David Roblin (Relation)

Ex­clu­sive: Pfiz­er vet grabs $25M seed round to 'in­te­grate' ma­chine learn­ing, ge­nomics tech in drug R&D

Hav­ing been in­volved in a num­ber of at­tri­tion task force ef­forts dur­ing his tenure as Eu­ro­pean R&D chief at Pfiz­er, David Rob­lin tells me there’s a quote that res­onates with him, ut­tered 20 years ago by South African bi­ol­o­gist Syd­ney Bren­ner when he ac­cept­ed a No­bel Prize.

“We are drown­ing in a sea of da­ta but thirsty for knowl­edge,” is how Rob­lin re­mem­bers it.

But the way those da­ta have been used to date — by drug dis­cov­ery sci­en­tists try­ing to val­i­date their ideas — hasn’t re­al­ly im­proved the rate at which pre­clin­i­cal com­pounds be­come mar­ket­ed drugs, he reck­ons. The po­ten­tial he sees for ma­chine learn­ing and new tech­nolo­gies like sin­gle-cell tran­scrip­tomics to change that is the rea­son why, af­ter eight years as chief of sci­en­tif­ic trans­la­tion at Lon­don’s Fran­cis Crick In­sti­tute, he’s mov­ing down the road to Re­la­tion Ther­a­peu­tics, which has just closed a $25 mil­lion seed round.

“We’re not go­ing to sit here and tell you that ma­chine learn­ing is the sin­gle an­swer and every­thing will be de­signed in the ma­chine and that ma­chine will send a file to the FDA,” he said. “The key ques­tion for a com­pa­ny like ours is, where do you best de­ploy ma­chine learn­ing that af­fords max­i­mum im­pact? Where do you use tran­scrip­tomics? And where do you see the link­age?”

Rob­lin, the CEO, is joined in the C-suite by Lind­say Ed­wards, CTO and pres­i­dent of plat­form. The for­mer head of AI for res­pi­ra­to­ry and im­munol­o­gy at As­traZeneca, Ed­wards al­so led one of GSK’s first da­ta sci­ence groups be­fore that.

Com­ing out of stealth at a time the idea of de­ploy­ing AI/ML in drug R&D has al­ready gone through a cou­ple cy­cles of hype and bust, Re­la­tion’s ap­proach will be ground­ed in ac­tive learn­ing, where ma­chine learn­ing sys­tems will go through the da­ta gen­er­at­ed in its wet and in sil­i­co labs, and then tell the sci­en­tists what new ex­per­i­ments to run for it to come up with new in­sight.

Specif­i­cal­ly, Ed­wards not­ed, the com­pa­ny will be us­ing a frame­work called ac­tive-graph ma­chine learn­ing, or Meta­graph, us­ing the con­cept of graphs as a back­bone so as to map out the com­plex re­la­tion­ships be­tween genes, pro­teins and drugs.

“What Lind­say is do­ing, large­ly, is tak­ing al­go­rithms, ideas that have been de­ployed else­where, par­tic­u­lar­ly in con­sumer so­cial net­work­ing, and turn­ing them to the pur­pose of gene vari­ant bi­ol­o­gy, iden­ti­fi­ca­tion,” Rob­lin said, adding, “So in that sense, I’m quite hap­py to say like, a lot of that stuff is not ab­solute­ly break­through. What we’re go­ing to be do­ing is cre­at­ing a plat­form of in­te­gra­tion which is sec­ond to none, es­sen­tial­ly.”

Based in the Knowl­edge Quar­ter in Lon­don — sur­round­ed by UCL, King’s and Fran­cis Crick as well as sev­er­al hos­pi­tals — Re­la­tion is look­ing to crunch ge­nom­ic da­ta on the in­di­vid­ual cell lev­el with sam­ples pro­vid­ed by neigh­bor­ing biobanks.

