Valo CEO David Berry (Flagship Pioneering)

Koch's 'dis­rup­tive' VC bets $110M on one of Flag­ship's new, big com­pu­ta­tion­al star­tups

David Berry joined Flag­ship as a Har­vard and MIT wun­derkind in 2005 and by now he’s been at the firm al­most as long as any­one not named Noubar. He’s played a hand in some of their biggest star­tups, in­clud­ing Seres, Omega, KSQ, Evelo and, of course, Mod­er­na.

Flag­ship is known for its flash, but over the last cou­ple years, Berry has been qui­et­ly build­ing a com­pu­ta­tion­al start­up in Boston that he thinks can re­make drug de­vel­op­ment in a way that, for all the buzz, ma­chine learn­ing and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence have yet to do.

He’s man­aged to con­vince at least a few in­vestors of that vi­sion, rais­ing $100 mil­lion in a Se­ries A, $50 mil­lion in an undis­closed fi­nanc­ing and a $190 mil­lion in a Se­ries B de­spite re­main­ing far from the clin­ic. On Tues­day, Va­lo re­vealed an­oth­er in­vestor who bought in, adding $110 mil­lion from Koch Dis­rup­tive Tech­nol­o­gy, the ven­ture cap­i­tal arm of the famed and in­fa­mous hold­ing com­pa­ny Koch In­dus­tries.

Koch Dis­rup­tive Tech­nolo­gies has in­vest­ed in a broad swatch of tech com­pa­nies but not yet wad­ed deeply in­to biotech. In back­ing Va­lo, they are buy­ing in­to what Berry says is a new way of think­ing about drugs and tech and da­ta.

“As we look at the process that ex­ists in drug de­vel­op­ment or drug dis­cov­ery to­day, it’s ef­fec­tive­ly a point-to-point process and each of the steps has its own da­ta, its own way of mak­ing de­ci­sions,” Berry told End­points News. “As the drug moves through its var­i­ous steps, it’s as if it’s been thrown over a wall.”

AI and ma­chine learn­ing have large­ly been de­ployed at in­di­vid­ual steps of the drug de­vel­op­ment process: used by Atom­wise, for ex­am­ple, to screen mas­sive li­braries for the best mol­e­cule, or by In­sitro to find the dif­fer­ence be­tween dis­eased and healthy cells, and the places where de­vel­op­ers might be able to in­ter­vene and turn one to the oth­er. Sep­a­rate­ly, large phar­mas and small biotechs like Black­Thorn have used ma­chine learn­ing to de­sign tri­als and find the best pa­tients.

Berry ar­gues that we need a bet­ter sys­tem — a bet­ter plat­form — that can in­te­grate all those var­i­ous sources and ap­pli­ca­tions of da­ta from the out­set, al­low­ing com­pa­nies to over­come the hur­dles that tend to ap­pear as a drug goes through de­vel­op­ment. And that da­ta should be ground­ed in hu­mans (as op­posed to mice or mon­key ex­per­i­ments) to in­crease the odds that ba­sic lab in­sights ac­tu­al­ly trans­late in­to the clin­ic.

With about 110 em­ploy­ees, large amounts of hu­man da­ta, in­clud­ing what they claim is the “largest and most-de­tailed car­dio-meta­bol­ic dataset in the world,” and reams and reams of cloud space, they’ve built a plat­form they call Opal to do that.

For ex­am­ple, Berry claimed, they’ve de­vel­oped an al­go­rithm that al­lows them to pre­dict the tox­i­col­o­gy of any giv­en com­pound with 86% ac­cu­ra­cy. They al­so use 3D physics soft­ware to sim­u­late and de­sign mol­e­cules, adopt­ing a sim­i­lar ap­proach to the well-part­nered com­pu­ta­tion­al biotech Schrödinger, which has long ar­gued that the AI al­go­rithms many star­tups use to screen for mol­e­cules strug­gle be­cause they re­ly on 2D im­ages of 3D mol­e­cules.

“When you ask the com­put­er to try learn that a 2D im­age rep­re­sents a 3D struc­ture — that’s a very hard thing for a com­put­er to learn,” Berry said.

To find new tar­gets, the plat­form and Va­lo’s sci­en­tists com­bine “omics” da­ta – ge­nomics, pro­teomics, even the much less talked about metabolomics — with da­ta that track how pa­tients change as they age and their dis­eases progress or wane. “Dis­eases are dy­nam­ic,” he said.

