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.

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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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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Mer­ck wins a third FDA nod for an­tibi­ot­ic; Mereo tack­les TIG­IT with $70M raise in hand

Merck — one of the last big pharma bastions in the beleaguered field of antibiotic drug development — on Friday said the FDA had signed off on using its combination drug, Recarbrio, with hospital-acquired bacterial pneumonia and ventilator-associated bacterial pneumonia. The drug could come handy for use in hospitalized patients who are afflicted with Covid-19, who carry a higher risk of contracting secondary bacterial infections. Once SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind Covid-19, infects the airways, it engages the immune system, giving other pathogens free rein to pillage and plunder as they please — the issue is particularly pertinent in patients on ventilators, which in any case are breeding grounds for infectious bacteria.

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.

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.

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.

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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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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RA Cap­i­tal, Hill­house join $310M rush to back Ever­est's climb to com­mer­cial heights in Chi­na

Money has never been an issue for Everest Medicines. With an essentially open tab from their founders at C-Bridge Capital, the biotech has gone two and a half years racking up drug after drug, bringing in top exec after top exec, and issuing clinical update after update.

But now other investors want in — and they’re betting big.

Everest is closing its Series C at $310 million. The first $50 million comes from the Jiashan National Economic and Technological Development Zone; the remaining C-2 tranche was led by Janchor Partners, with RA Capital Management and Hillhouse Capital as co-leaders. Decheng Capital, GT Fund, Janus Henderson Investors, Rock Springs Capital, Octagon Investments all joined.