In­sil­i­co finds a new part­ner for AI drug dis­cov­ery; EU launch­es Il­lu­mi­na probe af­ter Grail merg­er close

Hot off a $255 mil­lion megaround, Chi­nese AI start­up In­sil­i­co Med­i­cine has found its lat­est part­ner.

In­sil­i­co is join­ing hands with Shang­hai-based BioNo­va Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals to joint­ly de­vel­op small mol­e­cule in­hibitors for hema­to­log­ic ma­lig­nan­cies. Though they’re not re­leas­ing the fi­nan­cial terms of the deal, the part­ners said they’re kick­ing things off with a dis­cov­ery-stage project from BioNo­va.

While there’s been a re­cent ex­plo­sion of ac­tiv­i­ty in the AI space, In­sil­i­co CEO Alex Zha­voronkov pre­dicts that some of those ef­forts will ul­ti­mate­ly fail, akin to the dot-com bub­ble in the ear­ly 2000s. Once that hap­pens, he told End­points News, In­sil­i­co will seek to emerge as the field’s Ama­zon or Google. The chief ex­ec­u­tive pulled in a $255 mil­lion Se­ries C round back in June.

But he’s not alone in those goals: Miles away, in Shen­zhen, Chi­na, XtalPi re­cent­ly raked in a $400 mil­lion Se­ries D round to re­fine AI for drug dis­cov­ery. Ex­sci­en­tia pulled in a fresh half-bil­lion dol­lars ear­li­er this year, just a month af­ter Daphne Koller picked up $400 mil­lion in a Se­ries C round. — Nicole De­Feud­is 

EU launch­es new Il­lu­mi­na probe af­ter Grail merg­er close

Eu­rope is not hap­py with Il­lu­mi­na.

A day af­ter the biotech com­plet­ed its ac­qui­si­tion of Grail de­spite on­go­ing FTC and EU probes, the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion is launch­ing a new in­ves­ti­ga­tion over whether or not Il­lu­mi­na’s move vi­o­lat­ed a “stand­still oblig­a­tion,” the Com­mis­sion an­nounced Fri­day. Such oblig­a­tions are en­forced to “po­ten­tial­ly ir­repara­ble neg­a­tive im­pact of trans­ac­tions on the mar­ket,” pend­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion out­comes, the EC said.

“We deeply re­gret Il­lu­mi­na’s de­ci­sion to com­plete its ac­qui­si­tion of GRAIL, while our in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to the trans­ac­tion is still on­go­ing,” Com­mis­sion ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent Mar­grethe Vestager said in a state­ment.

Vestager con­tin­ued:

Com­pa­nies have to re­spect our com­pe­ti­tion rules and pro­ce­dures. Un­der our ex-ante merg­er con­trol regime com­pa­nies must wait for our ap­proval be­fore a trans­ac­tion can go ahead. This oblig­a­tion, that we call stand­still oblig­a­tion, is at the heart of our merg­er con­trol sys­tem and we take its pos­si­ble breach­es very se­ri­ous­ly. This is why we have de­cid­ed to im­me­di­ate­ly start an in­ves­ti­ga­tion to as­sess whether Il­lu­mi­na’s de­ci­sion con­sti­tutes a breach of this im­por­tant oblig­a­tion.

The EU opened its in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to the merg­er at the end of Ju­ly, ex­press­ing con­cern that the deal would sti­fle com­pe­ti­tion for can­cer de­tec­tion tests, which is Grail’s pri­ma­ry busi­ness. Il­lu­mi­na has as­sert­ed that the EU has no au­thor­i­ty over the merg­er be­cause the com­pa­nies do not do busi­ness with EU mem­ber states. — Max Gel­man

Mas­sive York, Eng­land life sci­ences cam­pus gets a new own­er

Life sci­ences com­pa­nies at an 82-acre York, Eng­land cam­pus are about to get a new land­lord.

LXi Re­al Es­tate In­vest­ment Trust (RE­IT) is snap­ping up the cam­pus in one of three deals to­tal­ing £80m, ac­cord­ing to the UK-based news source The Busi­ness Desk.

About 1,000 peo­ple work at the cam­pus, which is home to CRO Co­v­ance and UK gov­ern­ment agen­cies like the An­i­mal and Plant Health Agency.

“Oc­cu­pa­tion­al de­mand for the cam­pus is sig­nif­i­cant, in­clud­ing from Gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties, and there is ex­pan­sion space at the prop­er­ty which may pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for the com­pa­ny to fur­ther en­hance the val­ue of the as­set through the pre-let for­ward fund­ing of ad­di­tion­al build­ings,” LXi RE­IT said in a state­ment, per The Busi­ness Desk. — Nicole De­Feud­is 

Spe­cial re­port: Meet 20 ex­tra­or­di­nary women who are su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D

Even though many biopharma leaders have come together in recent years to address its gender gap, the consensus is clear: We still have a long way to go.

Companies this year were 2.5 times more likely than last year to have a diversity and inclusion program in place, according to a recent BIO survey, but women are still largely absent from executive roles. Getting women to enter the industry isn’t the problem — studies show that they represent just under half of all biotech employees around the world. But climbing through the ranks can be challenging, as women still report facing stereotypes, and, unfortunately, harassment.

