Pro­lif­ic In­sil­i­co scores up to $200M deal in Chi­na; Re­searchers re­tract pa­per on gene in­volved in CRISPR ba­by con­tro­ver­sy

Alex Zha­voronkov’s Hong Kong-based AI-shop In­sil­i­co Med­i­cine has been buzzing with the pub­li­ca­tion of da­ta in Na­ture, which showed its ma­chine learn­ing ap­proach helped iden­ti­fy po­ten­tial drugs as­so­ci­at­ed with a par­tic­u­lar tar­get in a swift 21 days. On Wednes­day, the com­pa­ny dis­closed that is has al­lied with Chi­na-based Jiang­su Chia Tai Feng­hai Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal Co in a deal worth up to $200 mil­lion — in­clud­ing an up­front pay­ment, as well as po­ten­tial mile­stone and roy­al­ty pay­ments.

The col­lab­o­ra­tion will fo­cus on two pro­grams to tack­le triple-neg­a­tive breast can­cer, us­ing an AI-en­abled plat­form for drug dis­cov­ery. Zha­voronkov said he was un­able to pro­vide more de­tail on the deal, but that he ex­pects the part­ner­ship to last about two years. “But we hope to ex­pand it be­cause, if his­to­ry is any in­di­ca­tion of the fu­ture, Chi­na is pro­gress­ing in drug dis­cov­ery,” he told End­points News.

A pla­toon of bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies have linked up with the emerg­ing crop of AI spe­cial­ists itch­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on how large datasets can be har­nessed to dri­ve new ther­a­pies in­to the clin­ic. Zha­voronkov is well con­nect­ed — last year he raised funds at the be­hest of Shang­hai high-fly­er WuXi AppTec, Sin­ga­pore’s Temasek, Pe­ter Dia­man­dis and Ju­ve­nes­cence. Last month, In­sil­i­co raised $37 mil­lion in its lat­est fund­ing round.

→ Af­ter star­tling the world with the claim that the ge­net­ic mu­ta­tion Chi­nese sci­en­tist Jiankui He at­tempt­ed to ed­it in em­bryos — lead­ing to the birth of twin girls — is as­so­ci­at­ed with a high­er risk of pre­ma­ture death, two UC Berke­ley re­searchers are re­tract­ing the pa­per. In a brief note, Na­ture wrote that Xinzhu Wei and Ras­mus Nielsen “have been made aware of a geno­typ­ing call­ing bias in the un­der­ly­ing UK Biobank da­ta from which the main re­sults of the study were drawn.” Fol­low­ing that ini­tial warn­ing from David Re­ich, the au­thors ran fur­ther analy­ses with dif­fer­ent data­bas­es and con­firmed that the cen­tral find­ing of the study about CCR5-∆32 was “the re­sult of this tech­ni­cal ar­ti­fact.”

Vivory­on Ther­a­peu­tics is of­fer­ing near­ly 37 mil­lion shares in a pub­lic of­fer­ing — hop­ing to gen­er­ate €30 mil­lion — to fund the Phase IIb de­vel­op­ment of its lead drug, PQ912, for Alzheimer’s dis­ease. The tri­al will be test­ing the drug in 250 pa­tients, with re­sults ex­pect­ed in 2022. 

Bay­er is ink­ing a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Japan’s largest na­tion­al re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion, RIKEN In­no­va­tion, to “joint­ly ex­plore po­ten­tial drug tar­gets, uti­lize ba­sic drug dis­cov­ery tech­nolo­gies as well as as­sess dis­ease mech­a­nisms.”

Bar­bara Davis Cen­ter for Di­a­betes-found­ed Im­munoMol­e­c­u­lar Ther­a­peu­tics has raised $10 mil­lion in Se­ries A fi­nanc­ing to ad­vance its HLA-tar­get­ed dis­cov­ery plat­form and to de­vel­op its lead drug can­di­date in type 1 di­a­betes. The round was co-led by the JDRF T1D Fund and Morn­ing­side Ven­tures, along with the Col­orado Uni­ver­si­ty Health­care In­no­va­tion Fund.

Ven­ture Cap­i­tal as a Strate­gic Part­ner: Fu­el­ing In­no­va­tion be­yond Fi­nance

The average level of investment required for a biotech start-up to succeed is increasing every year, elevating the pressure even further on venture capital to make smart financial investments. Financial investment alone, however, does not always guarantee that exciting innovations can be transformed into real businesses that make a meaningful difference to patients.

Beyond just capital

At Astellas Venture Management (AVM) – a wholly-owned venture capital organization within Astellas, headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area – capital is just one of the ingredients we offer to add value to our biotechnology investments and partnerships. We generally take a strategic investor approach for companies in our invested portfolio, providing access to expertise, technology and/or resources in addition to the injection of finance. An equity investment from AVM can include access to Astellas’ research and development (R&D) capabilities and expertise, and a global network of partner academic institutions and biotechnology companies, to help advance and accelerate the start-up’s innovation.