As its first big project, the team is de­vel­op­ing a cell at­las of the bone, an area where sig­nif­i­cant gaps in bi­o­log­i­cal un­der­stand­ing still ex­ist, ac­cord­ing to Rob­lin. It is im­por­tant, in his words, to ful­ly grasp the trans­la­tion­al route and en­sure the cell mod­els used in Re­la­tion’s labs are “as close to re­ca­pit­u­la­tion of dis­ease as pos­si­ble.”

“Mak­ing sure you work on the right things is a re­al­ly crit­i­cal prob­lem,” Ed­wards said.

Re­la­tion will al­so get help from Nvidia, which is giv­ing it ac­cess to the NVIDIA Cam­bridge-1 GPU su­per­com­put­er, which helps opens up new pos­si­bil­i­ties for look­ing at large stretch­es of DNA.

“Every­body runs in­to a com­pute lim­i­ta­tion, and that ba­si­cal­ly sets the width of the amount of DNA that you can look at in a sin­gle go,” he said. “So ac­cess to Cam­bridge lab, we ex­pect will give us some kind of break­through re­cep­tive fields with our mod­els.”

With “re­al­ly good R&D peo­ple” at the cen­ter of it all, Rob­lin said Re­la­tion will aim to grow from 15 to 40 staffers with the new cash. The com­pa­ny has al­so put to­geth­er a hefty sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­so­ry board, in­clud­ing Michael Bron­stein (Ox­ford pro­fes­sor and head of graph AI at Twit­ter), as well as Alex Shalek and Car­o­line Uh­ler of the Broad In­sti­tute.

DCVC and Mag­net­ic Ven­tures co-led the fi­nanc­ing, with par­tic­i­pa­tion from Khosla Ven­tures, OMERS Ven­tures, and first­minute Cap­i­tal, plus a num­ber of in­di­vid­ual in­vestors.

Paul Hudson, Sanofi CEO (Cyril Marcilhacy/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

FDA side­lines Paul Hud­son's $3.7B MS drug af­ter es­tab­lish­ing link to liv­er dam­age

One of Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson’s top picks in the pipeline — picked up in a $3.7 billion buyout 2 years ago — has just been sidelined in the US by a safety issue.

The pharma giant put out word early Thursday that the FDA has put their Phase III studies of tolebrutinib in multiple sclerosis and myasthenia gravis on partial clinical hold, halting enrollment and suspending dosing for patients who have been on the drug for less than 60 days. Patients who have completed at least 60 days of treatment can continue therapy as researchers explore a “limited” — but unspecified in Sanofi’s statement — number of cases of liver injury.

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Phar­ma re­acts to post-Roe; Drug­mak­ers beef up cy­ber de­fense; Boehringer, Roche qui­et­ly axe drugs; 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.

As a reminder, we are off on Monday for the Fourth of July. I hope this recap will kick off your (long) weekend well and that the rest of it will be just what you need. See you next week for a shortened edition!

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Eric Hughes, incoming Teva EVP of global R&D and CMO

Te­va chief raids Ver­tex for his new glob­al head of re­search and de­vel­op­ment

Teva CEO Kåre Schultz has found his new R&D chief and CMO in Vertex’s ranks.

The global generics giant, which has some 3,500 staffers in the R&D group, has named Eric Hughes to the top research spot in the company. He’ll be replacing Hafrun Fridriksdottir, who held the role for close to five years, on Aug. 1.

Hughes hasn’t been at Vertex for long, though. He jumped from Novartis less than a year ago, after heading the immunology, hepatology & dermatology global development unit. Before that, he completed a five-year stint as head of early clinical research for the specialty discovery medicine department in the exploratory clinical & translational research group at Bristol Myers Squibb, according to his LinkedIn profile.

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#BIO22: Man­ag­ing a biotech in tur­bu­lent times. 'There's a per­fect shit­show out there'

On Tuesday, June 14, Endpoints News EIC John Carroll sat down with a group of biotech execs to discuss the bear market for industry stocks and how they were dealing with it. Here’s the conversation, which has been lightly edited for brevity.

