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

Novotech CRO Ex­pands Chi­na Team as Biotech De­mand for Clin­i­cal Tri­als In­creas­es up to 79%

An increase in demand of up to 79% for clinical trials in China has prompted Novotech the Asia-Pacific CRO to rapidly expand the China team, appointing expert local clinical executives to their Shanghai and Hong Kong offices. The company is planning to expand their team by 30% over the next quarter.

Novotech China has seen considerable demand recently which is borne out by research from GlobalData:
A global migration of clinical research is occurring from high-income countries to low and middle-income countries with emerging economies. Over the period 2017 to 2018, for example, the number of clinical trial sites opened by biotech companies in Asia-Pacific increased by 35% compared to 8% in the rest of the world, with growth as high as 79% in China.
Novotech CEO Dr John Moller said China offers the largest population in the world, rapid economic growth, and an increasing willingness by government to invest in research and development.
Novotech’s 23 years of experience working in the region means we are the ideal CRO partner for USA biotechs wanting to tap the research expertise and opportunities that China offers.
There are over 22,000 active investigators in Greater China, with about 5,000 investigators with experience on at least 3 studies (source GlobalData).

Daniel O'Day [via AP Images]

UP­DAT­ED: Gilead un­leash­es a $5B late-stage cash al­liance with Gala­pa­gos — lay­ing out O'­Day's R&D strat­e­gy

Daniel O’Day is executing his first major development deal since taking over as CEO of Gilead $GILD. And he’s going in deep to ally himself with a longstanding partner.

O’Day announced today that he is spending $5 billion in cash to add new late-stage drugs to Gilead’s pipeline, picking up rights to Galapagos’ $GLPG Phase III IPF drug GLPG1690 alongside adoption of the biotech’s Phase IIb drug GLPG1972 for osteoarthritis. And Gilead is also putting billions more on the table for milestones, gaining options for everything else in Galapagos’ pipeline, with a shot at all rights outside of Europe.

Altogether, Gilead is gaining rights to 6 clinical-stage assets, 20 preclinical programs and everything else being hatched in translation.

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Alk­er­mes adds bipo­lar de­pres­sion to its FDA wish­list; Con­go con­firms first Ebo­la case in large city

→ An ever-ambitious Alkermes $ALKS team plans to add bipolar depression to its list of conditions for ALKS-3831, which it plans to pitch to the FDA in Q4. Alkermes says they were persuaded to add bipolar depression after a pre-NDA meeting with the agency, which came about 7 months after the biotech reported positive data for schizophrenia. The drug is a combo using olanzapine/samidorphan, which they hope will be shown to be as effective as olanzapine without the substantial increase in the risk of weight gain.

Pe­ter Kolchin­sky and Raj Shah raise a $300M fund de­vot­ed to biotech star­tups

Peter Kolchinsky and Raj Shah have another $300 million-plus to play with on the biotech venture side of their investment business. 

The two announced Monday morning that they’ve put together their first pure-play venture fund at RA Capital Management, which has been known to bet on just about every angle in healthcare investing — from rounds to follow-on investments at public companies. This new fund of theirs arrives well into a go-go era of new startup financing, with a particular focus on building new biotechs.

Boehringer buys Swiss biotech in its lat­est M&A deal, go­ing the next-gen can­cer vac­cine route

Boehringer Ingelheim has snapped up a Swiss biotech startup and added their group as a new platform for the oncology pipeline. 

The German biopharma company has bagged Geneva-based AMAL Therapeutics, paying out an unspecified upfront in a $358 million deal — cash, milestones and everything else, all in. Plus there’s 100 million euros on the line for commercial milestones.

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Hal Bar­ron's team at GSK scores a win with pos­i­tive Ze­ju­la PhI­II front­line study — now comes the hard part

Score one for Hal Barron and the new R&D team steering GlaxoSmithKline’s pipeline.

The pharma giant reported this morning that its recently acquired PARP, Zejula (niraparib), hit the primary endpoint on progression-free survival in a frontline maintenance setting for women suffering ovarian cancer — following chemo and regardless of their BRCA status.

GSK bet $5 billion on the Tesaro buyout primarily to get this drug, drawing the shaking heads of biopharma. Why pay a big premium for a drug like this when AstraZeneca was going from strength to strength with Lynparza, ran the argument, having won a hugely important accelerated approval to jump out ahead — way ahead — of the rest of the PARP players? Lynparza — now co-owned by a powerhouse cancer team at Merck — won the first approval in frontline maintenance in ovarian cancer.

Ab­b­Vie beefs up the on­col­o­gy pipeline, bag­ging an up­start STING play­er with its own unique ap­proach

AbbVie isn’t letting its $63 billion buyout of Allergan stop its M&A/deals team from continuing their work.

Monday morning we learned that the pharma giant is snapping up tiny Mavupharma out of Seattle, a Frazier-backed startup that has its own unique take on STING — which is on the threshold of their first clinical trial.

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Billing it­self as the first AI biotech to launch hu­man tri­als, Re­cur­sion adds $121M C round

Billing itself as the first AI biotech with programs in the clinic, Salt Lake City-based Recursion now has a $121 million bankroll to start gathering human data to see if it’s on the right track. 

“We’re trying to build this discovery engine,” Recursion CEO Chris Gibson tells me ahead of the C round news. “We now have the first two programs in the clinic.” And that, he adds, qualifies as a first for any AI establishment “that actually have something in the clinic.”

FDA bats back As­traZeneca's SGLT di­a­betes drug for Type 1 di­a­betes — block­ing a class on safe­ty fears

The FDA has just fired its latest salvo at the SGLT class of diabetes drugs, blowing up some commercial opportunity at AstraZeneca as part of the collateral damage.

The pharma giant reported early Monday that the FDA has rejected its blockbuster drug Farxiga for Type 1 diabetes that can’t be controlled by insulin. And while the pharma giant maintained its usual grim silence in the face of a setback, this one should be easy to interpret.