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

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.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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So what hap­pened with No­var­tis' gene ther­a­py group? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1,500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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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.

Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

Vicente Anido (University of West Virginia via YouTube)

Aerie fires CEO af­ter lead pro­gram flop, com­ments about pri­ma­ry end­points be­ing 'not re­quired'

Aerie Pharmaceuticals CEO Vicente Anido has left the company less than a week after trying to chart a Phase III study in the wake of a serious Phase IIb flop.

Anido’s last day at Aerie was Friday, the biotech announced in a news release Tuesday morning, and Benjamin McGraw is taking his place in an interim role. The now former CEO was terminated without cause, according to an SEC filing.

The board has started looking for a full-time chief to take his place.

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When ef­fi­ca­cy is bor­der­line: FDA needs to get more con­sis­tent on close-call drug ap­provals, agency-fund­ed re­search finds

In the exceedingly rare instances in which clinical efficacy is the only barrier to a new drug’s approval, new FDA-funded research from FDA and Stanford found that the agency does not have a consistent standard for defining “substantial evidence” when flexible criteria are used for an approval.

The research comes as the FDA is at a crossroads with its expedited-review pathways. The accelerated approval pathway is under fire as the agency recently signed off on a controversial new Alzheimer’s drug, with little precedent to explain its decision. Meanwhile, top officials like Rick Pazdur have called for a major push to simplify and clarify all of the various expedited pathways, which have grown to be must-haves for sponsors of nearly every newly approved drug.

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Lat­est news: It’s a no on uni­ver­sal boost­ers; Pa­tient death stuns gene ther­a­py field; In­side Tril­li­um’s $2.3B turn­around; 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.

Next week is shaping up to be a busy one, as our editor-in-chief John Carroll and managing editor Kyle Blankenship lead back-to-back discussions with a great group of experts to discuss the weekend news and trends. John will be spending 30 minutes with Jake Van Naarden, the CEO of Lilly Oncology, and Kyle has a brilliant panel lined up: Harvard’s Cigall Kadoch, Susan Galbraith, the new head of cancer R&D at AstraZeneca, Roy Baynes at Merck, and James Christensen at Mirati. Don’t miss out on the action — sign up here.

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Jay Bradner (Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News)

Div­ing deep­er in­to in­her­it­ed reti­nal dis­or­ders, No­var­tis gob­bles up an­oth­er bite-sized op­to­ge­net­ics biotech

Right about a year ago, a Novartis team led by Jay Bradner and Cynthia Grosskreutz at NIBR swooped in to scoop up a Cambridge, MA-based opthalmology gene therapy company called Vedere. Their focus was on a specific market niche: inherited retinal dystrophies that include a wide range of genetic retinal disorders marked by the loss of photoreceptor cells and progressive vision loss.

But that was just the first deal that whet their appetite.

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