Martin Meeson, sponsor opening:

Thank you, John. Hello everyone. My name’s Martin Meeson, I’m the CEO of Fujifilm Diosynth. For those of you who don’t know Fujifilm Diosynth, we operate in the development of clinical and commercial product scale up, we have facilities in Europe and the US, and around about 4,000 employees. We run on average about 150 programs, so when it comes to managing in turbulent times over the last two years, we’ve had quite a lot of experience of that. Not just keeping the clinical pipelines and the commercial pipelines open, but also our response to the pandemic and the molecules that we’ve had within there. One of the phrases that I coined probably about a year ago when we were talking at JP Morgan, was I talked about managing through turbulent times. Well, it’s become the fact that we are not managing and leading through these times, we are managing in them, which is why that’s really the purpose of and the topic that we’ve got today.

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On Friday, Lonza announced plans to construct a large-scale commercial drug product fill and finish facility in the town of Stein, Switzerland.

Lon­za to in­vest $500M+ on fill-fin­ish fa­cil­i­ty on its home turf

Lonza has been expanding its reach across the globe, bringing sites in China and the US online this year, but now they are looking closer to home for their next major investment.

The Swiss manufacturer on Friday announced plans to construct a large-scale commercial drug fill and finish facility in the town of Stein, Switzerland. The new facility will be delivered through an investment of approximately CHF 500 million, or $519 million, and is expected to be completed in 2026. The facility will also be constructed on the same campus as Lonza’s current clinical drug product facility.

Kate Haviland, Blueprint Medicines CEO

What bear mar­ket? Blue­print lines up $1.25B to ex­pand la­bels, maybe tack on more drugs

As it works to pad the case for expanding its Ayvakit and Gavreto labels, Blueprint Medicines has lined up $1.25 billion in funding, with some of that money seemingly earmarked for acquisitions or pipeline expansion projects.

Following the likes of BioCryst, Cytokinetics and MorphoSys, Blueprint is aiming to monetize the royalties of its RET+ non-small cell lung cancer and thyroid cancer drug Gavreto with Royalty Pharma. The investment group will dole out $175 million upfront and might tack on another $165 million in biobucks as part of Blueprint’s royalties receivable from net sales of the drug by Roche outside the US, sans China.

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Fu­ji­film in­vests an­oth­er $1.6B in­to its CD­MO arm to up­grade facil­lites in the US and Eu­rope

Fujifilm’s spending spree into its CDMO arm is not slowing down.

The multinational announced on Wednesday that it will invest $1.6 billion to enhance and expand the cell culture manufacturing services of the CDMO arm of the Japanese conglomerate Fujifilm Diosynth.

The investment will enhance Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies’ sites in Hillerød, Denmark, and College Station, TX. The investment is expected to create approximately 450 jobs across both facilities.

Anand Parikh, Faeth Therapeutics CEO

Sid Mukher­jee, Lew Cant­ley be­hind new can­cer biotech with food+drug com­bo treat­ment am­bi­tions 

Famed oncologist Sid Mukherjee and repeat biotech co-founder Lew Cantley have teamed up to form Faeth Therapeutics, a startup aiming to treat cancer the way other conditions are addressed: pairing nutrition with therapeutics.

The goal is to transform cancer treatment with nutrition and make it the fourth “pillar” in the oncology regimen, which to date has centered on radiotherapy, surgery and drugs, Faeth CEO Anand Parikh told Endpoints News. Other conditions have already been addressed with a side of nutrients or diet, he said, pointing to diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome and other diseases.

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Amgen's taking social media followers around the globe as it introduces the many different

From Tam­pa to Mu­nich, Am­gen’s ‘Places’ cam­paign in­tro­duces its lo­ca­tions around the world

Amgen is taking social media followers around the world with its latest corporate campaign. Called “Places of Amgen,” the twice monthly posts highlight the biopharma’s different offices and sites – and the people who work there.

Each post runs on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram with details about the work Amgen does in that location, when it was established, comments from people who work there and other interesting facts. The most recent one about Paris, France, for example, notes that Amgen France last year signed a French association charter committed to the inclusion of LBGT+ people in the workplace.

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