Sean McClain, AbSci

'Pro­tein print­ing' Ab­Sci se­cures $125M crossover as it ex­pands syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy am­bi­tions

Two months af­ter ac­quir­ing an AI en­gine it claims can po­ten­tial­ly speed up drug de­vel­op­ment by “un­prece­dent­ed” lev­els,” Ab­Sci has se­cured a hefty crossover round to in­te­grate the en­gine in­to the com­pa­ny. And it has CEO Sean Mc­Clain con­sid­er­ing an even­tu­al IPO.

Ab­Sci closed a $125 mil­lion crossover round Tues­day morn­ing as it trains the De­n­ovi­um AI plat­form to ac­count for man­u­fac­tura­bil­i­ty, func­tion­al­i­ty and ex­pres­sion of new com­pounds, in ad­di­tion to op­ti­miz­ing the com­pounds them­selves. Though the com­pa­ny isn’t de­vel­op­ing any in­ter­nal pipeline, Mc­Clain be­lieves De­n­ovi­um will help Ab­Sci ul­ti­mate­ly short­en the over­all R&D process.

“If you look at the drug dis­cov­ery and bio­man­u­fac­tur­ing process­es, go­ing from idea to drug in the clin­ic, it takes years,” Mc­Clain told End­points News. “What Ab­Sci’s pro­tein print­ing plat­form is do­ing is flip­ping that process on its head, col­laps­ing it in­to a sin­gle step…and be­ing able to go from idea to drug in the clin­ic with­in weeks.”

Now that Ab­Sci has com­plet­ed a crossover, Mc­Clain is keep­ing all op­tions “on the ta­ble” re­gard­ing next steps, he added. The fi­nal de­ci­sion to se­cure more fi­nanc­ing hasn’t been made, but it could in­clude an IPO or an­oth­er pri­vate round.

Mc­Clain’s biotech on­ly ac­quired De­n­ovi­um back in Jan­u­ary, pay­ing an undis­closed sum to buy the plat­form at the heart of the AI-fo­cused com­pa­ny. The goal has been to feed that en­gine with da­ta from Ab­Sci’s own pro­tein print­ing plat­form, so much so that it cre­ates a cy­cle of learn­ing — the AI en­gine not on­ly learns from the da­ta points, but from its own at­tempts at pre­dict­ing which drugs would be best for which tar­gets.

“The more da­ta we feed in­to it, the smarter the en­gine gets,” Mc­Clain said. “It just gets smarter and smarter over time.”

Found­ed in Port­land, Ore­gon in 2011, Ab­Sci fo­cused its ear­li­est en­er­gies on an E. Coli ex­pres­sion plat­form to pro­duce sol­u­ble, com­plex pro­teins in high yields. The plat­form went com­mer­cial with its first part­ner­ships back in 2018.

Ab­sci will try to use De­n­ovi­um’s en­gine to help ac­cel­er­ate every step of the drug de­vel­op­ment process, up to and in­clud­ing how to make cell line man­u­fac­tur­ing most ef­fi­cient. Its abil­i­ty to pre­dict the func­tion and be­hav­ior of pro­teins match­es well with Ab­Sci’s pro­tein print­ing, Mc­Clain said. By com­bin­ing all of these steps in­to “one fell swoop,” Ab­Sci hopes it can es­sen­tial­ly dis­cov­er a drug and its cell line at the push of a but­ton.

Fur­ther down the road, Ab­Sci is shoot­ing for the plat­forms to be­come the Google in­dex search for drug dis­cov­ery and man­u­fac­tur­ing. Mc­Clain sees the tech­nol­o­gy be­ing in­te­grat­ed in­to phar­ma and biotechs’ R&D process­es, with ef­forts al­ready un­der­way to make that a re­al­i­ty. Ab­Sci has part­nered with a to­tal of 14 com­pa­nies, rang­ing from Mer­ck and Astel­las to a host of small­er biotechs.

