Andrew Hopkins, Exscientia CEO

Ex­sci­en­tia tees up an IPO for its AI drug dis­cov­ery plat­form, like­ly not will­ing to set­tle for just $100M

The biotech IPO mar­ket awoke from its sum­mer hi­ber­na­tion on Fri­day morn­ing with a small AD­HD drug de­vel­op­er seek­ing a mod­est raise, but late Fri­day night saw an­oth­er com­pa­ny file its SEC pa­per­work, one that will like­ly shoot for the stars.

Ex­sci­en­tia, the UK-based AI out­fit with bold claims about its plat­form, sub­mit­ted its F-1 on Fri­day, pen­cil­ing in an ini­tial $100 mil­lion raise es­ti­mate. That fig­ure will al­most cer­tain­ly end up much high­er, as Ex­sci­en­tia has spent most of 2021 rack­ing up huge fundrais­ing sums thanks to a Se­ries C ex­ten­sion head­ed by Black­Rock, and an up to $525 mil­lion Se­ries D that in­clud­ed a $300 mil­lion eq­ui­ty in­vest­ment from Soft­Bank.

AI biotechs have proven large­ly suc­cess­ful at drum­ming up hype around their tech­nol­o­gy, and Ex­sci­en­tia is no dif­fer­ent. Promis­ing to cut down on the lengthy process that is drug de­vel­op­ment by months, if not years, Ex­sci­en­tia will seek to join one of its main com­peti­tors in Re­cur­sion on Nas­daq.

Both com­pa­nies claimed to be the first to put an AI-de­vel­oped drug in­to the clin­ic. Re­cur­sion did so in Ju­ly 2019, even though CEO Chris Gib­son read­i­ly con­ced­ed the pro­gram orig­i­nal­ly came out of Dean Li’s lab at Mer­ck.

Ex­sci­en­tia fol­lowed up with its an­nounce­ment in Jan­u­ary 2020, though its can­di­date — de­vel­oped in part­ner­ship with Sum­it­o­mo Dainip­pon — emerged af­ter the pair syn­the­sized 350 com­pounds and test­ed them in a lab be­fore de­cid­ing on one to move for­ward. Whether ei­ther pro­gram tru­ly came from AI is large­ly be­side the point, how­ev­er, as both biotechs con­tin­ue to en­list ma­jor part­ners and sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment.

In par­tic­u­lar, Ex­sci­en­tia ex­pand­ed a Cel­gene-era deal with Bris­tol My­ers Squibb in May, one that could see more than $1.2 bil­lion paid out when all is said and done. The biotech fol­lowed that up with a small ac­qui­si­tion for the mol­e­cule-screen­ing biotech All­cyte in June, and less than two weeks lat­er joined forces with EQRx.

Fol­low­ing its own mas­sive fundrais­ing rounds, Re­cur­sion went pub­lic in April to the tune of a $436.4 mil­lion raise, a fig­ure that could prove a use­ful barom­e­ter for Ex­sci­en­tia’s Nas­daq am­bi­tions. There’s al­so the ma­chine learn­ing biotech in­sitro, which hasn’t an­nounced plans to go pub­lic just yet but raked in $400 mil­lion in a Se­ries C this past March.

Though it helped Sum­it­o­mo ad­vance two ad­di­tion­al pro­grams in­to Phase I, one of which brought about Ex­sci­en­tia’s “first AI” claims, the biotech has just one in-house can­di­date in hu­man stud­ies: an A2a re­cep­tor an­tag­o­nist co-de­vel­oped with Evotec. This can­di­date en­tered the clin­ic in April, and Ex­sci­en­tia plans to fun­nel a good chunk of its IPO raise to­ward the pro­gram.

The biotech hasn’t spec­i­fied how it plans to divvy up its new cash, on­ly list­ing the “de­vel­op­ment” of its plat­form and the in-house com­pound as the main ben­e­fi­cia­ries. There will al­so be $70 mil­lion set aside for Ex­sci­en­tia’s Gates Foun­da­tion-part­nered pan­dem­ic pre­pared­ness pro­gram.

As the cal­en­dar ap­proach­es the fourth quar­ter, the biotech IPO mar­ket re­mains on pace to eclipse last year’s record raise of $16.5 bil­lion. Through near­ly nine months, the sec­tor has com­bined to raise near­ly $13 bil­lion per the End­points News tal­ly, and two more biotechs in DiCE Ther­a­peu­tics and Tyra Bio­sciences are ex­pect­ed to land nine-fig­ure rais­es lat­er this week.

