Google’s GV en­lists ma­chine learn­ing pro Rosana Kapeller in its dri­ve to cre­ate a new breed of biotech

Over the past few years GV — the ven­ture fund for­mer­ly known as Google Ven­tures — has be­come one of those in­vestors the com­pu­ta­tion­al play­ers in par­tic­u­lar love bring­ing in to their syn­di­cate. Get­ting their cash en­dorse­ment is a coup in the ma­chine learn­ing crowd. 

Now the folks at GV are tak­ing one step fur­ther down the road to do­ing more of their own biotech cre­ations. Rosana Kapeller, who co-found­ed and helped launch the com­pu­ta­tion­al dis­cov­ery biotech Nim­bus as its chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer, has signed on as GV’s first en­tre­pre­neur-in-res­i­dence for life sci­ences. Over the next year or so she’ll be ex­plor­ing more about the world of ma­chine learn­ing in biotech, with an eye to se­lect­ing one of these new­cos to run.

“I re­al­ly want to start com­pa­nies,” Kapeller tells me, with a spe­cial fo­cus on the cross­roads where high tech meets drug dis­cov­ery — GV’s sweet spot.

There’s a con­sid­er­able amount of new work go­ing on here, she adds, cit­ing the busi­ness that Daphne Koller is ven­tur­ing in­to with in­sitro, an ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence play­er she’s been set­ting up since leav­ing Cal­i­co. And there are many oth­ers on the path to an A round.

Kr­ish­na Yesh­want

“We see so many projects ei­ther strong on ma­chine learn­ing and weak on de­vel­op­ment, or vice ver­sa,” says GV gen­er­al part­ner Kr­ish­na Yesh­want. “Rosana has ex­po­sure across both cul­tures.”

“We are def­i­nite­ly go­ing to be start­ing more com­pa­nies,” he adds, and Kapeller will be key in that process.

That’s not all. GV has brought in David Reshef to help sharp­en their pres­ence with ma­chine learn­ing in life sci­ences. The com­put­er sci­ence ex­pert with a PhD from MIT and an aca­d­e­m­ic track record that in­cludes study­ing sta­tis­tics at Ox­ford as a Mar­shall Schol­ar will al­so be in­volved in GV’s start­up plans.

Mon­ey has been pour­ing in­to ma­chine learn­ing and plat­form com­pa­nies in par­tic­u­lar, which you can see at a string of com­pa­nies that have been suck­ing up bil­lions in cap­i­tal this year. Is that a bub­ble?

Prob­a­bly, says Yesh­want. But that ac­tu­al­ly can work in their fa­vor. 

“One thing we’re not short of is cap­i­tal,” he says blunt­ly. And that won’t change even if the bub­ble pops.

“Think of it as a re­sponse to a bub­ble,” he says. “You need to fi­nance a com­pa­ny all the way through.” And GV can do that through thick and thin.

I asked Kapeller what she thought about the bub­ble ques­tion. Her re­sponse:

“This is def­i­nite­ly a bub­ble.”

Kapeller was out rais­ing mon­ey in 2009, so she knows what hard times look like when gen­er­al in­vestors shun high risk fields like biotech. But at the same time those hard times forced com­pa­nies to be more dis­ci­plined about their work. 

“I think things are go­ing to change dra­mat­i­cal­ly,” she says. But that’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly a bad thing.

There are plen­ty of macro rea­sons to spur a cor­rec­tion now, says Yesh­want. But some things are fun­da­men­tal and en­dur­ing.

“Great bi­ol­o­gy, great peo­ple, will al­ways be suc­cess­ful,” he says, “es­pe­cial­ly in this in­dus­try where it’s so hard to make things work.”

Be­ing present at the cre­ation of a whole new breed of biotech was nev­er go­ing to be easy. GV, though, plans to make it fun.


Im­age: Rosana Kapeller. GV

Da­ta Lit­er­a­cy: The Foun­da­tion for Mod­ern Tri­al Ex­e­cu­tion

In 2016, the International Council for Harmonisation (ICH) updated their “Guidelines for Good Clinical Practice.” One key shift was a mandate to implement a risk-based quality management system throughout all stages of a clinical trial, and to take a systematic, prioritized, risk-based approach to clinical trial monitoring—on-site monitoring, remote monitoring, or any combination thereof.

Mer­ck scraps Covid-19 vac­cine pro­grams af­ter they fail to mea­sure up on ef­fi­ca­cy in an­oth­er ma­jor set­back in the glob­al fight

After turning up late to the vaccine development game in the global fight against Covid-19, Merck is now making a quick exit.

The pharma giant is reporting this morning that it’s decided to drop development of 2 vaccines — V590 and V591 — after taking a look at Phase I data that simply don’t measure up to either the natural immune response seen in people exposed to the virus or the vaccines already on or near the market.

