Andrew Hopkins, Exscientia CEO

Ex­sci­en­tia wants to bring its AI/ML ap­proach in­to the world of bi­o­log­ics. It's start­ing with an­ti­bod­ies

Ex­sci­en­tia is look­ing at break­ing out of small mol­e­cule R&D.

The UK biotech an­nounced Thurs­day that it is ex­pand­ing its R&D ef­forts in­to bi­o­log­ics, more specif­i­cal­ly an­ti­bod­ies, look­ing to im­ple­ment pre­ci­sion en­gi­neer­ing and uti­lize in sil­i­co screen­ing. And in or­der to put the ex­pan­sion in­to place, Ex­sci­en­tia al­so an­nounced that it will be adding new build­ing space to its head­quar­ters to house the new lab­o­ra­to­ry.

The project, which will be around 8,000 square feet, is ex­pect­ed to be fin­ished in the first half of 2023. Ex­sci­en­tia has been flush with cash over the last few years, thanks to a nine-fig­ure IPO last year and a bil­lion-dol­lar deal with Sanofi inked ear­li­er in 2022, but did not dis­close how much it’s sink­ing in­to the new ef­forts.

CEO An­drew Hop­kins tells End­points News that the main goal of this ex­pan­sion was to take the “nat­ur­al next step” as a com­pa­ny.

“And that’s why we’re mov­ing and ex­pand­ing from small mol­e­cules al­so go­ing to in­clude bi­o­log­ics…It’s about how we could po­ten­tial­ly dou­ble the tar­get uni­verse we could go af­ter with our tech­nol­o­gy, when we think about all the pos­si­ble an­ti­body and bi­o­log­ic tar­gets we could go af­ter, as well as small mol­e­cule tar­gets,” Hop­kins said.

The AI chief added that the heart of the ex­pan­sion is around a new en­gine that Ex­sci­en­tia’s chief sci­en­tist of bi­o­log­ics AI, Char­lotte Deane, and her team have been work­ing on de­vel­op­ing. Deane, who joined Ex­sci­en­tia ear­li­er this year, is the for­mer head of Ox­ford’s sta­tis­tics de­part­ment.

Hop­kins said that the goal of this new en­gine was to not have just an AI plat­form, but an au­to­mat­ed lab­o­ra­to­ry sys­tem that can have con­tin­u­al back-and-forth be­tween gen­er­at­ing an­ti­body de­signs and then phys­i­cal­ly test­ing them in the lab — “bi­o­log­ics by de­sign, not dis­cov­ery,” Hop­kins quipped.

Ex­sci­en­tia has al­ready start­ed look­ing at an­ti­bod­ies from Sanofi’s pipeline, Hop­kins said, es­sen­tial­ly ap­ply­ing a pre­ci­sion med­i­cine plat­form to iden­ti­fy bio­mark­ers and fur­ther iden­ti­fy the pa­tient pop­u­la­tions for these an­ti­bod­ies to move for­ward in­to clin­i­cal test­ing.

The first step of the process is think­ing about which tar­gets to go af­ter, Hop­kins said, in­clud­ing iden­ti­fy­ing the epi­tope, the part of the pro­tein se­quence the an­ti­body needs to tar­get. Then comes de­sign­ing spe­cif­ic an­ti­bod­ies from scratch, de no­vo, that could try to go af­ter that spe­cif­ic epi­tope in a vir­tu­al li­brary.

Fi­nal­ly there’s the pro­duc­tion of those an­ti­bod­ies that can be test­ed in the re­al world. Re­searchers ex­am­ine how the an­ti­bod­ies bind, as well as the prop­er­ties of said an­ti­bod­ies. That ties in with new, in-house tech be­ing de­vel­oped that would al­low for high­er through­put and, ac­cord­ing to Hop­kins, for more da­ta gen­er­a­tion that can be fed in­to Ex­sci­en­tia’s ma­chine learn­ing mod­els, form­ing a pos­i­tive feed­back loop.

As for what’s next, Hop­kins says that the out­fit has al­ready start­ed work­ing on the en­gi­neer­ing — de­sign­ing and com­mis­sion­ing the tech­nol­o­gy re­quired to get the au­to­mat­ed lab up and run­ning. The first projects, how­ev­er, are un­der­way, with Ex­sci­en­tia work­ing with var­i­ous undis­closed part­ners.

“We do hope this will be a sig­nif­i­cant part of ac­cent­ing this pipeline go­ing for­ward in the fu­ture,” Hop­kins con­clud­ed.

Big Phar­ma's Twit­ter ex­o­dus; Mer­ck wa­gers $1.35B on buy­out; $3.5M gene ther­a­py; 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 you start planning for #JPM23, we hope you will consider joining Endpoints News for our live and virtual events. For those who are celebrating Thanksgiving, we hope you are enjoying the long weekend with loved ones. And if you’re not — we’ll see you next week!

