag­ing part­ner of DCVC Bio, have closed $350 mil­lion to bet on com­pa­nies that sim­i­lar­ly sit at the in­ter­sec­tion of “deep tech” and life sci­ences.

DCVC Bio II, just like its pre­de­ces­sor, will look for ear­ly-stage com­pa­nies. Se­ries A, seed rounds should com­prise the ma­jor­i­ty of the port­fo­lio, but they al­so don’t mind rolling up their sleeves to help spin out a start­up if the op­por­tu­ni­ty aris­es.

John Hamer

The way Stead de­scribes it, these are places where com­pu­ta­tion is an “ab­solute core com­pe­ten­cy” rather than an af­ter­thought or sim­ply a sup­port­ing func­tion.

“Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, our com­pa­nies gen­er­ate their own da­ta, they have their own de­vel­op­ers and they’re build­ing nov­el AI, nov­el al­go­rithms on their pro­pri­etary da­ta to ad­dress re­cal­ci­trant prob­lems across the life sci­ences,” she said.

The team — most of whom worked to­geth­er at Mon­san­to Growth Ven­tures be­fore mov­ing un­der DCVC — is think­ing big. Cit­ing “the triple threat of cli­mate change, an in­creas­ing glob­al pop­u­la­tion and frag­ile glob­al sup­ply chains,” they al­so want to tap in­to agri­cul­ture and in­dus­tri­al biotech­nol­o­gy.

When it comes to ther­a­peu­tics, Stead is be­gin­ning to see the con­flu­ence of dif­fer­ent modal­i­ties from pro­tein degra­da­tion to cell ther­a­pies and gene edit­ing.

Chas­ing those emerg­ing arcs of com­pu­ta­tion and bi­ol­o­gy has brought DCVC Bio to new in­ven­tions in ro­bot­ics and au­toma­tion — think Or­ca Bio’s au­to­mat­ed sys­tem for man­u­fac­tur­ing cell grafts — as well as liv­ing med­i­cines, such as the ge­net­i­cal­ly en­gi­neered mi­crobes at Novome. Phys­i­cal in­tel­li­gent sys­tems will loom large to com­ple­ment soft­ware break­throughs, she pre­dict­ed, while things like re­in­force­ment learn­ing (al­go­rithms that can gen­er­ate their own da­ta) could work around some of the cur­rent con­straints in bi­o­log­i­cal re­search.

Even though phar­ma these days is clear­ly cog­nizant of the need to in­te­grate new com­pu­ta­tion­al tech­nolo­gies, Stead said they face the re­al chal­lenge of re­cruit­ing peo­ple who have ex­pe­ri­ence set­ting up com­mer­cial AI. That’s not to say they don’t play a key role in bring­ing the com­pounds gen­er­at­ed on new plat­forms to­ward the mar­ket; they may just come in lat­er in the process.

“A com­mon thread of en­tre­pre­neurs that we in­vest in and build com­pa­nies with is that they ran X com­pu­ta­tion­al group at X phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­ny but re­al­ized that they couldn’t start from scratch and build it from the ground up,” she said, “and and they were re­al­ly pro­found­ly lim­it­ed by that, and want­ed to start a start­up so that they could do X right, what­ev­er their par­tic­u­lar area of in­ter­est is.”

DCVC man­ag­ing part­ners Matt Ocko and Zachary Bogue said on their blog re­cent­ly the fact that the new fund was raised en­tire­ly dur­ing the pan­dem­ic high­lights the ap­petite for even more. Their first fund has backed some ef­forts to ad­dress the cur­rent health­care cri­sis; it’s time to find “the next set of so­lu­tions to the next set of prob­lems.”

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

Covid-19 vac­cine boost­ers earn big thumbs up, but Mod­er­na draws ire over world sup­ply; What's next for Mer­ck’s Covid pill?; The C-suite view on biotech; and more

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No­var­tis de­vel­op­ment chief John Tsai: 'We go deep in the new plat­form­s'

During our recent European Biopharma Summit, I talked with Novartis development chief John Tsai about his experiences over the 3-plus years he’s been at the pharma giant. You can read the transcript below or listen to the exchange in the link above.