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Matt Gline (L) and Vivek Ramaswamy

Vivek Ra­maswamy and Matt Gline pen share­hold­er let­ters about the changes now un­der­way at Roivant

Friends and colleagues,

I am writing to provide our annual update on Roivant. These updates are usually restricted to our shareholders, but we are sharing this year’s letter more broadly to announce an upcoming change in my role from CEO to Executive Chairman and the promotion of Matt Gline to Chief Executive Officer.

Reflections on 2020

Much has transpired in the world and at our company since my last annual update in January 2020. One year ago we had just completed our $3 billion transaction with Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma (DSP), and we were evaluating how to reinvest in our business. At the same time, SARS-CoV-2 was still a distant virus barely on our minds. Today it has afflicted the entire world sparing literally no one from its effects.

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Matt Gline (L) and Vivek Ramaswamy

Scoop: Vivek Ra­maswamy is hand­ing the CEO job to a top lieu­tenant at Roivant — but he’s not ex­act­ly leav­ing the biotech scene

Over the past 7 years since founding Roivant, Vivek Ramaswamy has been a constant blur of biotech building motion.

He launched his first biotech with an Alzheimer’s drug he picked up cheap, and watched the experiment implode in one of the highest profile pivotal disasters seen in the last decade. But it didn’t slow the 30-something exec down; if anything, he hit the accelerator. Ramaswamy blazed global paths and went on to raise billions to spur the creation of a large lineup of little Vants promising big things at a fast pace. He sold off a section of the Vant brigade to Sumitomo Dainippon for $3 billion. And more recently the relentless dealmaker has been building a computational discovery arm to add an AI-driven approach to kicking up new programs and companies, supplementing the in-licensing drive while pursuing advances that have created more than 700 jobs at Roivant, with $2 billion in reserves.

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Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

End­points poll: Janet Wood­cock takes the (in­ter­im) helm at the FDA. And a large ma­jor­i­ty of our read­ers want her to stay there

It’s official: Janet Woodcock is now the acting chief of the FDA.

And — according to an Endpoints poll — most industry readers would like her to stay there, although a significant minority is strongly opposed.

To recap: Joe Biden is reportedly choosing between Woodcock and former deputy FDA commissioner Joshua Sharfstein as his nominee for the permanent position. Given their respective track records, the decision is set to determine the agency’s lodestar for years to come.

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Ron Cooper, Albireo CEO

Al­bireo just ad­vanced down to the 10-yard line at the FDA. And Ron Coop­er’s team is get­ting prepped for the next big play

When Albireo Pharma’s board $ALBO moved to bring in Ron Cooper as the CEO more than 5 years ago, the development-stage company went with an experienced commercial player who had a big-time position on his resume after running Bristol Myers’ commercial ops in Europe.

Now, after successfully navigating a pivotal study, putting them in a foot race with a rival toward an FDA OK, Cooper is getting a boost from regulators on the last drive back to an arena he understands completely.

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Hal Barron, GSK via YouTube

What does $29B buy you in Big Phar­ma? In Glax­o­SmithK­line’s case, a whole lot of un­com­fort­able ques­tions about the pipeline

Talk about your bad timing.

A little over a week ago, GSK R&D chief Hal Barron marked his third anniversary at the research helm by taking a turn at the virtual podium during JP Morgan to make the case that he and his team had built a valuable late-stage pipeline capable of churning out more than 10 blockbusters in the next 5 years.

And then, just days later, one of the cancer drugs he bet big on as a top prospect — bintrafusp, partnered with Merck KGaA — failed its first pivotal test in non-small cell lung cancer.

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Can strug­gling Iterum turn the cor­ner to an an­tibi­ot­ic suc­cess sto­ry? They will know in six months

More than five years after Corey Fishman and Michael Dunne dusted sulopenem off Pfizer’s shelves — the second castoff antibiotic they’ve brought out of the pharma giant — and founded Iterum Therapeutics around that single drug, they have lined up a quick shot at approval with priority review from the FDA.

The decision, six months from now, will mark a make-or-break moment for a struggling biotech that has just enough cash to keep the lights on until the third quarter.

Bahija Jallal, Immunocore

Buried in Im­muno­core's IPO fil­ings? A kick­back scheme from a now for­mer em­ploy­ee

Immunocore spent much of 2019 dealing with the fallout of the Neil Woodford scandal, as the former star investor’s fall crashed the biotech’s valuation out of unicorn range. Now it turns out that the company spent 2020 dealing with another internal scandal.

The longtime UK biotech darling disclosed in their IPO filing last week that they had fallen victim to an alleged kickback scheme involving one of their employees. After a whistleblower came forward, they said in their F-1, they spent the summer and spring investigating, finding fraud on the part of an employee and two outside vendors.