Sanjiv Patel, Relay CEO

In one of their first ever ac­qui­si­tions, Re­lay bets $85M cash on a new AI-based screen­ing ap­proach

Al­though they’ve nev­er been short for cash, Re­lay Ther­a­peu­tics hasn’t been one for ac­qui­si­tions in its 5-year his­to­ry, fo­cus­ing in­stead on de­vel­op­ing its own tools to study how pro­teins move and ad­vanc­ing mol­e­cules off those in­sights.

On Fri­day, though, the Third Rock-spun biotech plunked down $85 mil­lion in cash and an­oth­er $185 mil­lion in mile­stones to ac­quire the small, two-year-old, Google-part­nered ma­chine learn­ing com­pa­ny Ze­bi­AI. The deal will al­low Re­lay to add a crit­i­cal new tech­nol­o­gy to its ear­ly-stage dis­cov­ery tools now that, with three can­di­dates in the clin­ic, they’ve shown those tools can pay off, said CEO San­jiv Pa­tel.

“It makes the whole dis­cov­ery process much more ef­fi­cient and ef­fec­tive,” Pa­tel told End­points News of Ze­bi­AI’s plat­form.

Ze­bi­AI is one of a se­ries of biotechs that have sprout­ed up over the last few years promis­ing to dis­cov­er drugs faster with a new tech­nol­o­gy called DNA-en­cod­ed li­brary screens. By at­tach­ing dif­fer­ent DNA strands to mil­lions or bil­lions of mol­e­cules, they can blast those mol­e­cules at a par­tic­u­lar pro­tein tar­get and, with DNA se­quenc­ing, fig­ure out which mol­e­cules hit and which didn’t.

Pa­tel said that Ze­bi­AI stood out to him from the oth­er com­pa­nies in the space af­ter he read a pa­per they pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Med­i­c­i­nal Chem­istry last sum­mer. For one, they had ac­tu­al­ly shown in a pres­ti­gious jour­nal their tech­nol­o­gy could pay off. But they had al­so tak­en a slight­ly dif­fer­ent tack than their ri­vals.

Richard Wag­n­er

Found­ed by Richard Wag­n­er, who al­so built the well-part­nered biotech X-Chem, Ze­bi­AI tried to solve some of the prob­lems raised by DNA en­cod­ed li­braries: Plen­ty of mol­e­cules will hit a giv­en tar­get but many may not be re­mote­ly suit­able as drugs; you need to fig­ure out which to pur­sue. Ze­bi­AI de­vel­oped a ma­chine learn­ing mod­el to pre­dict which mol­e­cules those would be. They al­so re­lied on com­mer­cial li­braries of mol­e­cules that al­ready have drug-like prop­er­ties, weed­ing out ill-fit­ting mol­e­cules from the start.

“The goal is to get to chem­i­cal start­ing points that look like drugs much more rapid­ly,” Pa­tel said. “And you on­ly syn­the­size some­thing in the wet lab when you get very close to es­sen­tial­ly what could be a drug-like mol­e­cule.”

Re­lay will in­cor­po­rate the Ze­bi­AI tech in­to a plat­form that has at­tract­ed con­sid­er­able buzz — and con­sid­er­able cash — over the last half-decade and will see its first hu­man da­ta lat­er this year. Found­ed on Bran­deis Uni­ver­si­ty bio­chemist Dorothee Kern’s idea that you could find bet­ter drugs by us­ing new tech­nol­o­gy to “look” at pro­teins in mo­tion rather than as sta­t­ic ob­jects, they’ve now brought three can­cer drugs in­to the clin­ic and have an undis­closed pipeline of mol­e­cules for ge­net­ic dis­eases on the way.

Re­lay will prin­ci­pal­ly use the screens to hunt for mol­e­cules that can hit the hand­ful of pro­teins they’re al­ready been work­ing on. But, through a pre-ex­ist­ing ini­tia­tive from Ze­bi­AI, aca­d­e­m­ic labs — which are of­ten in sore need of chem­i­cal mat­ter — will con­tin­ue to use the plat­form to screen for mol­e­cules against new tar­gets.

Re­lay may look to li­cense or part­ner on pro­grams that come out of the ini­tia­tive.

“It’s great for us,” Pa­tel said. “Be­cause it al­lows us to cre­ate these ma­chine learn­ing da­ta sets on these nov­el pro­teins, but it al­so gives ac­cess to new drug dis­cov­ery pro­grams in com­plete­ly new ar­eas of bi­ol­o­gy.”

IDC: Life Sci­ences Firms Must Em­brace Dig­i­tal Trans­for­ma­tion Now

Pre-pandemic, the life sciences industry had settled into a pattern. The average drug took 12 years and $2.9 billion to bring to market, and it was an acceptable mode of operations, according to Nimita Limaye, Research Vice President for Life Sciences R&D Strategy and Technology at IDC.

COVID-19 changed that, and served as a proof-of-concept for how technology can truly help life sciences companies succeed and grow, Limaye said. She recently spoke about industry trends at Egnyte’s Life Sciences Summit 2022. You should watch the entire session, free and on-demand, but here’s a brief recap of why she’s urging life sciences companies to embrace digital transformation.

