Andrew Hopkins, Exscientia CEO (Exscientia)

Lay­ing claim to an­oth­er AI 'first,' Ex­sci­en­tia tees up an I/O drug for the clin­ic

In Jan­u­ary 2020, Ex­sci­en­tia an­nounced that a drug mol­e­cule to treat OCD in­vent­ed by AI was set to en­ter clin­i­cal tri­als for the first time. A lit­tle over a year lat­er, its AI-de­signed mol­e­cule for im­muno-on­col­o­gy will do the same.

The A2a re­cep­tor an­tag­o­nist was co-de­vel­oped with Evotec and has the po­ten­tial to pre­vent adeno­sine from bind­ing to T-cell re­cep­tors, pro­mot­ing an­ti-tu­mor T-cell ac­tiv­i­ty. Ex­sci­en­tia CEO An­drew Hop­kins said in a state­ment that the mol­e­cule was dis­cov­ered with­in 8 months from project ini­ti­a­tion.

That time frame was even faster than the com­pa­ny’s mol­e­cule for OCD treat­ment, which reached the point of en­ter­ing clin­i­cal tri­als with­in just a year, which is the kind of boast that the AI com­pa­nies love to make. In a Jan­u­ary in­ter­view with The Tele­graph, Hop­kins hint­ed that Ex­sci­en­tia was inch­ing to­ward tri­als of its sec­ond drug, and said that the short­cut was pos­si­ble be­cause the AI plat­form — named Cen­taur — is able to help nar­row down the field of po­ten­tial win­ners. In­stead of test­ing hun­dreds or thou­sands of mol­e­cules, the al­go­rithm ze­roes in on those with po­ten­tial for suc­cess.

Ex­sci­en­tia was not able to an­swer ques­tions in time for this sto­ry’s pub­li­ca­tion Fri­day.

Pernille Hansen

The an­nounce­ment comes at a hot time for ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence plat­forms. The cost of drug de­vel­op­ment in­volves a de­bate that has rolled on for years, but the AI crowd like to fo­cus on a $2.6 bil­lion es­ti­mate to help back their case. Of course, we won’t know the true ad­van­tage un­til the first AI drug makes it through the clin­ic — and in­to the mar­ket.

In Jan­u­ary, As­traZeneca added its first tar­get gen­er­at­ed by AI to its port­fo­lio, af­ter a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Benev­o­len­tAI that be­gan in April 2019. That work fo­cused on chron­ic kid­ney dis­ease, and fits in­to the com­pa­ny’s broad­er AI strat­e­gy. As­traZeneca’s head of re­nal bio­sciences Pernille Hansen said that AI can be used in ways oth­er than dis­cov­er­ing new tar­gets: in chem­istry, imag­ing and be­yond.

Benev­o­len­tAI’s COO Ivan Grif­fin told End­points News in Jan­u­ary that his com­pa­ny has spent years feed­ing its tech with da­ta from pro­teins, genes and re­sults pub­lished in sci­en­tif­ic jour­nals in an ef­fort to train its al­go­rithm to make con­nec­tions that sci­en­tists may not have no­ticed at first. Sci­en­tists take ad­van­tage of these AI-pre­dict­ed re­la­tion­ships and then in­ter­ro­gate them to see if they hold up, Grif­fin said.

Ivan Grif­fin

In Feb­ru­ary, In­sil­i­co founder Alex Zha­voronkov an­nounced that it brought its first can­di­date in­to IND-en­abling stud­ies. His com­pa­ny’s goal is to launch an in-hu­man tri­al lat­er in 2021, though he wasn’t ready to an­nounce what the tar­get or ex­per­i­men­tal drug is. Its fo­cus will be id­io­path­ic pul­monary fi­bro­sis, some­thing that Benev­o­len­tAI and As­traZeneca have al­so said to be col­lab­o­rat­ing on.

Pre­clin­i­cal da­ta from this project will be pre­sent­ed at the AACR an­nu­al meet­ing.

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

Covid-19 vac­cine boost­ers earn big thumbs up, but Mod­er­na draws ire over world sup­ply; What's next for Mer­ck’s Covid pill?; The C-suite view on biotech; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

You may remember that at the beginning of this year, Endpoints News set a goal to go broader and deeper. We are still working towards that, and are excited to share that Beth Snyder Bulik will be joining us on Monday to cover all things pharma marketing. You can sign up for her weekly Endpoints MarketingRx newsletter in your reader profile.

