Sean McClain, AbSci

On a mis­sion to 'u­ni­fy' drug dis­cov­ery and cell-line de­vel­op­ment, Ab­Sci ac­quires AI out­fit De­n­ovi­um

Imag­ine dis­cov­er­ing a drug and cell line at the click of a but­ton. That’s the goal of Ab­Sci CEO Sean Mc­Clain — and on Mon­day, he closed on a deal to buy De­n­ovi­um and its AI en­gine that tran­scends the hu­man brain and even the best of lab tools.

“Es­sen­tial­ly what we’re do­ing is we’re tak­ing all this da­ta…that looks at man­u­fac­tura­bil­i­ty and drug func­tion­al­i­ty, and then feed­ing it in­to the AI plat­form that’s con­tin­u­al­ly learn­ing,” Mc­Clain told End­points. “Every mol­e­cule we have is fed in­to the mod­el,” he said.

While the De­n­ovi­um En­gine is built to pre­dict the func­tion and be­hav­ior of pro­teins, Ab­Sci will train it fur­ther us­ing bil­lions of da­ta points the biotech has col­lect­ed on man­u­fac­tura­bil­i­ty, func­tion­al­i­ty and ex­pres­sion.

“A lot of peo­ple when they think of AI and pro­teins they think struc­ture,” De­n­ovi­um CBO Imad Aj­jawi said. “And so the De­n­ovi­um En­gine has learned the fun­da­men­tal prop­er­ties of func­tion, which in­cludes struc­ture, but al­so a lot of oth­er dif­fer­ent prop­er­ties as well, and a lot of dif­fer­ent pa­ra­me­ters.”

Imad Aj­jawi

Over time, the ma­chine be­comes more and more ac­cu­rate. It loves neg­a­tive re­sults and learns from its mis­takes.

“It learns and learns un­til you get to the point where it’s no longer spit­ting out, you know, bil­lions of dif­fer­ent things you should test, it’s start­ing to spit out thou­sands, and then hun­dreds and then ul­ti­mate­ly you get to the point where it is ful­ly pre­dic­tive,” Mc­Clain said.

Ab­Sci was found­ed in 2011 in Port­land. The biotech, now based in Van­cou­ver, Wash­ing­ton, has been work­ing on a more ef­fi­cient way to man­u­fac­ture pro­teins — from full-length an­ti­bod­ies to in­sulin — us­ing E. coli. It went com­mer­cial in 2018 with its E. Coli ex­pres­sion plat­form, SoluPro, for pro­duc­ing sol­u­ble, com­plex pro­teins in high yields. The fol­low­ing year, it in­tro­duced its pro­tein print­ing plat­form, which builds on SoluPro with tech­nol­o­gy de­signed to pump out high-di­ver­si­ty strain li­braries and high-through­put screen­ing as­says.

“We’ve tak­en our pro­tein print­ing plat­form, and what we have used for cell-line de­vel­op­ment, we’re now able to ac­tu­al­ly use in screen­ing and in drug dis­cov­ery,” Mc­Clain said. “Es­sen­tial­ly we’re tak­ing this very lin­ear process that takes years to com­plete… which we can ba­si­cal­ly con­dense… in­to one process and do it in one fell swoop.”

Mc­Clain said the new ap­proach could al­low re­searchers to go from dis­cov­ery to a cell line that’s ready for man­u­fac­tur­ing in weeks, “if not days.”

The com­pa­nies are keep­ing the terms of the deal un­der wraps for now.

The news comes a few months af­ter Ab­Sci land­ed a $65 mil­lion Se­ries E, which it tagged for a new 60,000-square-foot fa­cil­i­ty in Van­cou­ver. Back in Jan­u­ary 2019, the biotech inked a big phar­ma part­ner­ship to ap­ply its SoluPro plat­form to two of Sanofi’s bio­ther­a­peu­tic mol­e­cules. And In Sep­tem­ber 2020, it li­censed SoluPro to Al­pha Can­cer Tech­nolo­gies for the pro­duc­tion of Re­com­bi­nant Hu­man Al­pha-fe­to­pro­tein (hAFP) for var­i­ous au­toim­mune dis­eases and can­cers.

The AI space has been heat­ing up, as biotechs look for smarter and faster ways to get things done. In De­cem­ber, Genen­tech-part­nered Gen­e­sis Ther­a­peu­tics land­ed a $52 mil­lion Se­ries A round to build out its AI pipeline. Al­so last month, the Bill & Melin­da Gates Foun­da­tion award­ed UK-based AI out­fit Ex­sci­en­tia a $4.2 mil­lion grant to help iden­ti­fy ex­ist­ing ther­a­pies and new mol­e­cules that could be used to tack­le pub­lic health crises.

“It’s the next dis­rup­tive tech­nol­o­gy in this in­dus­try,” Aj­jawi said of AI. “We’ve al­ready seen it trans­form oth­er in­dus­tries, and we’re al­ready see­ing how it’s trans­form­ing biotech as well.”

Qual­i­ty Con­trol in Cell and Gene Ther­a­py – What’s Re­al­ly at Stake?