Tom Barnes, Orna Therapeutics CEO

UP­DAT­ED: 'We have failed to fail': Mer­ck gam­bles $250M cash on a next-gen ap­proach to mR­NA — af­ter punt­ing its big al­liance with Mod­er­na

Merck went in deep on its collaboration with Moderna on new mRNA programs, and dropped them all over time, including their RSV partnership. But after writing off what turned out as one of the most successful infectious disease players in the business, Merck is coming in this morning with a new preclinical alliance — this time embracing a biotech that hopes to eventually outdo the famously successful mRNA in a new run at vaccines and therapeutics.

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Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division

GSK lands first-ever UNICEF con­tract for malar­ia vac­cine worth $170M

GSK has landed a new first from UNICEF the first-ever contract for malaria vaccines, worth up to $170 million for 18 million vaccine doses distributed over the next three years.

The vaccine, known as Mosquirix or RTS,S, won WHO’s backing last October after a controversial start, but UNICEF said these doses will potentially save thousands of lives every year.

“We hope this is just the beginning,” Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division, said. “Continued innovation is needed to develop new and next-generation vaccines to increase available supply, and enable a healthier vaccine market. This is a giant step forward in our collective efforts to save children’s lives and reduce the burden of malaria as part of wider malaria prevention and control programmes.”

Bayer's first DTC ad campaign for chronic kidney disease drug Kerendia spells out its benefits

Bay­er aims to sim­pli­fy the com­plex­i­ties of CKD with an ABC-themed ad cam­paign

Do you know the ABCs of CKD in T2D? Bayer’s first ad campaign for Kerendia tackles the complexity of chronic kidney disease with a play on the acronym (CKD) and its connection to type 2 diabetes (T2D).

Kerendia was approved last year as the first and only non-steroidal mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist to treat CKD in people with type 2 diabetes.

In the TV commercial launched this week, A is for awareness, B is for belief and C is for cardiovascular, explained in the ad as awareness of the connection between type 2 and kidney disease, belief that something can be done about it, and cardiovascular events that may be reduced with treatment.

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James Mock, incoming CFO at Moderna

Mod­er­na taps new CFO from PerkinElmer af­ter for­mer one-day CFO oust­ed

When Moderna hired a new CFO last year,  it didn’t expect to see him gone after only one day. Today the biotech named his — likely much more vetted — replacement.

The mRNA company put out word early Wednesday that after the untimely departure of then brand-new CFO Jorge Gomez, it has now found a replacement in James Mock, the soon-to-be former CFO at diagnostics and analytics company PerkinElmer.

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Atomwise CEO and co-founder Abraham Heifets (left) and co-founder Izhar Wallach

A cou­ple bil­lion for Ex­sci­en­tia was on­ly part of Sanofi's AI am­bi­tions, as the Big Phar­ma adds Atom­wise to the ta­ble

Sanofi made clear its AI ambitions were real at the beginning of this year when the Big Pharma took its drug discovery collaboration with Exscientia to the next level, inking a pact that could birth 15 drugs and deliver $5.3 billion to the UK partner.

Seven months later, the AI blueprint is far from over at the French Big Pharma, as another of the much-hyped drug discovery startups is coming to the table in a five-drug deal. Sanofi will pay Atomwise $20 million to kick off the hunt for up to five targets, which are aimed at leading to the creation of new small molecules. Another $1 billion is on the line — as are royalties — and the companies kept mum on the specific diseases or broader therapeutic areas of interest.

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Joe Jonas (Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

So­lo Jonas broth­er car­ries Merz's new tune in Botox ri­val cam­paign

As the lyrics of his band’s 2019 pop-rock single suggest, Joe Jonas is only human — and that means even he gets frown lines. The 33-year-old singer-songwriter is Merz’s newest celebrity brand partner for its Botox rival Xeomin, as medical aesthetics brands target a younger audience.

Merz kicked off its “Beauty on Your Terms” campaign on Tuesday, featuring the Jonas brother in a video ad for its double-filtered anti-wrinkle injection Xeomin.

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Paul Perreault, CSL Behring CEO

CSL CEO Paul Per­reault de­ter­mined to grow plas­ma col­lec­tion af­ter full-year sales dip

As the ink dries on CSL’s $11.7 billion Vifor buyout, the company posted a dip in profits, due in part to a drop in plasma donations amid the pandemic.

However, CEO Paul Perreault assured investors and analysts on the full-year call that the team has left “no stone unturned” when assessing options to grow plasma volumes. The chief executive also spelled out positive results for the company’s monoclonal antibody garadacimab in hereditary angioedema (HAE), though he isn’t revealing the exact numbers just yet.

Blaise Coleman, Endo International CEO

En­do files for Chap­ter 11 as it looks to fin­ish off its opi­oid lit­i­ga­tion

Irish drugmaker Endo International is entering into bankruptcy as it faces the weight of serious litigation related to its involvement in the opioid epidemic in the US.

The company has filed Chapter 11 proceedings in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, with the company expected to file recognition proceedings in Canada, the UK and Australia. The company’s bankruptcy filing showed the company had assets and liabilities in the range of $1 billion to $10 billion.