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No­var­tis de­vel­op­ment chief John Tsai: 'We go deep in the new plat­form­s'

During our recent European Biopharma Summit, I talked with Novartis development chief John Tsai about his experiences over the 3-plus years he’s been at the pharma giant. You can read the transcript below or listen to the exchange in the link above.

John Carroll: I followed your career for quite some time. You’ve had more than 20 years in big pharma R&D and you’ve obviously seen quite a lot. I really was curious about what it was like for you three and a half years ago when you took over as R&D chief at Novartis. Obviously a big move, a lot of changes. You went to work for the former R&D chief of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan, who had his own track record there. So what was the biggest adjustment when you went into this position?

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Susan Galbraith, Executive VP, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

As­traZeneca on­col­o­gy R&D chief Su­san Gal­braith: 'Y­ou're go­ing to need or­thog­o­nal com­bi­na­tion­s'


Earlier in the week we broadcast our 4th annual European Biopharma Summit with a great lineup of top execs. One of the one-on-one conversations I set up was with Susan Galbraith, the oncology research chief at AstraZeneca. In a wide-ranging discussion, Galbraith reviewed the cancer drug pipeline and key trends influencing development work at the pharma giant. You can watch the video, above, or stick with the script below. — JC

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Susan Galbraith speaking at Endpoints News' virtual EUBIO21 summit

Imfinzi/treme­li­mum­ab com­bo scores As­traZeneca an­oth­er OS win — this time in liv­er can­cer

Is the tide turning on AstraZeneca’s battered PD-L1/CTLA4 combo?

A single priming dose of the experimental tremelimumab, followed by Imfinzi every four weeks, beat Nexavar (sorafenib) in helping a group of liver cancer patients live longer in a Phase III study, the company reported, meeting the primary endpoint.

Specifically, the two drugs extended overall survival for patients with unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma who had not received prior systemic therapy and were not eligible for localized treatment.

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Roche's Tecen­triq cross­es the fin­ish line first in ad­ju­vant lung can­cer, po­ten­tial­ly kick­ing off gold rush

While falling behind the biggest PD-(L)1 drugs in terms of sales, Roche has looked to carve out a space for its Tecentriq with a growing expertise in lung cancer. The drug will now take an early lead in the sought-after adjuvant setting — but competitors are on the way.

The FDA on Friday approved Tecentriq as an adjuvant therapy for patients with Stage II-IIIA non small cell lung cancer with PD-(L)1 scores greater than or equal to 1, making it the first drug of its kind approved in an early setting that covers around 40% of all NSCLC patients.

Amit Etkin, Alto Neuroscience CEO (Alto via Vimeo)

A star Stan­ford pro­fes­sor leaves his lab for a start­up out to re­make psy­chi­a­try

About five years ago, Amit Etkin had a breakthrough.

The Stanford neurologist, a soft-spoken demi-prodigy who became a professor while still a resident, had been obsessed for a decade with how to better define psychiatric disorders. Drugs for depression or bipolar disorder didn’t work for many patients with the conditions, and he suspected the reason was how traditional diagnoses didn’t actually get at the heart of what was going on in a patient’s brain.

Rahul Singhvi, Resilience CEO

A Bob Nelsen start­up turns to Har­vard to help sharp­en its tech, in­spir­ing first spin­out

One of Bob Nelsen’s latest projects is headed to Harvard.

Resilience, a company started with the goal of establishing itself as a “one-stop-shop” for companies looking to scale manufacturing, including for hard-to-develop cell and gene therapies, is less than a year old. Friday, it announced a five-year R&D deal with Harvard University that includes $30 million to develop biologics, including vaccines, nucleic acids and cell and gene therapies.

Tillman Gerngross, Adagio CEO

Q&A: Till­man Gern­gross ex­plains why his Covid mAb will have an edge over an al­ready crowd­ed field

If anyone knows about monoclonal antibodies, it’s serial entrepreneur, Adimab CEO, and Dartmouth professor of bioengineering Tillman Gerngross.

Even the name of Gerngross’ new antibody startup Adagio Therapeutics is meant to reflect his vision behind the development of his Covid-19 mAb: slowly, he said, explaining that “everyone else, whether it’s Regeneron, Lilly, or AstraZeneca, Vir, they all valued speed over everything.”

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