Va­lo will use the new pro­ceeds to con­tin­ue hir­ing a few dozen more em­ploy­ees and progress the plat­form. With two years of run­way, it will al­so give them the cash to get in­to the clin­ic, Berry said. Al­though they haven’t gone deep in­to de­tails, Va­lo did re­lease their first batch of can­cer tar­gets ear­li­er this year: NAMPT, PARP1, USP28 and HDAC3.

Their tar­gets for neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion and car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease re­main undis­closed.

BY­OD Best Prac­tices: How Mo­bile De­vice Strat­e­gy Leads to More Pa­tient-Cen­tric Clin­i­cal Tri­als

Some of the most time- and cost-consuming components of clinical research center on gathering, analyzing, and reporting data. To improve efficiency, many clinical trial sponsors have shifted to electronic clinical outcome assessments (eCOA), including electronic patient-reported outcome (ePRO) tools.

In most cases, patients enter data using apps installed on provisioned devices. At a time when 81% of Americans own a smartphone, why not use the device they rely on every day?

Near­ly a year af­ter Au­den­tes' gene ther­a­py deaths, the tri­al con­tin­ues. What hap­pened re­mains a mys­tery

Natalie Holles was five months into her tenure as Audentes CEO and working to smooth out a $3 billion merger when the world crashed in.

Holles and her team received word on the morning of May 5 that, hours before, a patient died in a trial for their lead gene therapy. They went into triage mode, alerting the FDA, calling trial investigators to begin to understand what happened, and, the next day, writing a letter to alert the patient community so they would be the first to know. “We wanted to be as forthright and transparent as possible,” Holles told me late last month.

The brief letter noted two other patients also suffered severe reactions after receiving a high dose of the therapy and were undergoing treatment. One died a month and a half later, at which point news of the deaths became public, jolting an emergent gene therapy field and raising questions about the safety of the high doses Audentes and others were now using. The third patient died in August.

“It was deeply saddening,” Holles said. “But I was — we were — resolute and determined to understand what happened and learn from it and get back on track.”

Eleven months have now passed since the first death and the therapy, a potential cure for a rare and fatal muscle-wasting disease called X-linked myotubular myopathy, is back on track, the FDA having cleared the company to resume dosing at a lower level. Audentes itself is no more; last month, Japanese pharma giant Astellas announced it had completed working out the kinks of the $3 billion merger and had restructured and rebranded the subsidiary as Astellas Gene Therapies. Holles, having successfully steered both efforts, departed.

Still, questions about precisely what led to the deaths of the 3 boys still linger. Trial investigators released key details about the case last August and December, pointing to a biological landmine that Audentes could not have seen coming — a moment of profound medical misfortune. In an emerging field that’s promised cures for devastating diseases but also seen its share of safety setbacks, the cases provided a cautionary tale.

Audentes “contributed in a positive way by giving a painful but important example for others to look at and learn from,” Terry Flotte, dean of the UMass School of Medicine and editor of the journal Human Gene Therapy, told me. “I can’t see anything they did wrong.”

Yet some researchers say they’re still waiting on Astellas to release more data. The company has yet to publish a full paper detailing what happened, nor have they indicated that they will. In the meantime, it remains unclear what triggered the events and how to prevent them in the future.

“Since Audentes was the first one and we don’t have additional information, we’re kind of in a holding pattern, flying around, waiting to figure out how to land our vehicles,” said Jude Samulski, professor of pharmacology at UNC’s Gene Therapy Center and CSO of the gene therapy biotech AskBio, now a subsidiary of Bayer.

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Barbara Weber, Tango Therapeutics CEO (Tango)

It takes two to Tan­go: The biotech us­ing CRISPR to dis­cov­er new can­cer gene tar­gets rides a $353M SPAC deal to Nas­daq

Editor’s note: Interested in following biopharma’s fast-paced IPO market? You can bookmark our IPO Tracker here.

The latest biotech-SPAC deal has arrived, and it’s dancing its way to Nasdaq to the tune of several hundred million dollars.

