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

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo: AFP)

Trump’s HHS claims ab­solute au­thor­i­ty over the FDA, clear­ing path to a vac­cine EUA

The top career staff at the FDA has vowed not to let politics overrule science when looking at vaccine data this fall. But Alex Azar, who happens to be their boss’s boss, apparently won’t even give them a chance to stand in the way.

In a new memorandum issued Tuesday last week, the HHS chief stripped the FDA and other health agencies under his purview of their rule making ability, asserting all such power “is reserved to the Secretary.” Sheila Kaplan of the New York Times first obtained and reported the details of the September 15 bulletin.

Anthony Fauci (AP Images)

A press of­fi­cer at An­tho­ny Fau­ci’s NI­AID was un­masked as a hard-right Covid troll. He just re­tired to­day

William B Crews had been a public affairs specialist at the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

That ended today when he informed the agency of his decision to retire, after he was identified as the managing editor at RedState, a prominent Trump loyalist website.

Crews’ RedState duties are performed under the alias streiff. While enjoying the benefits of pseudonymity, he disparaged and worked against NIAID with an incendiary level of rhetoric in the midst of a pandemic.

#ES­MO20: Push­ing in­to front­line, Mer­ck and Bris­tol My­ers duke it out with new slate of GI can­cer da­ta

Having worked in parallel for years to move their respective PD-1 inhibitors up to the first-line treatment of gastrointestinal cancers, Merck and Bristol Myers Squibb finally have the data at ESMO for a showdown.

Comparing KEYNOTE-590 and CheckMate-649, of course, comes with the usual caveats. But a side-by-side look at the overall survival numbers also offer some perspective on a new frontier for the reigning checkpoint rivals, both of whom are claiming to have achieved a first.

Is­raeli biotech rais­es $57M to go where cur­rent BRAF in­hibitors can't, with back­ing from No­var­tis, SR One

For the blockbuster potential of Novartis’ Tafinlar and Pfizer’s Braftovi, all the BRAF inhibitors on the market so far only target V600 mutations — which accounts for roughly 50% of patients.

Israeli biotech Novellus now has $57 million to develop a drug that they say can help the other 50% who have everything else.

The Series C will fund a Phase II trial for PLX-8394, a “paradox breaker” that could block RAF without activating MAPK signaling. In a Phase I trial, a patient with a BRAF fusion saw their tumor go away after taking the drug, allowing Novellus to hit the ground running.

Jonathan Rigby, Immune Regulation group CEO

Im­mune Reg­u­la­tion, tak­ing two clin­i­cal pro­grams to 're­set' the im­mune sys­tem, nets $53M+ Se­ries B

A little under two years after a company rebranding, Immune Regulation is taking an even bigger step toward advancing its goals.

Formerly known as Peptinnovate, the British biotech announced a $53.4 million Series B early Monday morning, helping to further advance two clinical programs in rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Though those are the two initial indications the company is focusing on, CEO Jonathan Rigby told Endpoints News he hopes the candidates can be applied to a broad swath of autoimmune disorders.

UP­DAT­ED: Two wild weeks for Grail end in $8B Il­lu­mi­na buy­out

Grail’s whirlwind two weeks have ended in the wealthy arms of its former founder and benefactors.

Illumina has shelled out $8 billion to reacquire the closely-watched liquid biopsy startup they spun out just 5 years ago and sold off much of its shares just 3 years ago. The deal comes nearly two weeks after the well-heeled startup filed for a potentially massive IPO — one that was disrupted just a week later when Bloomberg reported that Illumina was in talks to buy their former spinout for up to $8 billion.

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Roche vaults to the front of the NL­RP3 clin­i­cal race, pay­ing $448M up­front to bag In­fla­zome

Roche is going all in on NLRP3.

The pharma giant is putting down $448 million (€380 million) upfront to snatch Novartis-backed Inflazome, which makes it a clinical player in the space overnight.

Dublin and Cambridge, UK-based Inflazome is the second NLRP3-focused biotech Roche has acquired in less than two years, and although no numbers were disclosed in the Jecure buyout, this is almost certainly a much larger deal.

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#ES­MO20: Bris­tol My­ers marks Op­di­vo's sec­ond ad­ju­vant win — eye­ing a stan­dard of care gap

Moving into earlier and earlier treatment lines, Bristol Myers Squibb is reporting that adjuvant treatment with Opdivo has doubled the time that esophageal or gastroesophageal junction cancer patients stay free of disease.

With the CheckMate-577 data at ESMO, CMO Samit Hirawat said, the company believes it can change the treatment paradigm.

While a quarter to 30% of patients typically achieve a complete response following chemoradiation therapy and surgery, the rest do not, said Ronan Kelly of Baylor University Medical Center. The recurrence rate is also high within the first year, Hirawat added.

Donald Trump, AP

Covid-19 roundup: Trump sug­gests Pfiz­er vac­cine could be first ap­proved; VBI Vac­cines inks de­vel­op­ment deal with Cana­da

President Donald Trump commented Monday morning that Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate could be the first to win approval by regulators.

During an interview on a Fox News’ morning show, the president said Pfizer was doing “very well” when asked which candidate could be approved, according to a Reuters report. He added that J&J could follow up afterward, saying “they’ll probably be a little later.”