For now, the com­pa­ny is fo­cus­ing on its mis­sion of get­ting the best med­i­cines it can to pa­tients at speeds that thus far have been “un­prece­dent­ed,” Mc­Clain says.

“Re­al­ly where the cap­i­tal is go­ing is to see that vi­sion through,” he said.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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When ef­fi­ca­cy is bor­der­line: FDA needs to get more con­sis­tent on close-call drug ap­provals, agency-fund­ed re­search finds

In the exceedingly rare instances in which clinical efficacy is the only barrier to a new drug’s approval, new FDA-funded research from FDA and Stanford found that the agency does not have a consistent standard for defining “substantial evidence” when flexible criteria are used for an approval.

The research comes as the FDA is at a crossroads with its expedited-review pathways. The accelerated approval pathway is under fire as the agency recently signed off on a controversial new Alzheimer’s drug, with little precedent to explain its decision. Meanwhile, top officials like Rick Pazdur have called for a major push to simplify and clarify all of the various expedited pathways, which have grown to be must-haves for sponsors of nearly every newly approved drug.

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Af­ter sell­ing to Genen­tech, the old Je­cure team is back at an RNA-fo­cused start­up — and more en­thu­si­as­tic than ever

When Genentech swooped in to buy NASH-focused Jecure Therapeutics back in 2018, a handful of the startup’s executives weren’t quite ready to disperse.

It had been just three years since Jecure launched with a preclinical portfolio of NLRP3 inhibitors — and the takeover came sooner than anyone, including CEO Jeff Stafford, had expected. So he got talking with James Veal and Gretchen Bain, two serial entrepreneurs in charge of Jecure’s R&D.

Take­da snaps up the Japan­ese rights to an old Shire cast-off; Boehringer In­gel­heim ac­quires Abexxa Bi­o­log­ics

A week before the FDA is set to decide on Mirum Pharmaceuticals’ lead liver disease drug — an old Shire cast-off called maralixibat — Takeda is swooping in to secure the rights in Japan.

Maralixibat’s roots trace back to Lumena, which was snapped up by Shire for $260 million-plus back in 2014. While the candidate had failed mid-stage studies at Shire, Mirum believes better trial design and patient selection will deliver the wins it needs. The drug is currently in development for Alagille syndrome (a condition called ALGS in which bile builds up in the liver), progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis (PFIC, which causes progressive liver disease) and biliary atresia (a blockage in the ducts that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder).

Rafaèle Tordjman (Jeito Capital)

Con­ti­nu­ity and di­ver­si­ty: Rafaèle Tord­j­man's women-led VC firm tops out first fund at $630M

For a first-time fund, Jeito Capital talks a lot about continuity.

Rafaèle Tordjman had spotlighted that concept ever since she started building the firm in 2018, promising to go the extra mile(s) with biotech entrepreneurs while pushing them to reach patients faster.

Coincidentally, the lack of continuity was one of the sore spots listed in a report about the European healthcare sector published that same year by the European Investment Bank — whose fund is one of the LPs, alongside the American pension fund Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Singapore’s Temasek, to help Jeito close its first fund at $630 million (€534 million). As previously reported, Sanofi had chimed in €50 million, marking its first investment in a French life sciences fund.

Jay Bradner (Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News)

Div­ing deep­er in­to in­her­it­ed reti­nal dis­or­ders, No­var­tis gob­bles up an­oth­er bite-sized op­to­ge­net­ics biotech

Right about a year ago, a Novartis team led by Jay Bradner and Cynthia Grosskreutz at NIBR swooped in to scoop up a Cambridge, MA-based opthalmology gene therapy company called Vedere. Their focus was on a specific market niche: inherited retinal dystrophies that include a wide range of genetic retinal disorders marked by the loss of photoreceptor cells and progressive vision loss.

But that was just the first deal that whet their appetite.

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