In early 2021, Bluebird Bio was forced to suspend clinical trials of its gene therapy for sickle cell disease after two patients in the trial developed cancer. As company scientists rushed to assess whether there was any causal link between the therapy and the cancer cases, Bluebird’s stock value plummeted – as did those of multiple other biopharma companies developing similar therapies.

While investigations concluded that the gene therapy was unlikely to have caused cancer, investors and the public may be more skittish regarding the safety of gene and cell therapies after this episode. This recent example highlights how delicate the fields of cell and gene therapy remain today, even as they show great promise.

(Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

Sen­a­tors to NIH: Do more to pro­tect US bio­med­ical re­search from for­eign in­flu­ence

Although Thursday’s Senate health committee hearing was focused on how foreign countries and adversaries might be trying to steal or negatively influence biomedical research in the US, the only country mentioned by the senators and expert witnesses was China.

Committee chair Patty Murray (D-WA) made clear in her opening remarks that the US cannot “let the few instances of bad actors” overshadow the hard work of the many immigrant researchers in the US, many of which have won Nobel prizes for their work. But she also said, “There is more the NIH can be doing here.”

Law pro­fes­sors call for FDA to dis­close all safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta for drugs

Back in early 2018 when Scott Gottlieb led the FDA, there was a moment when the agency seemed poised to release redacted complete response letters and other previously undisclosed data. But that initiative never gained steam.

Now, a growing chorus of researchers are finding that a dearth of public data on clinical trials and pharmaceuticals means industry and the FDA cannot be held accountable, two law professors from Yale and New York University write in an article published Wednesday in the California Law Review.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Covid-19 man­u­fac­tur­ing roundup: Mary­land looks to grow biotech ca­pac­i­ty with $400M check; Rus­sia lands sec­ond Sput­nik V part­ner this week

A Maryland real estate project has added three new biotech-focused manufacturing and research buildings to an office park to keep up with demand created by the pandemic, the Washington Business Journal reported.

The Milestone Business Park — located off of I-270 in Germantown, MD — will see the new buildings and a total of 532,000 square feet as the campus rebrands to Milestone Innovation Park.

Noubar Afeyan (Sebastien Micke/Paris Match/Contour by Getty Images)

As Mod­er­na rose, Flag­ship cashed in for $1.4B — with a lot more wealth still re­main­ing

For nearly a decade, Flagship poured record-setting levels of cash into Moderna, even as they faced setbacks on early programs and skeptics wondered whether the company’s science could ever match its hype.

Now that the science has delivered, Flagship is cashing in.

Over the last 13 months, since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, Flagship has sold off Moderna shares worth $1.4 billion. The sales, first reported by Forbes, came as the Cambridge biotech’s shares soared from just under $20 per share on Jan. 3, 2020, to $169.50 when markets opened Thursday.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 107,400+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Novavax CEO Stanley Erck at the White House in 2020 (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

As fears mount over J&J and As­traZeneca, No­vavax en­ters a shaky spot­light

As concerns rise around the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines, global attention is increasingly turning to the little, 33-year-old, productless, bankruptcy-flirting biotech that could: Novavax.

In the now 16-month race to develop and deploy Covid-19 vaccines, Novavax has at times seemed like the pandemic’s most unsuspecting frontrunner and at times like an overhyped also-ran. Although they started the pandemic with only enough cash to last 6 months, they leveraged old connections and believers into $2 billion and emerged last summer with data experts said surpassed Pfizer and Moderna. They unveiled plans to quickly scale to 2 billion doses. Then they couldn’t even make enough material to run their US trial and watched four other companies beat them to the finish line.

FDA of­fers scathing re­view of Emer­gent plan­t's san­i­tary con­di­tions, em­ploy­ee train­ing af­ter halt­ing pro­duc­tion

The FDA wrapped up its inspection of Emergent’s troubled vaccine manufacturing plant in Baltimore on Tuesday, after halting production there on Monday. By Wednesday morning, the agency already released a series of scathing observations on the cross contamination, sanitary issues and lack of staff training that caused the contract manufacturer to dispose of millions of AstraZeneca and J&J vaccine doses.

Brad Bolzon (Versant)

Ver­sant pulls the wraps off of near­ly $1B in 3 new funds out to build the next fleet of biotech star­tups. And this new gen­er­a­tion is built for speed

Brad Bolzon has an apology to offer by way of introducing a set of 3 new funds that together pack a $950 million wallop in new biotech creation and growth.

“I want to apologize,” says the Versant chairman and managing partner, laughing a little in the intro, “that we don’t have anything fancy or flashy to tell you about our new fund. Same team, around the same amount of capital, same investment strategy. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But then there’s the flip side, where everything has changed. Or at least speeded into a relative blur. Here’s Bolzon:

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Bay­er plots a ma­jor facelift at Berke­ley cam­pus, un­cork­ing a 30-year, $1.2B plan to dri­ve cell and gene ther­a­pies

Bayer first set roots in Berkeley back in 1974, when it was still operating as Miles Labs. The site has pumped out three hemophilia A treatments for distribution worldwide; but now, as the pharma continues its cell and gene therapy push, it has something bigger in mind.

Bayer is planning a 30-year revamp at the campus, which includes 918,000 square feet in new buildings and double the jobs, according to a report by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.