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.

Bob Bradway, Amgen CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Am­gen bel­lies back up to the M&A ta­ble for an­oth­er biotech buy­out, this time with a $2.5B deal for an an­ti­body play­er fo­cused on PS­MA

Five months after Amgen CEO Bob Bradway stepped up to the M&A table and acquired Five Prime for $1.9 billion, following up with the smaller Rodeo acquisition, he’s gone back in for another biotech buyout.

This time around, Amgen is paying $900 million cash while committing up to $1.6 billion in milestones to bag the privately held Teneobio, an antibody drug developer that has expertise in developing new bispecifics and multispecifics. In addition, Amgen cited Teneobio’s “T-cell engager platform, which expands on Amgen’s existing leadership position in bispecific T-cell engagers by providing a differentiated, but complementary, approach to Amgen’s current BiTE platform.”

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How one start­up fore­told the neu­ro­science re­nais­sance af­ter '50 years of shit­show'

In the past couple of years, something curious has happened: Pharma and VC dollars started gushing into neuroscience research.

Biogen’s controversial new Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm has been approved on the basis of removing amyloid plaque from the brain, but the new neuro-focused pharma and biotechs have much loftier aims. Significantly curbing or even curing the most notorious disorders would prove the Holy Grail for a complex system that has tied the world’s best drug developers in knots for decades.

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Ryan Watts, Denali CEO

De­nali slips as a snap­shot of ear­ly da­ta rais­es some trou­bling ques­tions on its pi­o­neer­ing blood-brain bar­ri­er neu­ro work

Denali Therapeutics had drummed up considerable hype for their blood-brain barrier technology since launching over six years ago, hype that’s only intensified in the last 14 months following the publications of a pair of papers last spring and proof of concept data earlier this year. On Sunday, the South San Francisco-based biotech gave the biopharma world the next look at in-human data for its lead candidate in Hunter syndrome.

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Why is On­col­o­gy Drug De­vel­op­ment Re­search Late to the Dig­i­tal Bio­mark­ers Game?

During the recent Annual ASCO Meeting, thousands of cancer researchers and clinicians from across the globe joined together virtually to present and discuss the latest findings and breakthroughs in cancer research and care. There were more than 5000+ scientific abstracts presented during this event, yet only a handful involved the use of motion-tracking wearables to collect digital measures relating to activity, sleep, mobility, functional status, and/or quality of life. Although these results were a bit disappointing, they should come as no surprise to those of us in the wearable technology field.

Art Levinson (Calico)

Google-backed Cal­i­co dou­bles down on an­ti-ag­ing R&D pact with Ab­b­Vie as part­ners ante up $1B, start to de­tail drug tar­gets

Seven years after striking up a major R&D alliance, AbbVie and Google-backed anti-aging specialist Calico are doubling down on their work with a joint, $1 billion commitment to continuing their work together. And they’re also beginning to offer some details on where this project is taking them in the clinic.

According to their statement, each of the two players is putting up $500 million more to keep the labs humming.

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Andrea Pfeifer, AC Immune CEO (AC Immune)

Look­ing to repli­cate Covid-19 suc­cess in neu­ro, BioN­Tech back­ers bet on AC Im­mune and its new­ly-ac­quired Parkin­son's vac­cine

The German billionaires behind BioNTech have found a new vaccine project to back.

Through their family office Athos Service, twin brothers Thomas and Andreas Strüngmann are leading a $25 million private placement into Switzerland’s AC Immune — which concurrently announced that it’s shelling out $58.7 million worth of stock to acquire Affiris’ portfolio of therapies targeting alpha-synuclein, including a vaccine candidate, for Parkinson’s disease.

Rajiv Shukla, Constellation Alpha Holdings

Can­del gets busy IPO week mov­ing with down­sized raise as Ra­jiv Shuk­la's third SPAC goes pub­lic

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

In a week that’s expected to see several biotechs price their IPOs, Candel Therapeutics got things kicked off Tuesday with a muted opener.

The company helmed by former GlaxoSmithKline vet Paul Peter Tak made its way to Nasdaq thanks to a $72 million raise, which was downsized by about 15% than originally anticipated, according to Renaissance Capital. Candel priced at $8 per share after initially seeking to launch in the $13 to $15 range.

Busi­ness­es and schools can man­date the use of Covid-19 vac­cines un­der EUAs, DOJ says

As public and private companies stare down the reality of the Delta variant, many are now requiring that their employees or students be vaccinated against Covid-19 prior to attending school or to returning or starting a new job. Claims that such mandates are illegal or cannot be used for vaccines under emergency use authorizations have now been dismissed.

Setting the record straight, the Department of Justice on Monday called the mandates legal in a new memo, even when used for people with vaccines that remain subject to EUAs.

Ugur Sahin, BioNTech CEO (Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa via AP Images)

BioN­Tech is spear­head­ing an mR­NA vac­cine de­vel­op­ment pro­gram for malar­ia, with a tech trans­fer planned for Africa

Flush with the success of its mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, BioNTech is now gearing up for one of the biggest challenges in vaccine development — which comes without potential profit.

The German mRNA pioneer says it plans to work on a jab for malaria, then transfer the tech to the African continent, where it will work with partners on developing the manufacturing ops needed to make this and other vaccines.

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