Atomwise co-founders Abe Heifets and Izhar Wallach (photo courtesy Atomwise)

Plot­ting to be the Bridge­Bio of AI, Atom­wise lands $123 mil­lion Se­ries B for hype-heavy plat­form

The PR-friend­ly, well-part­nered AI biotech that’s pro­voked stern skep­ti­cism in some sci­en­tif­ic cor­ners is get­ting a boat­load of new cash.

Atom­wise has an­nounced a $123 mil­lion Se­ries B round led by San­abil In­vest­ments — a sub­sidiary of the Sau­di roy­al fund — and B Cap­i­tal Group and joined by DCVC and Y Com­bi­na­tor, among oth­ers. The new round is near­ly triple what Atom­wise had raised pri­or and will go to­wards both scal­ing their mol­e­cule-hunt­ing soft­ware and build­ing the grow­ing net­work of spin­outs they’re launch­ing to de­vel­op some of the mol­e­cules that soft­ware has turned up.

The goal ul­ti­mate­ly, said CEO Abe Heifets, is to build a port­fo­lio of small­er biotechs be­neath theirs — a kind of Bridge­Bio for AI.

“We want to grow in scale,” Heifets told End­points News. “The tech­nol­o­gy is small mol­e­cule — that’s a very broad um­brel­la so there’s in­creas­ing­ly an in­ter­est in a port­fo­lio ap­proach”

The round could be a le­git­i­mat­ing one for Atom­wise, a com­pa­ny that over the last few years has found it­self at the cen­ter of a de­bate be­tween en­gi­neers who promised that ma­chine learn­ing and AI net­works could re­make drug de­vel­op­ment and sci­en­tists who saw a lot of buzz but lit­tle sub­stance. Since its days at Y Com­bi­na­tor, the com­pa­ny has promised to use an AI con­vo­lu­tion­al net­work to rapid­ly screen bil­lions of mol­e­cules for their abil­i­ty to hit a tar­get or bind to a pro­tein, and in do­ing so speed from “years to days” the process of se­lect­ing drug can­di­dates. In do­ing so, they said, they could cut short the ar­du­ous and ex­pen­sive drug de­vel­op­ment path.

The prob­lem, crit­ics such as sci­ence blog­ger and med­i­c­i­nal chemist Derek Lowe ar­gued, is that it just doesn’t take that long to screen mol­e­cules. It’s a bump in the drug dis­cov­ery moun­tain.

“You can do a mil­lion in six weeks. The whole com­pound screen­ing step is just an­oth­er ear­ly thing in pre­clin­i­cal space,” Lowe wrote in one piece that al­so not­ed Atom­wise’s “ten­den­cy to­ward over­state­ment.”

“I’ve nev­er seen a suc­cess­ful project in which it was a rate-lim­it­ing step. But ‘shave a few weeks off some­thing at the very be­gin­ning’ isn’t as com­pelling an of­fer, is it?” he said.

Though just one of many com­pa­nies now of­fer­ing rapid, AI-en­abled screen­ing, Atom­wise might be the most pro­lif­ic, claim­ing “over 750 re­search col­lab­o­ra­tions ad­dress­ing over 600 dis­ease tar­gets” and part­ner­ships with ma­jor phar­ma com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Eli Lil­ly, Mer­ck, Ko­rea’s Han­soh Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, Bay­er and Bridge­Bio.

Yet it has ad­ver­tised those big-name part­ner­ships with par­tic­u­lar fan­fare. Rather than cal­cu­late the over­all po­ten­tial deal val­ue by up­front fees and mile­stones, as most biotechs do, they have of­ten list­ed val­ues that in­clude roy­al­ty es­ti­mates “based on his­tor­i­cal av­er­age rev­enues for small mol­e­cule drugs … with suc­cess in all projects” — in an in­dus­try where suc­cess is fleet­ing­ly rare. That’s al­lowed the com­pa­ny to ad­ver­tise that “Atom­wise has signed more than $5.5 bil­lion in to­tal deal val­ue with cor­po­rate part­ners to date” with­out dis­clos­ing any in­di­vid­ual pay­ments.

