Months af­ter $10M Se­ries A, rare dis­ease AI up­start Healx hauls in $56M in fresh fund­ing

In 2010, Nick Sireau quit his job to fo­cus sole­ly on the pa­tient group he had set up to help his sons di­ag­nosed with a rare ge­net­ic dis­ease called alka­p­tonuria (AKU). Re­searchers had found a fea­si­ble treat­ment from an un­like­ly source: a weed­killer, but it was be­ing used to help in­fants with a dif­fer­ent dis­or­der. Sireau would then con­front the per­ils of the tra­di­tion­al tri­al-and-er­ror drug dis­cov­ery process that de­mands time and mon­ey.

Tim Guil­liams

In 2014, two sci­en­tists met Sireau, who had been fierce­ly lob­by­ing and fundrais­ing to get UK au­thor­i­ties to tri­al the com­pound in pa­tients with AKU. The en­counter sparked the two re­searchers — the British sci­en­tist be­hind Vi­a­gra, David Brown, and a bio­engi­neer from Cam­bridge, Tim Guil­liams — to work on mar­ry­ing the con­cept of drug re­pur­pos­ing with AI and ma­chine learn­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly for rare con­di­tions. Soon, their com­pa­ny — Healx — was born.

This Ju­ly, the Cam­bridge, UK-based com­pa­ny raised $10 mil­lion in a Se­ries A round of fund­ing. On Wednes­day, Healx un­veiled a fresh $56 mil­lion in­jec­tion — as it preps for a Phase IIa clin­i­cal tri­al ex­pect­ed to ini­ti­ate in the first quar­ter of 2020 — in pa­tients with Frag­ile X syn­drome, a con­di­tion that spawns de­vel­op­men­tal prob­lems and is con­sid­ered the lead­ing ge­net­ic cause of autism.

Nick Sireau

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The tri­al will eval­u­ate the safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy of a com­bi­na­tion ther­a­py, Guil­liams told End­points News, de­clin­ing to pro­vide fur­ther de­tail.

“If you look at com­bi­na­tions of two or three drugs, you have about 13 bil­lion pos­si­bil­i­ties per dis­ease — so how do you se­lect the top 10, the top 20? And we don’t go be­yond that,” Guil­liams said. Healx’s AI plat­form claims to short­en the dis­cov­ery-to-clin­ic time­line to as lit­tle as 24 months.

David Brown

Healx’s ap­proach does not lean on an ini­tial hy­poth­e­sis. “We let the al­go­rithm de­cide which dis­eases we’re go­ing to work on, which drugs are be­ing matched. And then we work out a mech­a­nism or hy­poth­e­sis af­ter­wards,” he said.

So far, Healx has launched 10 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams across a pletho­ra of in­di­ca­tions — of which four (in­clud­ing the Frag­ile X pro­gram) have reaped re­sults so far, Guil­liams said, not­ing that each of these read­outs has been pos­i­tive. With this Se­ries B, the plan is to launch an­oth­er 40 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams, he added.

If they are suc­cess­ful — with any of these shots on goal — the plan is to make sure pric­ing is not in the typ­i­cal or­phan drug price range which hov­ers around $240,000 per pa­tient per year, Guil­liams said.

Re­pur­pos­ing drugs on pur­pose (or by ac­ci­dent) has yield­ed some suc­cess — that the process in­volves large­ly de-risked com­pounds, low­er de­vel­op­men­tal costs, and briefer time­lines doesn’t hurt ei­ther.

Vi­a­gra is, of course, the most heav­i­ly cit­ed ex­am­ple. The drug, known chem­i­cal­ly as silde­nafil, was orig­i­nal­ly be­ing test­ed as a treat­ment for coro­nary hy­per­ten­sion — but a pesky side ef­fect felt by pa­tients in tri­als led to its even­tu­al ap­proval as an erec­tile dys­func­tion drug.

Then there’s the seda­tive thalido­mide — which gained no­to­ri­ety af­ter its link to se­vere skele­tal birth de­fects trig­gered its with­draw­al in 1957. How­ev­er, years lat­er it was deemed ef­fec­tive as a can­cer treat­ment, even breed­ing the de­vel­op­ment and ap­proval of even more suc­cess­ful de­riv­a­tives, such as Cel­gene’s block­buster Revlim­id.

Mean­while, Mer­ck’s Vioxx — which was un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous­ly tak­en off shelves af­ter its link to dou­bling pa­tients’ risk of heart at­tack and stroke emerged — could resur­face as a gener­ic treat­ment for a side ef­fect ex­pe­ri­enced by he­mo­phil­ia pa­tients. The gener­ic ver­sion is be­ing prepped for a piv­otal tri­al slat­ed to be­gin next year.

But akin to tra­di­tion­al drug de­vel­op­ment, drug re­pur­pos­ing has al­so seen its share of set­backs. Two ex­am­ples of late-stage fail­ures in­clude the bid to use the an­ti­his­t­a­mine, la­trepir­dine, as a treat­ment for Hunt­ing­ton’s dis­ease, as well as the pur­suit of re­pur­pos­ing the an­tibi­ot­ic, cef­tri­ax­one, as a med­i­cine for ALS.

Healx’s Se­ries B was led by Eu­ro­pean VC firm Atom­i­co and joined by Glob­al Brain and btov Part­ners. All pre­vi­ous in­vestors, in­clud­ing Balder­ton Cap­i­tal, Amadeus Cap­i­tal Part­ners and Jonathan Mil­ner, al­so par­tic­i­pat­ed in the round.

