Terray Therapeutics CEO Jacob Berlin (L) and CFO and COO Eli Berlin

Months af­ter adding $60M to cof­fers, AI start­up Ter­ray nabs dis­cov­ery pact with Google's Cal­i­co

A small Cal­i­for­nia biotech emerged from stealth last year to go af­ter drug dis­cov­ery’s “da­ta prob­lem,” and now the AI out­fit has an­nounced its first pub­lic part­ner­ship.

Art Levin­son

Ter­ray Ther­a­peu­tics put out word Wednes­day that it reached a deal with Cal­i­co Life Sci­ences, the Google-backed an­ti-ag­ing biotech co-found­ed by in­dus­try leg­end,  bil­lion­aire and cur­rent CEO Art Levin­son, the for­mer head over at Genen­tech and cur­rent chair­man at Ap­ple.

The premise of the deal, Ter­ray CEO Ja­cob Berlin tells End­points News, is that Ter­ray will be us­ing its AI drug dis­cov­ery plat­form with cer­tain tar­gets that Cal­i­co is look­ing at, iden­ti­fy­ing po­ten­tial lead com­pounds in-house that could be fur­ther out-li­censed to Cal­i­co. Then, Cal­i­co would as­sume re­spon­si­bil­i­ty for de­vel­op­ment and com­mer­cial­iza­tion.

While Ter­ray would not dis­close spe­cif­ic tar­gets, the biotech will be look­ing at “dis­eases of ag­ing,” cit­ing one of those dis­eases as can­cer. Fi­nan­cial specifics re­main un­known, but Ter­ray will re­ceive a pay­ment up­front and re­main el­i­gi­ble for mile­stones and po­ten­tial roy­al­ties on net sales, per a state­ment.

Ja­cob Berlin said that Ter­ray and Cal­i­co have al­ready been in dis­cus­sions for some time be­fore the deal was set.

“As we had those dis­cus­sions, I think both sides re­al­ly saw the op­por­tu­ni­ty here to pair their se­lec­tion of tar­gets and their ex­per­tise in ag­ing-re­lat­ed dis­eases with our chem­i­cal dis­cov­ery en­gine,” Ja­cob Berlin said, adding that “we’re ex­cit­ed to get go­ing with them.”

As a for­mer as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the City of Hope, Ja­cob Berlin had start­ed work on Ter­ray’s plat­form more than six years be­fore Ter­ray spun out of City of Hope in Oc­to­ber 2018. Ter­ray’s plat­form fea­tures nick­el-sized chips, with 32 mil­lion wells that can hold one mol­e­cule per well. Then, Ter­ray can screen these mol­e­cules against po­ten­tial tar­gets in a mat­ter of min­utes, re­port­ing that da­ta to ma­chine learn­ing mod­els and pre­dict­ing which mol­e­cules should go for­ward for ad­di­tion­al screen­ing.

This is not Ter­ray’s on­ly part­ner­ship, Ja­cob Berlin not­ed — say­ing that there are on­go­ing part­ner­ships with cer­tain biotech and phar­ma com­pa­nies. How­ev­er, those re­main undis­closed. And in the mean­time, Ter­ray will be work­ing on its own in­ter­nal pipeline, which is cur­rent­ly fo­cused on im­munol­o­gy.

While Ja­cob Berlin is the CEO, he brought his old­er broth­er, Eli, on board as CFO and COO.

Cal­i­co has been around since 2013, with now ex-Google su­per­star (and GV founder) Bill Maris as its first CEO. It had inked deals with oth­er com­pa­nies/re­search groups in its ear­ly days, such as Ab­b­Vie, Broad In­sti­tute and the Buck In­sti­tute for Re­search on Ag­ing.

Jonathan Lewis

And while Cal­i­co em­ployed some of the top sci­en­tists in the ini­tial years af­ter its found­ing, it lost two of its high­est pro­file re­searchers in late 2017 and ear­ly 2018: R&D chief Hal Bar­ron (who left to run R&D at GSK be­fore leav­ing for his CEO po­si­tion at se­cre­tive an­ti-ag­ing out­fit Al­tos Labs) and AI chief Daphne Koller, who went on to found in­sitro and is cur­rent­ly CEO.

Cal­i­co’s CBO Jonathan Lewis wrote in a state­ment that Cal­i­co looks for­ward to part­ner­ing with the team at Ter­ray.

Ter­ray emerged ear­li­er this year af­ter spend­ing three years in stealth — com­ing out swing­ing with a $60 mil­lion Se­ries A round led by Madrona Ven­ture Group. Oth­er in­vestors in­clud­ed Two Sig­ma Ven­tures, Dig­i­tal­is Ven­tures, KdT Ven­tures, Gold­crest Cap­i­tal, XTX Ven­tures, Sah­sen Ven­tures, Green­trail Cap­i­tal and Alexan­dria Ven­ture In­vest­ments.

Big Phar­ma's Twit­ter ex­o­dus; Mer­ck wa­gers $1.35B on buy­out; $3.5M gene ther­a­py; 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.

