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

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His­toric drug pric­ing re­forms pass; Pfiz­er ac­quires GBT; The long search for non-opi­oid pain drugs; 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.

The Endpoints Weekly has officially crossed the 60,000 mark on subscribers — thanks to all of your support. As the editorial team grows, we’ve been able to do a lot more, with many of those on display this week. Be sure to check out Lei Lei Wu’s deep dive on pain R&D. If you missed it, you may also rewatch her companion panel here.

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Gold for adults, sil­ver for in­fants: Pfiz­er's Pre­vnar 2.0 head­ed to FDA months af­ter Mer­ck­'s green light

Pfizer was first to the finish line for the next-gen pneumococcal vaccine in adults, but Merck beat its rival with a jab for children in June.

Now, two months after Merck’s 15-valent Vaxneuvance won the FDA stamp of approval for kids, Pfizer is out with some late-stage data on its 20-valent shot for infants.

Known as Prevnar 20 for adults, Pfizer’s 20vPnC will head to the FDA by the end of this year for an approval request in infants, the Big Pharma said Friday morning. Discussions with the FDA will occur first and more late-stage pediatric trials are expected to read out soon, informing the regulatory pathway in other countries and regions.

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No­var­tis re­ports two pa­tient deaths af­ter treat­ment with Zol­gens­ma

Two children with spinal muscular atrophy have died after receiving Novartis’ Zolgensma, a gene therapy designed as a one-time treatment for the rare fatal disease.

The deaths, which resulted from acute liver failure, occurred in Russia and Kazakhstan, Novartis confirmed in a statement to Endpoints News. Having notified health authorities across all the markets where Zolgensma is available, it will update the drug label “to specify that fatal acute liver failure has been reported,” a spokesperson wrote.

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House pass­es his­toric drug pric­ing re­forms, lin­ing up decades-in-the-mak­ing win for Biden and De­moc­rats

The US House of Representatives today voted along party lines (all Dems voted for it), 220-207 to pass new, wide-ranging legislation that will allow Medicare drug price negotiations for the first time ever, and cap seniors’ drug expenses to $2,000 per year and seniors’ insulin costs at $35 per month.

Setting up a major victory for President Joe Biden, representatives returned from their summer recess to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, even as many noted the bill would only modestly reduce inflation.

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Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) (Francis Chung/E&E News/POLITICO via AP Images)

Sen­ate Fi­nance chair con­tin­ues his in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to phar­ma tax­es with re­quests for Am­gen

Amgen is the latest pharma company to appear on the radar of Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR), who is investigating the way pharma companies are using subsidiaries in low- or zero-tax countries to lower their tax bills.

Like its peers Merck, AbbVie and Bristol Myers Squibb, Wyden notes how Amgen uses its Puerto Rico operations to consistently pay tax rates that are substantially lower than the U.S. corporate tax rate of 21%, with an effective tax rate of 10.7% in 2020 and 12.1% in 2021.

FDA ap­proves sec­ond in­di­ca­tion for As­traZeneca and Dai­ichi's En­her­tu in less than a week

AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo’s antibody-drug conjugate Enhertu scored its second approval in less than a week, this time for a subset of lung cancer patients.

Enhertu received accelerated approval on Thursday to treat adults with unresectable or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) whose tumors have activating HER2 (ERBB2) mutations, and who have already received a prior systemic therapy.

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J&J to re­move talc prod­ucts from shelves world­wide, re­plac­ing with corn­starch-based port­fo­lio

After controversially spinning out its talc liabilities and filing for bankruptcy in an attempt to settle 38,000 lawsuits, Johnson & Johnson is now changing up the formula for its baby powder products.

J&J is beginning the transition to an all cornstarch-based baby powder portfolio, the pharma giant announced on Thursday — just months after a federal judge ruled in favor of its “Texas two-step” bankruptcy to settle allegations that its talc products contained asbestos and caused cancer. An appeals court has since agreed to revisit that case.

CSL is gathering its four business units under a unified brand identity strategy (Credit: CSL company site)

CSL brings Se­qirus, Vi­for un­der par­ent um­brel­la brand in iden­ti­ty re­vamp

CSL is gathering its brands under the family name umbrella, renaming its vaccine and newly acquired nephrology specialty businesses with the parent initials.

CSL Seqirus and CSL Vifor join CSL Plasma and CSL Behring as the four now uniformly branded business units of the global biopharma. The Seqirus vaccine division was formed in 2015 with the combination of bioCSL and its purchase of Novartis’ flu vaccine business. CSL picked up Vifor Pharma late last year in an $11.7 billion deal for the nephrology, iron deficiency and cardio-renal drug developer.

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