UP­DAT­ED: Ver­tex joins Mer­ck, Pfiz­er — re­vamp­ing multi­bil­lion-dol­lar tri­al strat­e­gy as biotech R&D crum­bles

You can add Pfizer, Merck and — as we found out Friday morning — Vertex to the growing list of pharma giants hitting the pause button on a range of clinical trials. But not everyone in R&D is getting a red light.

Vertex says that it’s doing its best to keep working its pipeline strategy, coming up with a plan “to enable virtual clinic visits and home delivery of study drug to ensure study continuity and medical monitoring, and to facilitate study procedures.”

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Covid-19 roundup: In­ter­cept, blue­bird and a grow­ing list of biotechs feel the pain as pan­dem­ic man­gles FDA, R&D sched­ules

Around 100 staffers at Boston area hospitals have now tested positive for Covid-19, spotlighting the growing risk that the pandemic will sideline many of the most essential workers in healthcare as caseloads peak in the US and around the globe. With more than 3,400 deaths, Spain has become the latest country to surpass the official death count attributed to the new coronavirus in China, where the outbreak originated. As of Thursday morning, confirmed global cases had crossed 470,000 and the death count eclipsed 21,000.

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Af­ter crit­ics lam­bast­ed Gilead for grab­bing the FDA's spe­cial rare drug sta­tus on remde­sivir, they're giv­ing it back

Two days after Gilead won orphan drug status for remdesivir as a potential treatment for Covid-19, they’re handing it back.

The company was slammed from several sides after Gilead reported that the FDA had come through with the special status, which comes with 7 years of market exclusivity, the waiver of FDA fees and some tax credits as well. Typically, everyone who can get orphan status lands it without much of a fuss, but Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Public Citizen and other consumer groups were outraged.

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Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel out­lines a short path for emer­gency use of a coro­n­avirus vac­cine

NIAID director Anthony Fauci has left no doubts that it takes 12 to 18 months to get a new vaccine tested and in commercial use, in the best of circumstances. But in times of a global emergency — like these — maybe there’s another, faster route to follow.

In an SEC filing on Tuesday, Moderna $MRNA staked out a record-setting pathway to getting their mRNA vaccine into the frontline of the healthcare response as early as this fall. The SEC filing notes that CEO Stéphane Bancel told Goldman Sachs that an emergency use approval could allow the vaccine to go to healthcare workers and certain individuals in a matter of months — presumably provided the NIH sees the safety and efficacy data they would need from the Phase I.

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As share buy­backs come un­der scruti­ny, what's in store for the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try?

Stock buybacks are not to be permitted for companies that will be bailed out in the coronavirus stimulus package, Congressional leaders have signaled. To what degree the biopharma industry has relied on buybacks for earnings growth in recent years, and if the trend continues, are the big questions as scrutiny into the practice heightens and balance sheets weaken with the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on global economies.

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A Sin­ga­pore VC rais­es $200M for a new round, but will Covid-19 pre­vent it from rais­ing the rest?

A top Singaporean biotech venture fund is nearly halfway toward its largest ever fund, but in a sign of what could be in store for VCs amid a global economic freeze, said they could face headwinds raising the other half.

Vickers Venture Partners has secured $200 million out of a targeted $500 million for its 6th fund, first announced in early 2018. They’ve given themselves 13 months to complete the financing, Vickers founder Finian Tan told Deal Street Asia, but the financial frost settling amid the Covid-19 pandemic could slow efforts.

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Strug­gling Unum ex­ecs are ready to con­sid­er a sale, merg­er or any deal that comes its way

Unum $UMRX is working its way through a survival plan of sorts.

After getting hit with a trio of FDA holds in its brief public history and triggering its second pivot to a new lead drug program while laying off 60% of the staff, the troubled penny stock biotech Unum Therapeutics has hatched new plans to secure financial backing while lining up a go-forward strategy for the company.

First, Lincoln Park Capital Fund has agreed to buy up to $25 million of the long-suffering stock, as Unum directs. And the executive team — led by CEO Chuck Wilson — has put everything on the table for consideration: a sale, acquisition, merger, licensing deal, you name it. The ACTR707 program, meanwhile, is being formally wrapped up — their second failed lead program.

VBL and its “gene ther­a­py” can­cer treat­ment are back — with a peek at PhI­II po­ten­tial

Three years after a brain cancer failure sent the company reeling, VBL Therapeutics is touting its first hint of positive Phase III results.

The Israeli biotech announced its lead drug, VB–111, met an interim efficacy benchmark in a trial testing it against standard-of-care alone in recurrent, chemotherapy-resistant ovarian cancer.  The patients in the treatment arm had a CA-125 response rate — a measure of cancer antigen often used as a proxy in ovarian cancer studies and in detecting ovarian cancer — at least 10% higher than those in the control, the independent review determined.