Iya Khalil (Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation via YouTube)

No­var­tis taps Iya Khalil, physi­cist co-founder of GNS Health­care, to lead AI In­no­va­tion Cen­ter

At the turn of the mil­len­ni­um, fin­ish­ing up her PhD in the­o­ret­i­cal physics, Iya Khalil found the ca­reer paths in front of her want­i­ng. Aca­d­e­m­ic post­ings were tough to get, but she couldn’t en­vi­sion ap­ply­ing all she’s learned to pre­dict stocks on Wall Streets, as some of her con­tem­po­raries did.

She was work­ing on mod­els of two-di­men­sion­al elec­tron gas, a top­ic in sol­id-state physics, when she met Col­in Hill, the fel­low Cor­nell physi­cist with whom she would lat­er start a com­pa­ny named Gene Net­work Sci­ences.

“As I start­ed to dig in­to bi­ol­o­gy, we’re deal­ing with — on some lev­el — a far more vast com­plex sys­tem, and peo­ple were just try­ing to use their em­pir­i­cal minds to un­der­stand it,” she re­called on a Tech­Ton­ics pod­cast from 2018. “They ob­serve it and their minds, they go, oh I un­der­stand this path­way. And I thought, OK, this is a field that re­al­ly does need math­e­mat­ics. And if we could ap­ply now, in the same way we do in physics, sort of ob­ser­va­tion with math to make quan­ti­ta­tive pre­dic­tions, per­haps we can get at re­al­ly un­der­stand­ing fun­da­men­tal­ly why a cell be­comes can­cer­ous and start to tar­get it.”

Af­ter 20 years build­ing both the plat­form and a busi­ness mod­el — in­clud­ing a decade as chief com­mer­cial of­fi­cer at the re­brand­ed GNS Health­care, sell­ing its tech plat­form to bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies — Khalil is now join­ing No­var­tis as the glob­al head of the AI In­no­va­tion Cen­ter.

In the role, Khalil will be re­spon­si­ble for “lead­ing deep AI in­no­va­tions for the en­ter­prise, at a glob­al scale and be the in­ter­face be­tween No­var­tis and a num­ber of key ex­ter­nal part­ners in­clud­ing Mi­crosoft and lead­ing aca­d­e­m­ic in­sti­tu­tions,” the Swiss drug­mak­er said in a state­ment.

Vas Narasimhan

Vas Narasimhan has made big da­ta a core tenet of his reign at No­var­tis, shin­ing a bright spot­light on things like a NASA-style clin­i­cal tri­al com­mand cen­ter. He was al­so one of the first Big Phar­ma CEOs to hire a chief dig­i­tal of­fi­cer, bring­ing in Bertrand Bod­son from Sains­bury’s Ar­gos ear­ly in 2018.

The AI in­no­va­tion lab was launched last Oc­to­ber in part­ner­ship with Mi­crosoft, with a broad mis­sion to em­pow­er every No­var­tis em­ploy­ee and ex­plore some of the hard­est com­pu­ta­tion­al chal­lenges in drug dis­cov­ery, de­vel­op­ment and op­ti­miza­tion.

Khalil is now tasked with all of that.

In a farewell note to GNS — which is now dis­tin­guish­ing it­self among a new wave of AI play­ers promis­ing to pre­dict pa­tient out­comes, iden­ti­fy bio­mark­ers and sug­gest drug tar­gets with a causal ma­chine learn­ing mod­el — she re­flect­ed on her big bet on what was then a bare­ly ex­is­tent field and what the fu­ture holds.

The po­ten­tial of AI and deep da­ta is lim­it­less in help­ing us de­ci­pher hu­man dis­ease and bi­ol­o­gy, defin­ing AI as a key part of the path for­ward. I am so proud of the work we have done at GNS and the work our part­ners have ac­com­plished with the help of our tech­nol­o­gy. Leav­ing is nev­er easy, but in tak­ing this next step, I am ex­cit­ed to con­tin­ue bring­ing the promise of AI to fruition in life sci­ences. GNS, and the ex­pe­ri­ences we shared here, will al­ways be a huge part of me.

#ES­MO20: Trodelvy da­ta show that Gilead­'s $21B buy­out may have been worth the big pre­mi­um

Gilead CEO Dan O’Day has been on a shopping spree. And while some analysts gawked at the biotech’s recent $21 billion Immunomedics buyout, new data released at virtual ESMO 2020 suggest the acquisition may have been worth the hefty price.

The deal, announced last weekend, gives California-based Gilead $GILD Trodelvy, which was recently approved for metastatic triple-negative breast cancer (mTNBC).

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#ES­MO20: As­traZeneca bur­nish­es Tagris­so's ad­ju­vant NSCLC pro­file with 'un­prece­dent­ed' re­duc­tion in brain mets. Can they win over skep­tics?

When AstraZeneca trumpeted “momentous” and “transformative” results for Tagrisso earlier this year at ASCO, some practitioners threw cold water on the ADAURA fervor. Sure, the disease-free survival data look good, but overall survival is the endpoint that matters when it comes to choosing adjuvant therapy for non-small cell lung cancer patients, the experts said.