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Paul Perreault, CSL Behring CEO

CSL lands FDA ap­proval for he­mo­phil­ia B gene ther­a­py, sets $3.5M list price

The FDA has approved the world’s first gene therapy for hemophilia B, ushering into the market a treatment that’s historic in both what it promises to do and how much it will cost.

CSL will be marketing the drug, Hemgenix, at a list price of $3.5 million — which sets a new record for the most expensive single-use gene therapy in the US.

In a statement provided to Endpoints News, the Australian company noted that the current costs of treating people with moderate to severe hemophilia B can be significant over a lifetime. By some estimates, healthcare systems could spend more than $20 million per person.

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Elon Musk (GDA via AP Images)

Biggest drug com­pa­nies halt­ed Twit­ter ad buys af­ter Lil­ly in­sulin spoof

Almost all of the drug industry’s biggest advertisers cut their spending on Twitter to zero or near-zero over the last two weeks amid worries about impersonation of their brands by pranksters and the future of the social media company.

Among 18 of the biggest pharmaceutical advertisers in the US market, 12 cut their Twitter ad spending to nothing for the week beginning Nov. 14, according to Pathmatics, which tracks data on prescription drug ad spending as well as general corporate advertising. The list of drugmakers cutting spending to zero includes Merck, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Novartis, Pfizer and others.

J&J's Spra­va­to pulls a PhI­II win against Sero­quel XR in treat­ment-re­sis­tant de­pres­sion

A day before Thanksgiving, J&J’s Janssen has a new cut of Phase III Spravato data to be grateful for.

The pharma giant announced on Wednesday that its nasal spray, also known as esketamine, beat extended-release quetiapine, previously sold by AstraZeneca as Seroquel XR, in treatment-resistant depression (TRD). Of 676 adults, a significantly higher number of patients on Spravato were able to achieve remission and avoid relapse after 32 weeks, according to J&J.

Rob Davis, Merck CEO

Up­dat­ed: No Seagen here: 'Do more' means a small $1.35B pur­chase of Ima­go for Mer­ck

Merck is making an acquisition, the Big Pharma announced before Monday’s opening bell. No, Seagen is not entering the fold, as had been speculated for quarters.

Folding under Merck’s wings will be Pfizer-backed Imago BioSciences. For nearly a year, Merck CEO Rob Davis has been saying the pharma giant needs to “do more” on the business development front after its 2021 $11.5 billion acquisition of Acceleron.

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Isao Teshirogi, Shionogi president and CEO (Kyodo via AP Images)

Sh­ionogi's Covid an­tivi­ral lands first ap­proval in Japan's new emer­gency ap­proval path­way

Japanese regulators on Tuesday signed off on Shionogi’s homegrown antiviral for Covid-19, known as Xocova (ensitrelvir), making it the first approval under Japan’s emergency regulatory approval system.

The emergency approval, following a back-and-forth with regulators since last February, is based on a safety profile with more than 2,000 patients who have accessed the pill, and clinical symptomatic efficacy for five typical Omicron-related symptoms (primary endpoint) and antiviral efficacy (key secondary endpoint) in patients with mild to moderate SARS-CoV-2 infection, regardless of risk factors or vaccination status, and during the Omicron-dominant phase of the pandemic.

Alzheimer’s drug bites the dust; Re­struc­ture, re­struc­ture, re­struc­ture; Land­mark di­a­betes OK; 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.

Being in the news business can give one a warped sense of time — it feels like quite a while since we published some of these stories below. But next Saturday’s Endpoints Weekly will definitely be shorter, as we take off Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving. We will still have the abbreviated edition in your inbox at the usual time.

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Image: Shutterstock

MIT re­searchers re­veal DNA "Paste" tech be­hind lat­est gene edit­ing start­up

MIT scientists have developed a tool that they say can insert large gene sequences where they want in the genome.

In a paper published Thursday in Nature Biotechnology, MIT fellows Omar Abudayyeh, Jonathan Gootenberg and colleagues detail a technology they call PASTE, which they say can potentially be used to insert long strands of DNA and treat genetic diseases caused by many different mutations, such as cystic fibrosis and Leber congenital amaurosis, a rare eye disorder that causes blindness.

Dermavant Sciences' first consumer TV ad for its Vtama psoriasis med shows people ready for a new topical treatment.

Roivant’s Der­ma­vant de­buts first-ever TV com­mer­cial for pso­ri­a­sis cream Vta­ma

Dermavant Sciences has been marketing its first product, psoriasis med Vtama, to dermatologists for months, but on Tuesday it rolled out its first consumer campaign. The debut DTC effort including a streaming TV commercial encourages patients to a “Topical Uprising” in a nod to Vtama being a topical cream.

In the new commercial, a swell of people discards scarves and jacket coverings, gathering in the street to converge on a pharmacy to demand a steroid-free prescription. A moment of levity follows when a pharmacist says, “You know you can just talk to your doctor, right?” The gathered crowds collectively says, “Oh.”

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