Faster, cheap­er, bet­ter? Post-buy­out deal Cel­gene jumps in­to AI al­liance with a $25 mil­lion bet on speed­ing dis­cov­ery work

Cel­gene clear­ly isn’t wait­ing in lim­bo to see when, or if, the big Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb deal will go through. It’s still ex­e­cut­ing deals, and the R&D side of the busi­ness has just en­list­ed one of the more promi­nent AI play­ers to go to work on a trio of new drug projects in on­col­o­gy and im­munol­o­gy. They’re pay­ing $25 mil­lion up front to get the tech par­ty start­ed.

An­drew Hop­kins

Cel­gene, a top 15 R&D group world­wide by re­search bud­get, tied up with Ex­sci­en­tia in Ox­ford, UK for the work. We aren’t get­ting any specifics about the tar­gets, but the com­pa­ny is ex­plor­ing AI to see how it lives up to the emerg­ing field’s big boast: That they can de­liv­er new drugs for hu­man test­ing faster and more ac­cu­rate­ly than the stan­dard in­dus­try ap­proach the big play­ers have been us­ing. In Cel­gene’s case, that would com­mon­ly mean go­ing out and do­ing a dis­cov­ery deal with a biotech, but the ma­jors al­so have their own in-house op­er­a­tions.

“This is the largest AI deal so far,” Ex­sci­en­tia CEO An­drew Hop­kins tells me, with “very sub­stan­tial” mile­stones built in.

The AI play­er’s boast is that they can take you through con­cept to hit dis­cov­ery and lead iden­ti­fi­ca­tion in 12 months or less — which they say they’ve done 4 times now. The first 3 were bis­pecifics, not easy to do, the CEO adds.

It’s an in­ter­est­ing busi­ness mod­el which has at­tract­ed con­sid­er­able at­ten­tion over the last 2 years. It’s al­so de­liv­ered pacts for Ex­sci­en­tia with a bevy of promi­nent in­dus­try play­ers: Roche, GSK, Sanofi and Evotec.

Like oth­ers in the field, Hop­kins likes to point to the num­bers in an in­flu­en­tial study that Steven Paul — now a biotech en­tre­pre­neur — did in the spring of 2010 dur­ing a lengthy stint at Eli Lil­ly which un­der­scored the kind of time and mon­ey that a phar­ma gi­ant spent on dis­cov­ery (How to im­prove R&D pro­duc­tiv­i­ty: the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try’s grand chal­lenge). The cap­i­tal­ized cost of lead op­ti­miza­tion alone, he and his team — which in­clud­ed Bernard Munos — cal­cu­lat­ed, was $414 mil­lion. The out of pock­et for lead op­ti­miza­tion was $146 mil­lion.

These num­bers have been known to cause some hoot­ing in the biotech world, where it’s not un­com­mon to get $30 mil­lion — or con­sid­er­ably less — in VC mon­ey to get through to an IND. Lead op­ti­miza­tion in the biotech world hap­pens less ex­pen­sive­ly. But the ma­jors are play­ing a dif­fer­ent game, which is one rea­son why most of the phar­ma gi­ants have been work­ing on AI as a way to im­prove ef­fi­cien­cies — though many would tell you the ju­ry is out and will re­main out un­til these IND projects turn in­to ap­proved drugs.

One num­ber that Hop­kins was cu­ri­ous­ly un­will­ing to part with was the size of his staff. He de­clined to say how many em­ploy­ees work at the AI com­pa­ny, and a spokesper­son fol­lowed up with “less than 50.” Af­ter this sto­ry post­ed on­line, an­oth­er con­tact came back with “around 50.” So make of that what you will.

Nick Leschly via Getty

UP­DAT­ED: Blue­bird shares sink as an­a­lysts puz­zle out $1.8M stick­er shock and an un­ex­pect­ed de­lay

Blue­bird bio $BLUE has un­veiled its price for the new­ly ap­proved gene ther­a­py Zyn­te­glo (Lenti­Glo­bin), which came as a big sur­prise. And it wasn’t the on­ly un­ex­pect­ed twist in to­day’s sto­ry.

With some an­a­lysts bet­ting on a $900,000 price for the β-tha­lassemia treat­ment in Eu­rope, where reg­u­la­tors pro­vid­ed a con­di­tion­al ear­ly OK, blue­bird CEO Nick Leschly said Fri­day morn­ing that the pa­tients who are suc­cess­ful­ly treat­ed with their drug over 5 years will be charged twice that — $1.8 mil­lion — on the con­ti­nent. That makes this drug the sec­ond most ex­pen­sive ther­a­py on the plan­et, just be­hind No­var­tis’ new­ly ap­proved Zol­gens­ma at $2.1 mil­lion, with an­a­lysts still wait­ing to see what kind of pre­mi­um can be had in the US.


Glob­al Blood Ther­a­peu­tics poised to sub­mit ap­pli­ca­tion for ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval, with new piv­otal da­ta on its sick­le cell dis­ease drug

Global Blood Therapeutics is set to submit an application for accelerated approval in the second-half of this year, after unveiling fresh data from a late-stage trial that showed just over half the patients given the highest dose of its experimental sickle cell disease drug experienced a statistically significant improvement in oxygen-wielding hemoglobin, meeting the study's main goal.

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Gene ther­a­pies seize the top of the list of the most ex­pen­sive drugs on the plan­et — and that trend has just be­gun

Anyone looking for a few simple reasons why the gene therapy field has caught fire with the pharma giants need only look at the new list of the 10 most expensive therapies from GoodRx.

Two recently approved gene therapies sit atop this list, with Novartis’ Zolgensma crowned the king of the priciest drugs at $2.1 million. Right below is Luxturna, the $850,000 pioneer from Spark, which Roche is pushing hard to acquire as it adds a gene therapy group to the global mix.