John Carroll: I followed your career for quite some time. You’ve had more than 20 years in big pharma R&D and you’ve obviously seen quite a lot. I really was curious about what it was like for you three and a half years ago when you took over as R&D chief at Novartis. Obviously a big move, a lot of changes. You went to work for the former R&D chief of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan, who had his own track record there. So what was the biggest adjustment when you went into this position?

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Roche's Tecen­triq cross­es the fin­ish line first in ad­ju­vant lung can­cer, po­ten­tial­ly kick­ing off gold rush

While falling behind the biggest PD-(L)1 drugs in terms of sales, Roche has looked to carve out a space for its Tecentriq with a growing expertise in lung cancer. The drug will now take an early lead in the sought-after adjuvant setting — but competitors are on the way.

The FDA on Friday approved Tecentriq as an adjuvant therapy for patients with Stage II-IIIA non small cell lung cancer with PD-(L)1 scores greater than or equal to 1, making it the first drug of its kind approved in an early setting that covers around 40% of all NSCLC patients.

Amit Etkin, Alto Neuroscience CEO (Alto via Vimeo)

A star Stan­ford pro­fes­sor leaves his lab for a start­up out to re­make psy­chi­a­try

About five years ago, Amit Etkin had a breakthrough.

The Stanford neurologist, a soft-spoken demi-prodigy who became a professor while still a resident, had been obsessed for a decade with how to better define psychiatric disorders. Drugs for depression or bipolar disorder didn’t work for many patients with the conditions, and he suspected the reason was how traditional diagnoses didn’t actually get at the heart of what was going on in a patient’s brain.

Susan Galbraith, Executive VP, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

As­traZeneca on­col­o­gy R&D chief Su­san Gal­braith: 'Y­ou're go­ing to need or­thog­o­nal com­bi­na­tion­s'

 

Earlier in the week we broadcast our 4th annual European Biopharma Summit with a great lineup of top execs. One of the one-on-one conversations I set up was with Susan Galbraith, the oncology research chief at AstraZeneca. In a wide-ranging discussion, Galbraith reviewed the cancer drug pipeline and key trends influencing development work at the pharma giant. You can watch the video, above, or stick with the script below. — JC

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Yao-Chang Xu, Abbisko Therapeutics founder and CEO

Qim­ing-backed Ab­bisko makes $200M+ Hong Kong de­but, as a SPAC and Agenus spin­out al­so price on Nas­daq

Three new entities priced their public debuts late Thursday and early Friday, including a SPAC, a traditional Nasdaq IPO and a Chinese biotech joining the Hong Kong Index.

Shanghai-based Abbisko Therapeutics raised the most money of the triumvirate, garnering $226 million in its Hong Kong debut and pricing at HK$12.46, or roughly $1.60 in US dollars. The blank check company followed up with a $150 million raise, while MiNK Therapeutics priced on Nasdaq at $12 per share and a $40 million raise.

Paul Grayson, Tentarix CEO (Versant)

Phar­ma vet­er­ans re­group with $50M and a plan to dis­cov­er new mul­ti-specifics

While a horde of drugmakers develops bispecific antibodies to more directly target tumor cells — there were about 100 programs in or nearing clinical trials back in May — a new company is emerging to go one step further.

On Thursday, Tentarix Biotherapeutics unveiled a $50 million Series A round to support its next-gen multi-specifics platform. While the field has largely focused on bispecifics, which engage two targets, Tentarix believes its multifunctional programs have the potential to be even more specific, since more conditions must be met for potent activity to occur.

Tillman Gerngross, Adagio CEO

Q&A: Till­man Gern­gross ex­plains why his Covid mAb will have an edge over an al­ready crowd­ed field

If anyone knows about monoclonal antibodies, it’s serial entrepreneur, Adimab CEO, and Dartmouth professor of bioengineering Tillman Gerngross.

Even the name of Gerngross’ new antibody startup Adagio Therapeutics is meant to reflect his vision behind the development of his Covid-19 mAb: slowly, he said, explaining that “everyone else, whether it’s Regeneron, Lilly, or AstraZeneca, Vir, they all valued speed over everything.”

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