As you start planning for #JPM23, we hope you will consider joining Endpoints News for our live and virtual events. For those who are celebrating Thanksgiving, we hope you are enjoying the long weekend with loved ones. And if you’re not — we’ll see you next week!

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Rob Davis, Merck CEO

Up­dat­ed: No Seagen here: 'Do more' means a small $1.35B pur­chase of Ima­go for Mer­ck

Merck is making an acquisition, the Big Pharma announced before Monday’s opening bell. No, Seagen is not entering the fold, as had been speculated for quarters.

Folding under Merck’s wings will be Pfizer-backed Imago BioSciences. For nearly a year, Merck CEO Rob Davis has been saying the pharma giant needs to “do more” on the business development front after its 2021 $11.5 billion acquisition of Acceleron.

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Paul Perreault, CSL Behring CEO

CSL lands FDA ap­proval for he­mo­phil­ia B gene ther­a­py, sets $3.5M list price

The FDA has approved the world’s first gene therapy for hemophilia B, ushering into the market a treatment that’s historic in both what it promises to do and how much it will cost.

CSL will be marketing the drug, Hemgenix, at a list price of $3.5 million — which sets a new record for the most expensive single-use gene therapy in the US.

In a statement provided to Endpoints News, the Australian company noted that the current costs of treating people with moderate to severe hemophilia B can be significant over a lifetime. By some estimates, healthcare systems could spend more than $20 million per person.

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Elon Musk (GDA via AP Images)

Biggest drug com­pa­nies halt­ed Twit­ter ad buys af­ter Lil­ly in­sulin spoof

Almost all of the drug industry’s biggest advertisers cut their spending on Twitter to zero or near-zero over the last two weeks amid worries about impersonation of their brands by pranksters and the future of the social media company.

Among 18 of the biggest pharmaceutical advertisers in the US market, 12 cut their Twitter ad spending to nothing for the week beginning Nov. 14, according to Pathmatics, which tracks data on prescription drug ad spending as well as general corporate advertising. The list of drugmakers cutting spending to zero includes Merck, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Novartis, Pfizer and others.

Alzheimer’s drug bites the dust; Re­struc­ture, re­struc­ture, re­struc­ture; Land­mark di­a­betes OK; 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.

Being in the news business can give one a warped sense of time — it feels like quite a while since we published some of these stories below. But next Saturday’s Endpoints Weekly will definitely be shorter, as we take off Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving. We will still have the abbreviated edition in your inbox at the usual time.

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Peter Hecht, Cyclerion CEO

Cy­cle­ri­on board quick­ly nix­es CEO Pe­ter Hecht's un­ortho­dox pitch for low cash re­serves

It’s been less than two months since Cyclerion laid out a new R&D strategy around its lead drug in mitochondrial diseases, one that triggered the company to lay off close to half of its employees and explore licensing deals for the rest of the pipeline. But CEO Peter Hecht apparently has other plans in mind.

Hecht, who led Ironwood for close to 20 years before spinning out Cyclerion, disclosed in an SEC filing Monday that a “newly-formed private company” that he “may have or may acquire an interest” submitted a proposal to Cyclerion the day prior to purchase Cyclerion’s CNS assets, including CY6463 and CY3018 — the top two programs listed in the pipeline.

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Image: Shutterstock

MIT re­searchers re­veal DNA "Paste" tech be­hind lat­est gene edit­ing start­up

MIT scientists have developed a tool that they say can insert large gene sequences where they want in the genome.

In a paper published Thursday in Nature Biotechnology, MIT fellows Omar Abudayyeh, Jonathan Gootenberg and colleagues detail a technology they call PASTE, which they say can potentially be used to insert long strands of DNA and treat genetic diseases caused by many different mutations, such as cystic fibrosis and Leber congenital amaurosis, a rare eye disorder that causes blindness.

J&J's Spra­va­to pulls a PhI­II win against Sero­quel XR in treat­ment-re­sis­tant de­pres­sion

A day before Thanksgiving, J&J’s Janssen has a new cut of Phase III Spravato data to be grateful for.

The pharma giant announced on Wednesday that its nasal spray, also known as esketamine, beat extended-release quetiapine, previously sold by AstraZeneca as Seroquel XR, in treatment-resistant depression (TRD). Of 676 adults, a significantly higher number of patients on Spravato were able to achieve remission and avoid relapse after 32 weeks, according to J&J.

Dermavant Sciences' first consumer TV ad for its Vtama psoriasis med shows people ready for a new topical treatment.

Roivant’s Der­ma­vant de­buts first-ever TV com­mer­cial for pso­ri­a­sis cream Vta­ma

Dermavant Sciences has been marketing its first product, psoriasis med Vtama, to dermatologists for months, but on Tuesday it rolled out its first consumer campaign. The debut DTC effort including a streaming TV commercial encourages patients to a “Topical Uprising” in a nod to Vtama being a topical cream.

In the new commercial, a swell of people discards scarves and jacket coverings, gathering in the street to converge on a pharmacy to demand a steroid-free prescription. A moment of levity follows when a pharmacist says, “You know you can just talk to your doctor, right?” The gathered crowds collectively says, “Oh.”

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