Heifets says that their deal re­leas­es are in line with how oth­er biotechs talk about their deals and what their part­ners are will­ing to dis­close. He al­so says Atom­wise pro­vides ben­e­fits be­yond that ini­tial screen­ing step.

“If you think of AI as on­ly be­ing ap­plied for high through­put screen­ing, then I agree with Derek,” he said. “That’s a be­gin­ning part and that’s pret­ty quick.”

Heifets said that Atom­wise al­so pro­vides ser­vices for lead op­ti­miza­tion, a longer and more dif­fi­cult step. And he said that they’ve shown the soft­ware can not on­ly find mol­e­cules faster but al­so find mol­e­cules for tar­gets that ma­jor com­pa­nies have spent years and mil­lions of dol­lars fail­ing to hit.

Most no­tably, Atom­wise launched X-37 last year in part around the dis­cov­ery of mol­e­cules that can bind to the PIM3 path­way with­out harm­ing healthy tis­sue, which Heifets said Roche, No­var­tis and As­traZeneca had tried and failed to do. The com­pa­ny raised $14.5 mil­lion in Se­ries A fund­ing. They al­so qui­et­ly launched Theia Bio­sciences around mol­e­cules that can hit the HTRA1 path­way and might be used to treat age-re­lat­ed mac­u­lar de­gen­er­a­tion.

Over the next few years, Heifets said, they plan to launch more biotech sub­sidiaries, hope­ful­ly even­tu­al­ly putting mul­ti­ple drugs in the clin­ic. If the mar­kets keep their his­toric pace, he said, an IPO could al­so be in their for­tunes.

That would like­ly mean a hefty S-1 and an­oth­er round of ar­gu­ments over the role of AI in biotech, and what’s hype and what’s re­al­i­ty.

“I think that will de­pend on what the mar­kets are do­ing,” Heifets said. “There have been a num­ber of very suc­cess­ful IPOs re­cent­ly in the biotech sec­tor, so it’s a very in­ter­est­ing time.”

A new era of treat­ment: How bio­mark­ers are chang­ing the way we think about can­cer

AJ Patel was recovering from a complicated brain surgery when his oncologist burst into the hospital room yelling, “I’ve got some really great news for you!”

For two years, Patel had been going from doctor to doctor trying to diagnose his wheezing, only to be dealt the devastating news that he had stage IV lung cancer and only six months to live. And then they found the brain tumors.

“What are you talking about?” Patel asked. He had never seen an oncologist so happy.

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Mihael Polymeropoulos, Vanda Pharmaceuticals CEO

Phar­ma com­pa­ny con­tin­ues its FDA law­suit spree, this time af­ter agency de­nies fast-track des­ig­na­tion

Vanda Pharmaceuticals is making a name for itself, at least in terms of suing the FDA.

The DC-headquartered firm on Monday filed its latest suit against the agency, with the company raising concerns over the FDA’s failure to grant a fast track designation for Vanda’s potential chronic digestive disorder drug tradipitant, which is a neurokinin 1 receptor antagonist.

Specifically, Vanda said FDA’s “essential point” in its one-page denial letter on the designation pointed to “the lack of necessary safety data,” which was “inconsistent with the criteria for … Fast Track designation.”

Mod­er­na seeks to dis­miss Al­ny­lam suit over Covid-19 vac­cine com­po­nent, claim­ing wrong venue

RNAi therapeutics juggernaut Alnylam Pharmaceuticals made a splash in March when it sued and sought money from both Pfizer and Moderna regarding their use of Alnylam’s biodegradable lipids, which Alnylam claims have been integral to the way both companies’ mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccines work.

