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.

Drug man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Lon­za taps Roche/phar­ma ‘rein­ven­tion’ vet as its new CEO

Lonza chairman Albert Baehny took his time headhunting a new CEO for the company, making it absolutely clear he wanted a Big Pharma or biotech CEO with a good long track record in the business for the top spot. In the end, he went with the gold standard, turning to Roche’s ranks to recruit Pierre-Alain Ruffieux for the job.

Ruffieux, a member of the pharma leadership team at Roche, spent close to 5 years at the company. But like a small army of manufacturing execs, he gained much of his experience at the other Big Pharma in Basel, remaining at Novartis for 12 years before expanding his horizons.

Bris­tol My­ers is clean­ing up the post-Cel­gene merg­er pipeline, and they’re sweep­ing out an ex­per­i­men­tal check­point in the process

Back during the lead up to the $74 billion buyout of Celgene, the big biotech’s leadership did a little housecleaning with a major pact it had forged with Jounce. Out went the $2.6 billion deal and a collaboration on ICOS and PD-1.

Celgene, though, also added a $530 million deal — $50 million up front — to get the worldwide rights to JTX-8064, a drug that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages.

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UP­DAT­ED: Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom as shares soar

Amid a flurry of splashy pandemic IPOs, a J&J-partnered Chinese biotech has emerged with one of the largest public raises in biotech history.

Legend Biotech, the Nanjing-based CAR-T developer, has raised $424 million on NASDAQ. The biotech had originally filed for a still-hefty $350 million, based on a range of $18-$20, but managed to fetch $23 per share, allowing them to well-eclipse the massive raises from companies like Allogene, Juno, Galapagos, though they’ll still fall a few dollars short of Moderna’s record-setting $600 million raise from 2018.

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As it hap­pened: A bid­ding war for an an­tibi­ot­ic mak­er in a mar­ket that has rav­aged its peers

In a bewildering twist to the long-suffering market for antibiotics — there has actually been a bidding war for an antibiotic company: Tetraphase.

It all started back in March, when the maker of Xerava (an FDA approved therapy for complicated intra-abdominal infections) said it had received an offer from AcelRx for an all-stock deal valued at $14.4 million.

The offer was well-timed. Xerava was approved in 2018, four years after Tetraphase posted its first batch of pivotal trial data, and sales were nowhere near where they needed to be in order for the company to keep its head above water.

David Meline (file photo)

Mod­er­na’s new CFO took a cut in salary to jump to the mR­NA rev­o­lu­tion­ary. But then there’s the rest of the com­pen­sa­tion pack­age

David Meline took a little off the top of his salary when he jumped from the CFO post at giant Amgen to become the numbers czar at the upstart vaccines revolutionary Moderna. But the SEC filing that goes with a major hire also illustrates how it puts him in line for a fortune — provided the biotech player makes good as a promising game changer.

To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with the base salary: $600,000. Or the up-to 50% annual cash bonus — an industry standard — that comes with it. True, the 62-year-old earned $999,000 at Amgen in 2019, but it’s the stock options that really count in the current market bliss for all things biopharma. And there Meline did well.

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Covid-19 roundup: Ab­b­Vie jumps in­to Covid-19 an­ti­body hunt; As­traZeneca shoots for 2B dos­es of Ox­ford vac­cine — with $750M from CEPI, Gavi

Another Big Pharma is entering the Covid-19 antibody hunt.

AbbVie has announced a collaboration with the Netherlands’ Utrecht University and Erasmus Medical Center and the Chinese-Dutch biotech Harbour Biomed to develop a neutralizing antibody that can treat Covid-19. The antibody, called 47D11, was discovered by AbbVie’s three partners, and AbbVie will support early preclinical work, while preparing for later preclinical and clinical development. Researchers described the antibody in Nature Communications last month.

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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David Meline, incoming Moderna CFO

Am­gen vet David Meline finds a new CFO roost at Mod­er­na, tak­ing a ride on the Covid-19 tiger as de­part­ing ex­ec cash­es out with $12M

We found out a few weeks ago that Moderna CFO Lorence Kim isn’t waiting around to see how the biotech wunderkind makes out in its frantic race to field a messenger RNA vaccine that can quell Covid-19. And now we know who’s stepping on board to take his place in the latest move in the executive suite.

David Meline, who forged his rep during a 6-year run at Amgen, slipped out the exit right after his Q2 “retirement” party in California — presumably virtual — and started the next chapter of his career at a biotech company betting big on revolutionizing the vaccine R&D space.

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