Rais­ing a record $668M in new fund, Fore­site sets sights on a tech-dri­ven port­fo­lio

Af­ter build­ing up its tech tal­ent with the re­cruit­ment of Sil­i­con Val­ley’s fa­vorite CSO Vikram Ba­jaj, Fore­site Cap­i­tal has closed $668 mil­lion for its fourth and largest fund — and it’s set­ting aside a de­cent chunk of that cash for com­pa­nies com­bin­ing da­ta sci­ence with life sci­ences.

Jim Tanan­baum

The fo­cus of the fund should come as no sur­prise, con­sid­er­ing Fore­site’s re­cent in­vest­ments and its move to re­cruit Ba­jaj last year. Ba­jaj came to Fore­site from the Il­lu­mi­na spin­out Grail, which is best known for rais­ing $1 bil­lion in less than two years (and for its C suite of ex-Googlers). He al­so is a co-founder and for­mer CSO for Google’s life sci­ence start­up Ver­i­ly.

When Ba­jaj joined in No­vem­ber, he told me he was par­tic­u­lar­ly in­ter­est­ed in the com­pa­nies that com­bine da­ta sci­ence and hu­man bi­ol­o­gy, which is sort of his do­main. On top of his Ver­i­ly roots, Ba­jaj al­so led lab­o­ra­to­ry and da­ta sci­ence teams at Grail. And as a for­mer aca­d­e­m­ic re­searcher, Ba­jaj and his col­lab­o­ra­tors have de­vel­oped nan­otech and oth­er tools that were lat­er com­mer­cial­ized by star­tups.

Ba­jaj said per­son­al­ized med­i­cine — with the help of da­ta sci­ence — is on­ly get­ting start­ed. He thinks it’s a good time to en­ter this space as an in­vestor, with cash to move the right tech­nolo­gies for­ward.

“I think we’re poised for mas­sive change as se­quenc­ing costs go down and med­i­cine be­comes more pre­cise as a re­sult of this ex­plo­sion of da­ta,” Ba­jaj said.

Fore­site, which was found­ed in 2011, now has $2 bil­lion in as­sets un­der man­age­ment, and it ranked pret­ty high in our most re­cent list of 100 top VCs in biotech. Com­ing in at num­ber 12, Fore­site did 23 deals in 2017. That in­cludes chip­ping in $15 mil­lion for Grail’s syn­di­cate and al­most $17 mil­lion for Col­or Ge­nomics. And in Fore­site’s port­fo­lio are the likes of 10x Ge­nomics, Intar­cia Ther­a­peu­tics, and Aerie Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals.

Phil Kal­los

Fore­site has been work­ing to beef up its da­ta sci­ence and ma­chine learn­ing ex­per­tise in re­cent years, the com­pa­ny said. At the same time as Ba­jaj’s re­cruit­ment, Fore­site al­so hired Phil Kal­los, a new di­rec­tor of en­gi­neer­ing. A com­pa­ny spokesper­son said Fore­site had made “sev­er­al” per­son­nel ad­di­tions to fu­el their ef­forts in an­a­lyt­ics and ma­chine learn­ing to “ac­cel­er­ate the com­pa­ny’s re­search and mod­el­ing ef­forts.”

Fore­site’s founder and CEO Jim Tanan­baum says they’re build­ing ex­per­tise that will be crit­i­cal in mak­ing in­vest­ment de­ci­sions down the road.

“We not on­ly pro­vide cap­i­tal, but al­so a mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary team of sci­en­tists, clin­i­cians, an­a­lysts and en­gi­neers who col­lab­o­rate to seek the best da­ta-dri­ven de­ci­sions. The abil­i­ty to in­gest and de­rive mean­ing from mas­sive amounts of com­plex in­for­ma­tion is a crit­i­cal suc­cess fac­tor in health­care in­vest­ing,” Tanan­baum said in a state­ment. “We’re pleased by the con­fi­dence and en­thu­si­asm our Fund IV in­vestors have demon­strat­ed in the Fore­site Cap­i­tal team, as well as the progress made by our rapid­ly de­vel­op­ing port­fo­lio.”

Im­age: Vikram Ba­jaj. Elis­a­beth Fall, Fall­Fo­to via Fore­site

Covid-19 roundup: Eu­rope pur­chas­es 80M dos­es of Mod­er­na's vac­cine; CO­V­AXX se­cures $2.8B in emerg­ing mar­ket pre-or­ders

With the announcement of its vaccine efficacy data last week, Moderna is starting to line up customers for its Covid-19 mRNA jabs.