Healx did not ini­tial­ly plan to raise more mon­ey this year, but in­ter­est in their ap­proach bal­looned giv­en their progress, Guil­liams said. “I think that’s a re­al­ly good sign for the in­vest­ment land­scape in the UK and Eu­rope be­cause for Eu­rope it’s a pret­ty large B round…com­pared to the US.”

“And I’m won­der­ing if part of that is let’s make sure we in­vest be­fore Brex­it kicks in.”

Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk gestures to the audience after being recognized by President Trump following the successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center. (via Getty Images)

Tes­la chief Elon Musk teams up with Covid-19 play­er Cure­Vac to build 'R­NA mi­cro­fac­to­ries'

Elon Musk has joined the global tech crusade now underway to revolutionize vaccine manufacturing — now aimed at delivering billions of doses of a new mRNA vaccine to fight Covid-19. And he’s cutting right to the front.

In a late-night tweet Wednesday, the Tesla chief announced:

Tesla, as a side project, is building RNA microfactories for CureVac & possibly others.

That’s not a lot to go on. But the tweet comes a year after Tesla’s German division in Grohmann and CureVac filed a patent on a “bioreactor for RNA in vitro transcription, a method for RNA in vitro transcription, a module for transcribing DNA into RNA and an automated apparatus for RNA manufacturing.” CureVac, in the meantime, has discussed a variety of plans to build microfactories that can speed up the whole process for a global supply chain.

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George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

UP­DAT­ED: Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

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Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

Elias Zer­houni dis­cuss­es ‘am­a­teur hour’ in DC, the de­struc­tion of in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D and how we need to prep for the next time

Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

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Sec­ond death trig­gers hold on Astel­las' $3B gene ther­a­py biotech's lead pro­gram, rais­ing fresh con­cerns about AAV

Seven months after Astellas shelled out $3 billion to acquire the gene therapy player Audentes, the biotech company’s lead program has been put on hold following the death of 2 patients taking a high dose of their treatment. And there was another serious adverse event recorded in the study as well, with a total of 3 “older” patients in the study affected.

The incidents are derailing plans to file for a near-term approval, which had been expected right about now.

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Douglas Love, Annexon CEO (Annexon)

IPO bound? A Bay Area biotech grabs a mega-round on the road to a piv­otal neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion pro­gram

South San Francisco-based Annexon has added $100 million to its cash reserves, along with a new roster of marquee investors backing their play on the classical complement pathway involved in neurodegeneration. And that may well fit the profile for an IPO — though right now everything seems to be working on that score.

Eighteen months after Bain and their syndicate partners put up $75 million to fuel clinical work, Annexon is back at the trough. And this time they’re adding Redmile Group for the lead role, with supporting investments from these new arrivals: BlackRock, Deerfield Management Company, Eventide Asset Management, Farallon Capital Management, Janus Henderson Investors and Logos Capital.

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Pfiz­er shares surge on pos­i­tive im­pact of their mR­NA Covid-19 vac­cine — part­nered with BioN­Tech — in an ear­ly-stage study

Pfizer and their partners at the mRNA specialist BioNTech have published the first glimpse of biomarker data from an early-stage study spotlighting the “robust immunogenicity” triggered by their Covid-19 vaccine, which is one of the leaders in the race to vanquish the global pandemic.

Researchers selected 45 healthy volunteers 18-55 years of age for the study. They were randomized to receive 2 doses, separated by 21 days, of 10 µg, 30 µg, or 100 µg of BNT162b1, “a lipid nanoparticle-formulated, nucleoside-modified, mRNA vaccine that encodes trimerized SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein RBD.” Their responses were compared against the effect of a natural, presumably protective defense offered by a regular infection.

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Randy Schatzman, Bolt CEO (Bolt Biotherapeutics)

Bolt Bio­ther­a­peu­tics nabs $93.5M to push Provenge in­ven­tor's new idea deep­er in the clin­ic

A cancer-fighting concept from the inventor of the first cancer vaccine is nearing prime time, and its biotech developer has received a significant new infusion of cash to get it there.

Bolt Biotherapeutics announced a $93.5 million Series C round led by Sofinnova Investments and joined by more than 9 others, including Pfizer Ventures and RA Capital Management. That money will go toward pushing the San Francisco biotech’s platform of innate immune-boosting warheads through its first trial on metastatic solid tumors and into several more.

Josh Cohen, Justin Klee

Armed with pos­i­tive ALS da­ta, Amy­lyx scores $30M in fresh fund­ing to com­plete Alzheimer's PhII

Four years after announcing themselves to the biotech world with a new idea for drugging neurodegeneration, backing by the late Henri Termeer and $5 million from Morningside Venture, the young entrepreneurs at Amylyx are back for round 2.

Morningside continued to lead the $30 million Series B, with participation from Termeer’s widow, Belinda, and other unnamed investors. Having celebrated a topline Phase II win for its lead program in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Amylyx expects the cash to fund talks with regulators as well as a separate trial for the same drug in Alzheimer’s — for which they had just finished enrolling.

An ex­pe­ri­enced biotech is stitched to­geth­er from transpa­cif­ic parts, with 265 staffers and a fo­cus on ‘new bi­ol­o­gy’

Over the past few years, different teams at a pair of US-based biotechs and in labs in Japan have labored to piece together a group of cancer drug programs, sharing a single corporate umbrella with research colleagues in Japan. But now their far-flung operations have been knit together into a single unit, creating a pipeline with 10 cancer drug development programs — going from early-stage right into Phase III — and a host of discovery projects managed by a collective staff of some 265 people.

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