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Bain’s biotech team has cre­at­ed a $1B-plus fund — with an eye to more Big Phar­ma spin­outs

One of the biggest investors to burst onto the biotech scene in recent years has re-upped with more than a billion dollars flowing into its second fund. And this next wave of bets will likely include more of the Big Pharma spinouts that highlighted their first 3 years in action.

Adam Koppel and Jeff Schwartz got the new life sciences fund at Bain Capital into gear in the spring of 2016, as they were putting together a $720 million fund with $600 million flowing in from external investors and the rest drawn from the Bain side of the equation. This time the external investors chipped in $900 million, with Bain coming in for roughly $180 million more.

They’re not done with Fund I, with plans to add a couple more deals to the 15 they’ve already posted. And once again, they’re estimating another 15 to 20 investments over a 3- to 5-year time horizon for Fund II.

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News­mak­ers at #EHA19: Re­gen­eron, Ar­Qule track progress on re­sponse rates

Re­gen­eron’s close­ly-watched bis­pe­cif­ic con­tin­ues to ring up high re­sponse rates

Re­gen­eron’s high-pro­file bis­pe­cif­ic REGN1979 is back in the spot­light at the Eu­ro­pean Hema­tol­ogy As­so­ci­a­tion sci­en­tif­ic con­fab. And while the stel­lar num­bers we saw at ASH have erod­ed some­what as more blood can­cer pa­tients are eval­u­at­ed, the re­sponse rates for this CD3/CD20 drug re­main high.

A to­tal of 13 out of 14 fol­lic­u­lar lym­phomas re­spond­ed to the drug, a 93% ORR, down from 100% at the last read­out. In 10 out of 14, there was a com­plete re­sponse. In dif­fuse large B-cell lym­phoma the re­sponse rate was 57% among pa­tients treat­ed at the 80 mg to 160 mg dose range. They were all com­plete re­spons­es. And 2 of these Cars were for pa­tients who had failed CAR-T ther­a­py.

Neil Woodford, Woodford Investment Management via YouTube

Un­der siege, in­vest­ment man­ag­er Wood­ford faces an­oth­er in­vest­ment shock

Em­bat­tled UK fund man­ag­er Neil Wood­ford — who has con­tro­ver­sial­ly blocked in­vestors from pulling out from his flag­ship fund to stem the blood­let­ting, af­ter a slew of dis­ap­point­ed in­vestors fled fol­low­ing a se­ries of sour bets — is now pay­ing the price for his ac­tions via an in­vestor ex­o­dus on an­oth­er fund.

Har­g­reaves Lans­down, which has in the past sold and pro­mot­ed the Wood­ford funds via its re­tail in­vest­ment plat­form, has re­port­ed­ly with­drawn £45 mil­lion — its en­tire po­si­tion — from the in­vest­ment man­ag­er’s In­come Fo­cus Fund.

Search­ing for the next block­buster to fol­low Darza­lex, J&J finds a $150M an­ti-CD38 drug from part­ner Gen­mab

Now that J&J and Genmab have thrust Darzalex onto the regulatory orbit for first-line use in multiple myeloma, the partners are lining up a deal for a next-gen follow-on to the leading CD38 drug.

Janssen — J&J’s biotech unit — has its eyes on HexaBody-CD38, a preclinical compound generated on Genmab’s tech platform designed to make drugs more potent via hexamerization.

Genmab is footing the bill on studies in multiple myeloma and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma; once it completes clinical proof of concept, Janssen has the option to license the drug for a $150 million exercise fee. There’s also $125 million worth of milestones in play.

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Ab­b­Vie touts new da­ta for Hu­mi­ra suc­ces­sor; Gilead inks dis­cov­ery deal

→ Ab­b­Vie is tout­ing new pos­i­tive da­ta com­par­ing their ag­ing block­buster Hu­mi­ra with their hoped-for block­buster upadac­i­tinib. Over 48 weeks a larg­er pro­por­tion of pa­tients tak­ing the ex­per­i­men­tal drug ex­pe­ri­enced clin­i­cal re­mis­sion than in the con­trol arm with Hu­mi­ra. Their drug brought in $20 bil­lion last year, top­ping the scales in the num­ber 1 slot.

→ Gilead has turned to Van­cou­ver-based Ab­Cellera for its lat­est dis­cov­ery deal. Ab­Cellera will use its know-how in “sin­gle-cell screen­ing of nat­ur­al im­mune sources” to find an­ti­body can­di­dates for Gilead to pur­sue in the in­fec­tious dis­ease field. The deal in­cludes an up­front and mile­stones.

Turns out, Rudy Tanzi did­n't see much of a sto­ry about a hid­den link be­tween En­brel and Alzheimer's ei­ther

The Wash­ing­ton Post man­aged to whip up the quick­est in­dus­try con­sen­sus I’ve ever seen that one of its re­porters was pur­vey­ing overblown non­sense with a sto­ry that Pfiz­er was sit­ting on da­ta sug­gest­ing that En­brel could be an ef­fec­tive treat­ment for Alzheimer’s. 

In cov­er­ing that bit of an­ti-Big Phar­ma fan­ta­sy — there are lots of rea­sons to go af­ter phar­ma, but this piece was lu­di­crous — I not­ed com­ments in the sto­ry from some promi­nent peo­ple in the field crit­i­ciz­ing Pfiz­er for not pub­lish­ing the da­ta. I sin­gled out Rudy Tanzi at Har­vard and then ap­plied some added crit­i­cism for the things he’s done to hype — in my opin­ion — high­ly ques­tion­able as­sump­tions. You can see it in the link.