The Massachusetts-based biotech announced Wednesday it has agreed to sell an initial round of 80 million doses to the European Commission, with the option to double the amount to 160 million. Once the member states rubber stamp the approval, the deal will be finalized.

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Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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Jason Kelly, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO (Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Af­ter Ko­dak de­ba­cle, US lends $1.1B to a syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy com­pa­ny and their big Covid-19, mR­NA plans

In mid-August, as Kodak’s $765 million government-backed push into drug manufacturing slowly fell apart in national headlines, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO Jason Kelly got a message from his company’s government liaison: HHS wanted to know if they, too, might want a loan.

The government’s decision to lend Kodak three quarters of a billion dollars raised eyebrows because Kodak had never made drugs before. But Ginkgo, while not a manufacturing company, had spent the last decade refining new ways to produce materials inside cells and building automated facilities across Boston.

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FDA hands Liq­uidia and Re­vance a CRL and de­fer­ral, re­spec­tive­ly, as Covid-19 cre­ates in­spec­tion chal­lenge

Two biotechs said they got turned away by the FDA on Wednesday, in part due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.

North Carolina-based Liquidia Technologies was handed a CRL for its lead pulmonary arterial hypertension drug, citing the need for more CMC data and on-site pre-approval inspections, which the FDA hasn’t been able to conduct due to travel restrictions. The agency also deferred its decision on Revance Therapeutics’ BLA for its frown line treatment, because it needs to inspect the company’s northern California manufacturing facility. The action, Revance emphasized, was not a CRL.

News brief­ing: FDA re­quests new tri­al for Reata's Friedre­ich's atax­ia pro­gram; J&J's Trem­fya picks up ex­pand­ed la­bel in Eu­rope

Three months after Reata Pharmaceuticals suggested its Friedreich’s ataxia program omaveloxolone could be delayed, the company revealed that is indeed going to be the case.

Reata $RETA shares took a nosedive Wednesday after the biotech revealed that the FDA said supplemental data for its pivotal trial did not strengthen the case for approval. As a result, the drug is likely to need another study before the FDA takes up the case.

Jef­frey Hat­field takes over from Diego Mi­ralles as CEO of Vi­vid­ion; Drag­on­fly scores a new ex­ec with COO Alex Lu­gov­skoy

→ San Diego protein degradation startup Vividion Therapeutics has made a change at the top with Jeffrey Hatfield taking the helm as CEO, replacing Diego Miralles six months after Roche forked over $135 million to collaborate with Vividion on their small molecule degraders. Hatfield is chairman of the board at miRagen Therapeutics and previously held the CEO job at Zafgen and Vitae Pharmaceuticals. He also had a series of leadership roles at Bristol Myers Squibb from 1996-2004, including SVP, immunology and virology divisions.

Chi­na opens the door for biotech in­vestors in Hong Kong to buy Shang­hai stocks, and vice ver­sa

When Shanghai’s STAR board began opening its doors to biotech, it was considered not just a rival to Nasdaq but also the stock exchange in Hong Kong. Those perceptions may take an amicable turn as China expands a mutual access program with the city.

The changes mean investors in mainland China will be able to own Hong Kong biotech chapter stocks, while those in Hong Kong — a much more internationally connected group — would have access to those listed on STAR. In effect, it turns the Shanghai market into a globally accessible exchange overnight while also broadening a key source of revenue for HKEX.

Bax­ter con­tin­ues on-shoring push with $50M In­di­ana ex­pan­sion

It’s been a banner year for the once humdrum business of manufacturing drugs, particularly vaccines. Billions have been spent ramping up facilities for Covid-19 jabs, while individual CDMOs have expanded their facilities, apparently anticipating demand or responding to a government-led push to onshore drug manufacturing.

Now Baxter Biopharma Solutions, the CDMO wing of the many-armed healthcare giant Baxter, is getting in on the game. On Tuesday, they announced plans to spend $50 million to expand their flagship, 600,000 square-foot facility in Bloomington, IN.

Eu­ro­pean Union aims to es­tab­lish patent workaround in case of emer­gen­cies while try­ing to strength­en its own IP

The European Union is looking at ways to bypass patent protections and make it easier to make generic drugs in cases of emergency such as the Covid-19 pandemic, a new document says.

Normally, under WTO regulations, the practice known as “compulsory licensing” is allowed in exceptional circumstances and could be applied as a waiver to bypass patent holders. Wednesday’s document was published as part of the EU’s plan to shore up the intellectual property rights of its member states.