Tango Therapeutics and its CRISPR-focused search for new cancer genes is reverse merging with Boxer Capital’s blank-check company, the biotech announced Wednesday morning. With a spotlight on three lead programs, Tango expects total proceeds to equal about $353 million in the deal, which includes the roughly $167 million held in the SPAC and an additional $186 million in PIPE financing.

Pascal Soriot (AstraZeneca via YouTube)

Af­ter be­ing goad­ed to sell the com­pa­ny, Alex­ion's CEO set some am­bi­tious new goals for in­vestors. Then Pas­cal So­ri­ot came call­ing

Back in the spring of 2020, Alexion $ALXN CEO Ludwig Hantson was under considerable pressure to perform and had been for months. Elliott Advisers had been applying some high public heat on the biotech’s numbers. And in reaching out to some major stockholders, one thread of advice came through loud and clear: Sell the company or do something dramatic to change the narrative.

In the words of the rather dry SEC filing that offers a detailed backgrounder on the buyout deal, Alexion stated: ‘During the summer and fall of 2020, Alexion also continued to engage with its stockholders, and in these interactions, several stockholders encouraged the company to explore strategic alternatives.’

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Anand Shah (FDA)

For­mer head of FDA’s med­ical and sci­en­tif­ic af­fairs on Covid: ‘FDA has nev­er been test­ed like this’

Anand Shah has served the American public in a unique way, crisscrossing over the last two administrations between serving as an attending radiation oncologist focused on prostate cancer at NIH, serving as CMO at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, and most recently, leading the FDA’s operations on medical and scientific affairs from within the commissioner’s office.

Shah, who stepped down from the FDA in January, caught up with Endpoints News in a phone interview on Tuesday afternoon, offering his thoughts on the agency’s latest decision to pause the J&J vaccinations in the US, and reflecting on his time at an agency during this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

Launched by MIT grads, a small start­up gets $20M to back a ro­bot­ics rev­o­lu­tion in cell ther­a­py man­u­fac­tur­ing

As co-director of an experimental cellular therapy process development and manufacturing group at UCSF specializing in T cell therapies for autoimmune conditions, Jonathan Esensten has learned a lot about the challenges involved when his group hand-fashions a cell therapy. Esensten — who was a postdoc in Wendell Lim’s lab and counts the legendary Jeffrey Bluestone as a mentor — gives them all high marks at being great at what they do, but time and again there are variations in the treatments they construct.

UP­DAT­ED: J&J paus­es vac­cine roll­out as feds probe rare cas­es of blood clots

The FDA and CDC have jointly decided to stop administering J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine after reviewing data involving six reported US cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot in individuals after receiving the vaccine.

CDC will convene a meeting of its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Wednesday to further review these cases and assess their potential significance. “FDA will review that analysis as it also investigates these cases. Until that process is complete, we are recommending a pause in the use of this vaccine out of an abundance of caution,” Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research and Anne Schuchat, Principal Deputy Director of the CDC, said in a joint statement Tuesday morning.

Patrizia Cavazzoni, new CDER director

Pa­trizia Cavaz­zoni named per­ma­nent di­rec­tor of CDER, adding to ques­tions around where Wood­cock will end up

Patrizia Cavazzoni on Monday became the permanent director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, which puts to rest the idea that Janet Woodcock, Cavazzoni’s predecessor, might return to lead CDER if she isn’t made permanent commissioner.

Woodcock, who’s currently serving as acting commissioner and principal medical advisor to the commissioner, a position she was detailed to last year, may not make the move to permanent commissioner because of lingering questions from Senate Democrats. She previously served as director of CDER since 1994. Cavazzoni took over as acting director of CDER when Woodcock moved over to Operation Warp Speed to run the therapeutics side of the Trump-era program.

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Kristin Fortney, BioAge Labs CEO

An­ti-ag­ing biotech up­start plucks a drug from Am­gen's dis­card pile, piv­ot­ing from heart fail­ure to mus­cle con­di­tions

Back in April 2019, Amgen quietly shut down a Phase I trial for a drug named AMG 986. There was no safety concern; the molecule just didn’t hit the mark on helping the small band of heart failure patients who received it.

A small biotech, though, believes it would stand a chance in the burgeoning anti-aging field.

BioAge Labs has licensed AMG 986 — now renamed BGE-105 — with plans to parlay the existing IND into a quick Phase I trial teasing out the pharmacodynamic effects and set the stage for mid-stage tests focused on acute muscle indications.