But now, Moderna lawyers are firing back, telling the same Delaware district court that Alnylam’s claims can only proceed against the US government in the Court of Federal Claims because of the way the company’s contract is set up with the US government. The US has spent almost $10 billion on Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine so far.

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(Credit: Shutterstock)

Cracks in the fa­cade: Is phar­ma's pan­dem­ic ‘feel good fac­tor’ wan­ing?

The discordant effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on pharma reputation continues. While the overall industry still retains a respectable halo from its Covid-19 quick response and leadership, a new patient group study reveals a different story emerging in the details.

On one hand, US patient advocacy groups rated the industry higher-than-ever overall. More than two-thirds (67%) of groups gave the industry a thumbs up for 2021, a whopping 10 percentage point increase over the year before, according to the PatientView annual study, now in its 9th year.

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Michael Corbo, Pfizer CDO of inflammation & immunology

UP­DAT­ED: Plan­ning ahead for crowd­ed ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis mar­ket, Pfiz­er spells out PhI­II da­ta on $6.7B Are­na drug

Pfizer has laid out the detailed results behind its boast that etrasimod — the S1P receptor modulator at the center of its $6.7 billion buyout of Arena Pharma — is the winner of the class, potentially leapfrogging an earlier entrant from Bristol Myers Squibb.

Pivotal data from the ELEVATE program in ulcerative colitis — which consists of two Phase III trials, one lasting 52 weeks and the other just 12 weeks — illustrate an “encouraging balance of efficacy and safety,” according to Michael Corbo, chief development officer of inflammation & immunology at Pfizer. The company is presenting the results as a late breaker at Digestive Disease Week.

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Robert Califf (Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA via AP Images)

House Re­pub­li­cans at­tack Chi­na-on­ly da­ta in FDA sub­mis­sions, seek new in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to re­search in­spec­tions

Three Republican representatives are calling on the FDA to take a closer look at the applications including only clinical data from China.

The letter to FDA commissioner Rob Califf late last week comes as the agency recently rejected Eli Lilly’s anti-PD-1 antibody, which attempted to bring China-only data but ran into a bruising adcomm that may crush the hopes of any other companies looking to bring cheaper follow-ons based only on Chinese data.

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Co­pay coupons gone wrong, again: Pfiz­er pays al­most $300K to set­tle com­plaints in four states

Pfizer has agreed to pay $290,000 to settle allegations of questionable copay coupon practices in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, and Vermont from 2014 to 2018.

While the company has not admitted any wrongdoing as part of the settlement, Pfizer has agreed to issue restitution checks to about 5,000 consumers.

A Pfizer spokesperson said the company has “enhanced its co-pay coupons to alleviate the concerns raised by states and agreed to a $30,000 payment to each.”

Delaware court rules against Gilead and Astel­las in years-long patent case

A judge in Delaware has ruled against Astellas Pharma and Gilead in a long-running patent case over Pfizer-onwed Hospira’s generic version of Lexiscan.

The case kicked off in 2018, after Hospira submitted an Abbreviated New Drug Application (ANDA) for approval to market a generic version of Gilead’s Lexiscan. The drug is used in myocardial perfusion imaging (MPI), a type of nuclear stress test.

Taye Diggs (courtesy Idorsia)

Idor­sia inks an­oth­er celebri­ty en­dors­er deal with ac­tor and dad Taye Dig­gs as Qu­viviq in­som­nia am­bas­sador

Idorsia’s latest Quviviq insomnia campaign details the relatable dad story of a well-known celebrity — actor and Broadway star Taye Diggs.

Diggs stopped sleeping well after the birth of his son, now more than 10 years ago. Switching mom-and-dad nightly shifts to take care of a baby interrupted his sleep patterns and led to insomnia.

“When you’re lucky enough to be living out your dream and doing what you want, but because of something as simple as a lack of sleep, you’re unable to do that, it felt absolutely — it was treacherous,” he says in an interview-style video on the Quviviq website.

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