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.”

How Pa­tients with Epilep­sy Ben­e­fit from Re­al-World Da­ta

Amanda Shields, Principal Data Scientist, Scientific Data Steward

Keith Wenzel, Senior Business Operations Director

Andy Wilson, Scientific Lead

Real-world data (RWD) has the potential to transform the drug development industry’s efforts to predict and treat seizures for patients with epilepsy. Anticipating or controlling an impending seizure can significantly increase quality of life for patients with epilepsy. However, because RWD is secondary data originally collected for other purposes, the challenge is selecting, harmonizing, and analyzing the data from multiple sources in a way that helps support patients.

Jason Kelly, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO (Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Gink­go Bioworks re­sizes the de­f­i­n­i­tion of go­ing big in biotech, rais­ing $2.5B in a record SPAC deal that weighs in with a whop­ping $15B-plus val­u­a­tion

Ginkgo Bioworks execs always thought big. But today should redefine just how big an upstart biotech player can dream.

In the largest SPAC deal to clear the hurdles to Nasdaq, the biotech that envisioned everything from remaking synthetic meat to a whole new approach to developing drugs has joined forces with one of the biggest disruptors in biotech to slam the Richter scale on dealmaking.

Soon after becoming the darling of the VC crew and clearing the bar on a $4 billion valuation, Ginkgo — a synthetic biotech player out to reprogram cells with industrial efficiency — has now struck a deal to go public in the latest leviathan SPAC that sets its pre-money valuation at $15 billion. In one swift vault, Ginkgo will combine with Harry Sloan’s Soaring Eagle Acquisition Corp. and leap into the public markets.

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FDA un­veils six ICH guide­lines ahead of meet­ing with Health Cana­da

A sign that the FDA’s non-Covid-related processes are beginning to normalize: The release of six guidelines from the International Council of Harmonisation.

Years in development, the ICH documents offer an international perspective on drug development, with these latest guidelines covering everything from recommendations to support the classification of drug substances, featured in the M9 guidance, to standards for nonclinical safety studies for pediatric medicines in the S11 guideline.

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Sanofi, Glax­o­SmithK­line, Boehringer ac­cused of play­ing games, de­stroy­ing emails re­lat­ed to law­suit over con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed Zan­tac

A recent court filing raises new questions about how major pharma companies like Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, and Boehringer Ingelheim have dealt with a lawsuit related to recalls of certain over-the-counter heartburn drugs due to the presence of a potentially cancer-causing substance found in them.

More than 70,000 people who took Sanofi’s Zantac and other heartburn drugs containing ranitidine, which have been recalled over the past two years, have sued the manufacturers, including generic drugmakers, and other retailers and distributors as part of a consolidated suit before US District Court Judge Robin Rosenberg in Florida.

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Al Sandrock, Biogen R&D chief (Biogen via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen push­es in a fresh stack of chips and starts prep­ping a glob­al R&D game plan af­ter watch­ing the cards turn on ear­ly throm­bolyt­ic da­ta

After patiently steering through a decade-long journey for its early-stage clinical work, a small Tokyo biotech has clinched a deal to out-license its lead thrombolytic agent to US heavyweight Biogen — which sees a potentially game-changing impact on the clot-busting field after taking a careful look at some upbeat Phase IIa data.

Three years after Biogen anted up $4 million to gain an option on the drug from TMS, the big US biotech is making a small bet to beef up its stroke portfolio. The BD team inked a deal to go ahead and grab rights to the drug for $18 million, with another $335 million in milestone cash on the table for a successful outcome.

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Chris Garabedian (Xontogeny)

Per­cep­tive Ad­vi­sors, Xon­toge­ny bring the band back and then some with a $515M sec­ond fund sniff­ing out lead com­pounds

When Perceptive Advisors and startup accelerator Xontogeny initially teamed up on an early-stage VC round in 2019, the partners hoped to prove their investments could be a force multiplier for early-stage companies. Now, with that proof of concept behind them, the pair have closed a second VC round worth more than double the money.

Dubbed PXV Fund II and headed by Xontogeny CEO and former Sarepta head Chris Garabedian, the $515 million fund will target 10 to 12 early-stage preclinical companies with Series A rounds in the $20 million to $40 million range with opportunities for Series B follow-ups. The oversubscribed fund is bringing the band back with initial investors from PXVI as well as new investors that include “top-tier” asset managers, endowments, foundations, family offices, and individual investors.

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A clos­er look at the FDA’s more than 700 pan­dem­ic-re­lat­ed record re­quests to re­place on­site in­spec­tions

As the pandemic constrained the FDA’s ability to travel for onsite manufacturing inspections, the agency increasingly turned to requesting records to fill the gap, even for hundreds of US-based facilities.

FDA explains in its guidance on manufacturing inspections during the pandemic that the agency can request records (not to be confused with the FDA’s remote interactive evaluations) directly from facilities “in advance of or in lieu of” certain onsite inspections. Companies are legally required to fulfill those requests because a denial may be considered limiting an inspection, which could lead to the FDA deeming a drug made at that site to be adulterated.

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Stephen Squinto, Gennao Bio CEO (Gennao)

Alex­ion co-founder Stephen Squin­to is back in the game as CEO, this time for a small gene ther­a­py play­er

With his name already behind a rare disease success story in Alexion, Stephen Squinto was looking for a great story to drive him to jump back into the biotech game. He found that in a fledging non-viral gene therapy company, and now he’s got a few backers on board as well.

On Tuesday, Gennao Bio launched with a $40 million Series A co-led by OrbiMed and Logos Capital with participation by Surveyor Capital. The biotech, which is looking to use its cell-penetrating antibody platform to deliver nucleic acid “payloads” during into the nucleus, had to rush for its initial series — and had a name change along the way.

Alvotech takes Ab­b­Vie to court over al­leged patent 'mine­field' sur­round­ing megablock­buster Hu­mi­ra

AbbVie has so far been successful in shooing away competition to its megablockbuster Humira, deploying a number of patents and settlements to keep biosimilars off the US market until 2023. But one Icelandic drugmaker doesn’t want to wait — and on Tuesday, it filed a lawsuit challenging what it called a patent “minefield.”

Alvotech has accused AbbVie of trying to “overwhelm” and “intimidate” it with “an outrageous number of patents of dubious validity,” according to court documents. The company is currently seeking approval for its Humira copycat AVT02, which AbbVie says would infringe upon 62 patents.