Pass­ing 2020’s fig­ure may ul­ti­mate­ly re­quire an end-of-year boost, giv­en the slow­down of pric­ings over the sum­mer. If Ex­sci­en­tia comes any­where close to Re­cur­sion’s to­tal, the in­dus­try may be well on its way to an­oth­er phe­nom­e­nal IPO year.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

Zol­gens­ma patent spat brews be­tween No­var­tis and Re­genxbio as top No­var­tis gene ther­a­py ex­ec de­parts

Regenxbio, a small licensor of gene therapy viral vectors spun out from the University of Pennsylvania, is now finding itself in the middle of some major league patent fights.

In addition to a patent suit with Sarepta Therapeutics from last September, Novartis, is now trying to push its smaller partner out of the way. The Swiss biopharma licensed Regenxbio’s AAV9 vector for its $2.1 million spinal muscular atrophy therapy Zolgensma.

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Rafaèle Tordjman (Jeito Capital)

Con­ti­nu­ity and di­ver­si­ty: Rafaèle Tord­j­man's women-led VC firm tops out first fund at $630M

For a first-time fund, Jeito Capital talks a lot about continuity.

Rafaèle Tordjman had spotlighted that concept ever since she started building the firm in 2018, promising to go the extra mile(s) with biotech entrepreneurs while pushing them to reach patients faster.

Coincidentally, the lack of continuity was one of the sore spots listed in a report about the European healthcare sector published that same year by the European Investment Bank — whose fund is one of the LPs, alongside the American pension fund Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Singapore’s Temasek, to help Jeito close its first fund at $630 million (€534 million). As previously reported, Sanofi had chimed in €50 million, marking its first investment in a French life sciences fund.

Time for round 2: Il­lu­mi­na-backed VC snags $325M for its next fund

Illumina Ventures closed off its second investment fund with a total commitment of $325 million, offering fresh fuel to back a slate of startups that have already included a smorgasbord of companies, covering everything from diagnostics to biotech drug development and genomics.

Fund II brings the total investment under Illumina Ventures’ oversight to $560 million, which has been focused on early-stage companies. And it has a transatlantic portfolio that includes SQZ, Twist and Encoded Therapeutics.

Volker Wagner (L) and Jeff Legos

As Bay­er, No­var­tis stack up their ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal da­ta at #ES­MO21, a key de­bate takes shape

Ten years ago, a small Norwegian biotech by the name of Algeta showed up at ESMO — then the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Conference 2011 — and declared that its Bayer-partnered targeted radionuclide therapy, radium-223 chloride, boosted the overall survival of castration-resistant prostate cancer patients with symptomatic bone metastases.

In a Phase III study dubbed ALSYMPCA, patients who were treated with radium-223 chloride lived a median of 14 months compared to 11.2 months. The FDA would stamp an approval on it based on those data two years later, after Bayer snapped up Algeta and christened the drug Xofigo.

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Ex­elix­is pulls a sur­prise win in thy­roid can­cer just days ahead of fi­nal Cabome­tyx read­out

Exelixis added a thyroid cancer indication to its super-seller Cabometyx’s label on Friday — months before the FDA was expected to make a decision, and days before the company was set to unveil the final data at #ESMO21.

At a median follow-up of 10.1 months, differentiated thyroid cancer patients treated with Cabometyx (cabozantinib) lived a median of 11 months without their disease worsening, compared to just 1.9 months for patients given a placebo, Exelixis said on Monday.

Den­mark's Gubra to col­lab­o­rate with Bay­er on pep­tides; Sam­sung and Bio­gen re­ceive FDA ap­proval for Lu­cen­tis biosim­i­lar

Danish biotech Gubra announced a research collaboration and license agreement with Bayer to develop peptide therapeutics to treat cardiorenal diseases. The collaboration will utilize Gubra’s peptide drug discovery platform to identify potential candidates.

This is not the first time Gubra has partnered with a company on peptide therapeutics — they partnered with Boehringer Ingelheim back in 2017 to create peptide therapeutics to treat obesity.

Raju Mohan, Ventyx Biosciences CEO

Months af­ter a mam­moth raise, Ven­tyx Bio­sciences dips back in­to ven­ture well

Several months after emerging from what CEO Raju Mohan called “quiet mode” with a mammoth $114 million raise, Ventyx Biosciences is now making its plans for the clinic loud and clear.

The California-based immune modulation player kicked the week off with a $51 million Series B, while also naming some key hires ahead of its big clinical push.

The CMO slot is going to Jörn Drappa, former CMO at Viela Bio before it was bought out by Horizon Therapeutics earlier this year. The AstraZeneca vet stayed on at Horizon for a while as executive VP of R&D before making the jump to Ventyx.