Chris Gibson, Recursion CEO (Vaughn Ridley/Sportsfile for Web Summit via Getty Images)

Re­cur­sion nabs $239M and an up to $1B part­ner­ship with Bay­er as AI race heats up

Some biotechs strug­gle for cash. Re­cur­sion, late­ly, seems to be swim­ming in it.

To­day, hav­ing al­ready raised over $180 mil­lion in the last two years, the Salt Lake City-based AI drug de­vel­op­er an­nounced a $239 mil­lion Se­ries D. That’s more than any US or Eu­ro­pean biotech has raised in a round this year and more than all but two biotechs raised last year. (Mab­well, a Shang­hai-based an­ti­body de­vel­op­er, raised $278 mil­lion in a Se­ries A in April.)

The round came with an im­por­tant point of val­i­da­tion for Re­cur­sion and a po­ten­tial long-term source of rev­enue: a new part­ner­ship with Bay­er. That deal, cen­tered on fi­brot­ic dis­eases, will pay Re­cur­sion $30 mil­lion up­front for the part­ner­ship, along with $100 mil­lion in mile­stones for each of up to 10 pro­grams the com­pa­nies could pur­sue. So it’s an up to $1 bil­lion deal, even if it’s van­ish­ing­ly un­like­ly to reach that. Leaps by Bay­er, the Ger­man phar­ma’s ven­ture arm, al­so led the Se­ries D, con­tribut­ing a $50 mil­lion eq­ui­ty in­vest­ment.

The in­vest­ment-part­ner­ship rep­re­sents one of the largest rounds, if not the sin­gle largest round, for an ar­ti­fi­cial-in­tel­li­gence fo­cused biotech and ce­ments Re­cur­sion as one of the ma­jor play­ers in a nascent field that has pro­duced many small star­tups but few heavy­weights. It al­so points to where Big Phar­ma and ma­jor VCs may spread their fo­cus as ma­chine learn­ing ap­proach­es ad­vance. The first small com­pa­nies to make head­lines and sign deals used ma­chine learn­ing to screen vast li­braries of mol­e­cules in search of ones that can hit tar­gets that drug com­pa­nies have long tried to hit. More re­cent­ly, though, a cou­ple up­starts have raised sig­nif­i­cant cash and scored promi­nent part­ner­ships us­ing ad­vanced com­pu­ta­tion­al tools to study cells more close­ly and come up with new tar­gets them­selves.

“What Re­cur­sion does is re­al­ly hard so I wouldn’t say there is go­ing to be a del­uge of com­pa­nies,” Zachary Bogue, founder of ear­ly Re­cur­sion backer DCVC, told End­points News. “But this idea of bi­ol­o­gy as a plat­form and us­ing AI as a drug dis­cov­ery is the new fron­tier in biotech.”

Rough­ly, that’s what Re­cur­sion does. In a 100,000 square-foot ware­house in down­town Salt Lake City, ro­bots take petri dish­es of dif­fer­ent cell types and knock out dif­fer­ent genes, tak­ing con­stant pic­tures in the process. Hu­mans can’t eas­i­ly tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween most of those pic­tures, but com­put­ers can, and with enough im­ages and hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent mea­sure­ments on each, they can pick up pat­terns to in­di­cate what can make a cell sick and which genes, when tar­get­ed, can make them healthy.  They can then iden­ti­fy and tweak mol­e­cules or com­pounds that hit those tar­gets.

So far, they’ve used that ap­proach to iden­ti­fy mol­e­cules to bring in­to clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment for sev­er­al rare neu­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tions and hered­i­tary can­cer syn­drome, pulling com­pounds from Ohio State, Take­da, and co-founder Dean Li’s labs. But the com­pa­ny lists a bevy of pre­clin­i­cal dis­ease ar­eas on its pipeline, and Re­cur­sion CEO Chris Gib­son said that, with the Bay­er deal, they would be­gin to look to part­ner with big com­pa­nies where clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment is more com­plex, such as in neu­rol­o­gy and on­col­o­gy.

“We’ve been talk­ing about this in­ter­nal­ly as the be­gin­ning of a sec­ond act for the com­pa­ny,” he said in an in­ter­view with End­points.

Oth­er com­pa­nies have scored large amounts of cap­i­tal with sim­i­lar ap­proach­es. Most no­tably, Daphne Koller’s start­up In­sitro has nabbed two $100 mil­lion-plus rounds in a span of 13 months, plus a Gilead col­lab­o­ra­tion on NASH. In Jan­u­ary, star Cana­di­an re­searcher Bren­dan Frey’s Deep Ge­nomics raised $40 mil­lion in­to the clin­ic. Mean­while, the rhetoric from the hand­ful of drug phar­ma ex­ec­u­tives who talk open­ly about ma­chine learn­ing, such as Glax­o­SmithK­line’s Hal Bar­ron, has cen­tered on ap­proach­es that help un­cov­er not just new mol­e­cules but al­so new tar­gets.

