Gates vets raise a $200M life sci fund for avant-garde ge­nom­ic biotechs and dig­i­tal health play­ers

Julie Sun­der­land

Boris Nikolic and Julie Sun­der­land have been in­vest­ing in ra­zor-edge life sci­ences and health­care tech for the past sev­en years, hon­ing their ex­per­tise while work­ing with Bill Gates and the Bill & Melin­da Gates Foun­da­tion. Now, they’ve put the fin­ish­ing touch­es to a $200 mil­lion fund, dubbed Bio­mat­ics Cap­i­tal, which is al­ready well down the road to mak­ing its first slate of se­lec­tions. And they are out to help seed the tech rev­o­lu­tion.

Through the past few years, Sun­der­land tells me, she and Nikolic have ac­quired a yen for break­through sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy which promis­es to break the mold on the way dis­eases are treat­ed.

That ob­jec­tive has led them to biotechs like De­nali and Black­Thorn. The first is a Bay Area biotech out to blaze a new path us­ing ge­nomics to guide the de­vel­op­ment of new ther­a­pies for neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases. The sec­ond is tak­ing much the same path in pur­su­ing neu­robe­hav­ioral dis­or­ders such as autism spec­trum dis­or­der, ob­ses­sive com­pul­sive dis­or­der, de­pres­sion and schiz­o­phre­nia. And there are some more plays in the works that will con­tin­ue down that path.

They are very keen to al­ly them­selves with the best and the bright­est in the busi­ness who are look­ing for rad­i­cal progress in their re­spec­tive fields.

De­nali, says Sun­der­land, “has one of the best biotech teams we’ve seen,” cit­ing a group led by Ryan Watts out of Genen­tech.

Boris Nikolic

Nikolic is a for­mer sci­ence ad­vis­er to Gates while Sun­der­land had helped di­rect in­vest­ments for the foun­da­tion. But Sun­der­land em­pha­sizes that this is not a Gates-style non­prof­it ef­fort. Bio­mat­ics is de­signed as a thor­ough­ly com­mer­cial ven­ture group, mix­ing up very ear­ly-stage drug de­vel­op­ment with some prod­uct-ori­ent­ed com­pa­nies work­ing on the tech side. Ai­Cure, for ex­am­ple, is work­ing on a smart phone ap­pli­ca­tion that helps pa­tients mon­i­tor ad­her­ence to drug reg­i­mens, es­sen­tial­ly let­ting the phone cap­ture com­pli­ance and keep a record of it.

The man­ag­ing part­ners at Bio­mat­ics have se­lect­ed eight com­pa­nies to work with so far af­ter a first close back in April. Al­to­geth­er, this fund will in­vest in 15 to 20 com­pa­nies to the tune of $5 to $10 mil­lion a round, up to a to­tal of about $20 mil­lion.

If they’re suc­cess­ful, says Sun­der­land, they hope to find more biotechs like Ed­i­tas, which has been shak­ing up the gene edit­ing world with new tech head­ed to the clin­ic soon. Nikolic played a big role in Ed­i­tas ear­ly on and still sits on the board, she says, giv­ing high marks to CEO Ka­trine Bosley as the kind of biotech ex­ec they want to back with Bio­mat­ic.

The work is tak­ing them in­to some in­ter­est­ing cir­cles, in­clud­ing the Arch-dom­i­nat­ed syn­di­cate that backed Grail’s huge $900 mil­lion-plus B round.

And they’re just get­ting start­ed.

John Hood [file photo]

UP­DATE: Cel­gene and the sci­en­tist who cham­pi­oned fe­dra­tinib's rise from Sanofi's R&D grave­yard win FDA OK

Six years after Sanofi gave it up for dead, the FDA has approved the myelofibrosis drug fedratinib, now owned by Celgene.

The drug will be sold as Inrebic, and will soon land in the portfolio at Bristol-Myers Squibb, which is finalizing a deal to acquire Celgene.

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UP­DAT­ED: AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder was axed — and No­var­tis names a new CSO in wake of an ethics scan­dal

Now at the center of a storm of controversy over its decision to keep its knowledge of manipulated data hidden from regulators during an FDA review, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan has found a longtime veteran in the ranks to head the scientific work underway at AveXis, where the incident occurred. And the scientific founder has hit the exit.

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Ab­b­Vie gets its FDA OK for JAK in­hibitor upadac­i­tinib, but don’t look for this one to hit ex­ecs’ lofty ex­pec­ta­tions

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UP­DAT­ED: Sci­en­tist-CEO ac­cused of im­prop­er­ly us­ing con­fi­den­tial in­fo from uni­corn Alec­tor

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On June 18, 2019, we initiated a confidential arbitration proceeding against Dr. Asa Abeliovich, our former consulting co-founder, related to alleged breaches of his consulting agreement and the improper use of our confidential information that he learned during the course of rendering services to us as our consulting Chief Scientific Officer/Chief Innovation Officer. We are in the early stage of this arbitration proceeding and are unable to assess or provide any assurances regarding its possible outcome.

There’s no explicit word in the filing on what kind of confidential info was involved, but the proceeding got started 2 days ahead of Abeliovich’s IPO.

Abeliovich, formerly a tenured associate professor at Columbia, is a top scientist in the field of neurodegeneration, which is where Alector is targeted. More recently, he’s also helped start up Prevail Therapeutics as the CEO, which raised $125 million in an IPO. And there he’s planning on working on new gene therapies that target genetically defined subpopulations of Parkinson’s disease. Followup programs target Gaucher disease, frontotemporal dementia and synucleinopathies.

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Abeliovich and Prevail, though, aren’t taking this one lying down.

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CEO Pascal Soriot via Getty Images

As­traZeneca's jug­ger­naut PARP play­er Lyn­parza scoops up an­oth­er dom­i­nant win in PhI­II as the FDA adds a 'break­through' for Calquence

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Wednesday morning the pharma giant and their partners at Merck parted the curtains on a successful readout for their Phase III PAOLA-1 study, demonstrating statistically significant improvement in progression-free survival for women with ovarian cancer in a first-line maintenance setting who added their PARP Lynparza to Avastin. This is their second late-stage success in ovarian cancer, which will help stave off rivals like GSK.

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ICER blasts FDA, PTC and Sarep­ta for high prices on DMD drugs Em­flaza, Ex­ondys 51

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