The OS data still aren’t here, but AstraZeneca is back at ESMO to bolster their case with a look at brain metastasis data.

Dan Skovronsky, Eli Lilly CSO

UP­DAT­ED: An­a­lysts are quick to pan Eli Lil­ly's puz­zling first cut of pos­i­tive clin­i­cal da­ta for its Covid-19 an­ti­body

Eli Lilly spotlighted a success for one of 3 doses of their closely-watched Covid-19 antibody drug Wednesday morning. But analysts quickly highlighted some obvious anomalies that could come back to haunt the pharma giant as it looks for an emergency use authorization to launch marketing efforts.

The pharma giant reported that LY-CoV555, developed in collaboration with AbCellera, significantly reduced the rate of hospitalization among patients who were treated with the antibody. The drug arm of the study had a 1.7% hospitalization rate, compared to 6% in the control group, marking a 72% drop in risk.

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Exelixis CEO Michael Morrissey (file photo)

#ES­MO20: Look out Mer­ck. Bris­tol My­ers and Ex­elix­is stake out their com­bo’s claim to best-in-class sta­tus for front­line kid­ney can­cer

Now that the PD-(L)1 checkpoints are deeply entrenched in the oncology market, it’s time to welcome a wave of combination therapies — beyond chemo — looking to extend their benefit to larger numbers of patients. Bristol Myers Squibb ($BMY} and Exelixis {EXEL} are close to the front of that line.

Today at ESMO the collaborators pulled the curtain back on some stellar data for their combination of Opdivo (the PD-1) and Cabometyx (the TKI), marking a significant advance for the blockbuster Bristol Myers franchise while offering a big leg up for the team at Exelixis.

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Donald Trump and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, before boarding Marine One (Getty Images)

Pric­ing deal col­laps­es over Big Phar­ma's re­fusal to is­sue $100 'cash card­s' be­fore the elec­tion — re­port

Late in August, as negotiations on a pricing deal with President Trump reached a boiling point, PhRMA president Stephen Ubl sent an email update to the 34 biopharma chiefs that sit on his board. He wrote that if the industry did not agree to pay for a $100 “cash card” sent to seniors before November, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows was going to tell the news media Big Pharma was refusing to “share the savings” with the elderly — and that all of the blame for failed drug pricing negotiations would lie squarely on the industry.

Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) (Tasos Katopodis/Pool via AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: A mi­cro-cap with a po­ten­tial­ly promis­ing coro­n­avirus drug en­lists mask-skep­tic con­gress­man for DSMB

A small biotech that has talked up a potentially promising but unproven treatment for Covid-19 enlisted an unusual member for its study’s Data and Safety Monitoring Board: a sitting Republican congressman with close ties to the CEO and a history of mask skepticism.

NeuroRx, an Israeli biotech testing a lung inflammation drug in Covid-19 patients, tapped Maryland Rep. Andy Harris for the DSMB, Politico reported. Harris is an anesthesiologist but not a biostatistician, and he has questioned the CDC about a “cult of masks” in the US. Harris has known NeuroRx CEO Jonathan Javitt since the two worked at Johns Hopkins together over 20 years ago.

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#ES­MO20: Alk­er­mes of­fers their first snap­shot of a ben­e­fit for their next-gen IL-2 drug. But why did 1 pa­tient starve to death?

Everyone in the cancer R&D arena is looking to build new franchises around better drugs and combos. And one busy pocket of that space is centered entirely on creating an IL-2 drug that can be as effective as the original without the toxicity that damned it to the sidelines.

Alkermes $ALKS formally tossed its hat into the ring of contenders at virtual ESMO today, highlighting the first glimpse of efficacy for their candidate, ALKS 4230, as both a monotherapy as well as in combination with Merck’s Keytruda.

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Albert Bourla (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Pfiz­er match­es Mod­er­na with their full Covid-19 tri­al blue­print — As­traZeneca says it will un­veil its pro­to­col 'short­ly'

Yesterday, after sustained public pressure as Moderna released its Phase III Covid-19 trial blueprint, Pfizer released its own full trial design for their vaccine trials. The move was designed to boost transparency and shore up public trust in the vaccines, but it also revealed differences in how the two companies are approaching the much-watched studies while failing to satisfy the demands of the fiercest advocates for transparency.

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Stronger to­geth­er? Boehringer and Mi­rati team to put first KRAS-KRAS com­bo in the clin­ic

Researchers are still waiting to see how much any of the vaunted KRAS drugs now in the clinic can, after decades of preclinical research and some early human studies, help patients. But while they do, two of the leading developers will look to see whether a KRAS-KRAS combo might pose a better shot than any KRAS alone.

Boehringer Ingelheim and Mirati have signed a collaboration to combine Mirati’s closely-watched lead KRAS inhibitor, MRTX849, in a clinical trial with the pan-KRAS blocker that Boehringer has quietly developed with high expectations behind their flashier contenders.

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