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Op­ti­miz­ing Oral Drug De­liv­ery us­ing Zy­dis® Oral­ly Dis­in­te­grat­ing Tablet Tech­nol­o­gy to Ad­dress Pa­tient Chal­lenges


Patients prefer oral dosing, but swallowing tablets can be a challenge for many patients.
The Zydis® orally disintegrating tablet (ODT) platform addresses challenges associated with oral dosing, expanding benefits for patients and options for healthcare providers.
A strong growth trajectory is expected for ODTs given therapeutic innovation and continued technology development.

Many patients prefer conventional tablets for the administration of medications, but some geriatric and pediatric patients and those with altered mental status and physical impairments find swallowing tablets to be difficult. Orally disintegrating tablets (ODTs), which dissolve completely without chewing or sucking, offer a patient-friendly dosage form for the administration of small-molecule drugs, peptides and proteins. With the potential for multiple sites of drug absorption, often faster onset action for the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), and potentially greater bioavailability, ODTs are an attractive option for drug developers considering first-to-market formulations or product line extensions of existing drugs with compatible API. In this report, we look at how innovation in the industry-leading Zydis ODT platform is expanding oral formulation options and bringing benefits to patients.

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Geoffrey Porges (SVB Leerink)

The 2022 wave com­ing? Top an­a­lyst says Big Phar­ma will have more than $1T avail­able to sat­is­fy its grow­ing ap­petite for biotech M&A

All through this year you could practically feel the frustration of the biotech investor class as M&A activity continued to drag behind expectations — or desires. Buyouts of public companies provide the essential juice for keeping stocks lively, and there’s been a notable lack of juice in 2021.

So is all that about to change, big time?

SVB Leerink’s Geoffrey Porges, a longtime student of biotech M&A, thinks so. In a lengthy analysis he put out last week, Porges totted up the cash flow of the major pharmas and determined that there was a good long list of industry buyers who would have around a half trillion dollars of cash to play with in 2022. Leverage that up with added debt and you could get that deal cache to $1.6 trillion.

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Mar­ket­ingRx Matchup: How Ab­b­Vie and Bio­haven ads rank in head-to-head mi­graine chal­lenge

Are you ready to rumble? DTC brands that is. MarketingRx is launching a new monthly feature today called MarketingRx Matchup. We’re pitting two pharma brands’ DTC advertising in the same therapeutic category against each other to find out what consumers and patients really think.

Market research company Leger is handling the polling and analysis each month, and I’ll be writing up the results — along with my own take — inside MRx on the first Tuesday of the month.

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Wendy Lund, Organon chief communications officer

Q&A: Organon chief com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer Wendy Lund talks about the Mer­ck spin­off, women’s health and why it mat­ters

One of Wendy Lund’s earliest jobs was head of marketing at Planned Parenthood. As the youngest person on its management team, she introduced them to emerging new technologies, and in return, she learned the importance of fighting for what you believe in.

Now as chief communications officer at Organon, the women’s health company recently spun off by Merck, Lund is keeping that point top of mind. That’s in part because women’s health hasn’t been a spotlight therapy area for Big Pharma in years. Several companies have spun off, sold or at least considered selling women’s health assets to focus on “core” products.

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Mar­ket­ingRx roundup: Pfiz­er re-ups pneu­mo­nia ads as Mer­ck threat looms; Re­al Chem­istry founder CEO Jim Weiss steps back

Every autumn, leaves fall from the trees and people start holiday shopping – and for the last few years Pfizer debuts a new “Know Pneumonia” awareness TV ad. This year the commercial, launched a week ago, features different people who talk about why they got vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia. Actors portray a young female firefighter with asthma, a mechanic with heart disease and an older woman with her grandchild. A Pfizer spokesperson declined comment on the latest iteration of the long-running campaign.

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Mer­ck pumps the brakes on two more PhI­II tri­als for its lead an­ti-HIV drug

After trial investigators flagged a drop in immune cell counts that an external committee determined was related to treatment last month, Merck has been pausing HIV-related Phase II and III trials ever since.

On Monday, the biopharma company announced it’s pausing enrollment in two of its Phase III trials evaluating its leading anti-HIV drug candidate, which is the once-monthly, oral islatravir.

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vTv Ther­a­peu­tics cuts 65% of em­ploy­ees in shake­up; Freenome bags $300M in Se­ries D to ex­pand mul­ti­omics plat­form

vTv Therapeutics has decided to chop down its workforce by almost two-thirds.

The High Point, NC biotech announced Monday that it would pivot and now prioritize its lead program, the oral glucokinase activator TTP399, as it gears up for Phase III pivotal trials.

The drug was granted breakthrough therapy designation after showing a 40% reduction in hypoglycemic episodes compared to placebo, and back in October vTv announced positive results in a study showing no increased risk for ketoacidosis, a severe complication of diabetes.

Covid-19 roundup: Plant-based shot proves safe, 71% ef­fi­ca­cious in PhI­II; Bourla ex­pects an­tivi­ral to launch this month

Quebec-based Medicago and its adjuvant partner GlaxoSmithKline said Tuesday that their plant-based Covid-19 vaccine candidate proved to be 71% efficacious against all variants of SARS-CoV-2 in a Phase III trial of more than 24,000 adults in Canada, the US, UK, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil.

In addition to showing 75% efficacy against the Delta variant specifically, the companies also said the vaccine proved to be generally safe, with no serious adverse events reported and reactogenicity generally being mild to moderate. The results mean that a regulatory submission will be filed with Health Canada imminently, they said.