Un­der the deal with Bay­er, Re­cur­sion will use their sys­tem to build mod­els for dif­fer­ent fi­brot­ic dis­eases, fol­low­ing guid­ance from Bay­er fi­bro­sis ex­perts at the phar­ma. They will then use Bay­er’s li­brary of small mol­e­cules and their own in­ter­nal abil­i­ty to screen and de­vel­op mol­e­cules to come up with pre­clin­i­cal can­di­dates. Around that point, Gib­son said, they’ll hand things off to Ger­many.

Al­though Leaps by Bay­er de­scribed their $50 mil­lion con­tri­bu­tion to the Se­ries D as “our big bet in terms of dig­i­tal drug dis­cov­ery,” Bay­er it­self has al­so in­vest­ed in the mol­e­cule-screen­ing side of the AI biotech world, as have oth­er ma­jor com­pa­nies. In Jan­u­ary, Bay­er and the UK-based Ex­sci­en­tia signed a dis­cov­ery col­lab­o­ra­tion for up to €240 mil­lion. Ex­sci­en­tia has al­so teamed with Sum­it­o­mo, Sanofi and Cel­gene, the last of which in­clud­ed a $25 mil­lion up­front pay­ment. Atom­wise and In­sil­i­co have al­so signed mul­ti­ple big-name part­ner­ships, al­though they have been large­ly mile­stone-heavy, with lit­tle up­front dis­closed.

Pi­o­neer­ing Click Chem­istry in Hu­mans

Reimagining cancer treatments

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020, which is nearly one in six deaths. Recently, we have seen incredible advances in novel cancer therapies such as immune checkpoint inhibitors, cell therapies, and antibody-drug conjugates that have revamped cancer care and improved survival rates for patients.

Despite this significant progress in therapeutic targeting, why are we still seeing such a high mortality rate? The reason is that promising therapies are often limited by their therapeutic index, which is a measure of the effective dose of a drug, relative to its safety. If we could broaden the therapeutic indices of currently available medicines, it would revolutionize cancer treatments. We are still on the quest to find the ultimate cancer medicine – highly effective in several cancer types, safe, and precisely targeted to the tumor site.

Justin Klee (L) and Joshua Cohen, Amylyx co-CEOs (Cody O'Loughlin/The New York Times; courtesy Amylyx)

Ad­vo­cates, ex­perts cry foul over Amy­lyx's new ALS drug, cit­ing is­sues with price, PhI­II com­mit­ment

Not 24 hours after earning the first ALS drug approval in five years, Amylyx Pharmaceuticals’ Relyvrio is already drawing scrutiny. And it’s coming from multiple fronts.

In an investor call Friday morning, Amylyx revealed that it would charge about $158,000 per year, a price point that immediately drew backlash from ALS advocates and some outside observers. The cost reveal had been highly anticipated in the immediate hours after Thursday evening’s approval, though Amylyx only teased Relyvrio would cost less than previously approved drugs.

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Land­mark Amy­lyx OK spurs de­bate; Some... pos­i­tive? Alzheimer's da­ta; Can­cer tri­al bot­tle­neck; Sanofi's CRISPR bet; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

After brief stops in Paris and Boston, John Carroll and the Endpoints crew are staying on the road in October with their return for a live/streaming EUBIO22 in London. The hybrid event fireside chats and panels on mRNA, oncology and the crazy public market. We hope you can join him there.

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Joshua Cohen (L) and Justin Klee, Amylyx co-CEOs

Up­dat­ed: Af­ter long and wind­ing road, FDA ap­proves Amy­lyx's ALS drug in vic­to­ry for pa­tients and ad­vo­ca­cy groups

For just the third time in its 116-year history, the FDA has approved a new treatment for Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS.

US regulators gave the thumbs-up to the drug, known as Relyvrio, in a massive win for patients and their families. The approval, given to Boston-area biotech Amylyx Pharmaceuticals, comes after two years of long and contentious debates over the drug’s effectiveness between advocacy groups and FDA scientists, following the readout of a mid-stage clinical trial in September 2020.

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Bo Cumbo, new Solid Bio CEO

Sol­id Bio gets a new CEO, $75M cash and drops lead drug as big in­vestors ju­ry-rig a merg­er deal

Three months after Endpoints News broke the story that gene therapy outfit AavantiBio had gutted its CMC group in a reorganization, the biotech’s CEO has helped engineer a merger with struggling penny stock player Solid Bio. And he’s going to remain in charge of the combined operation, as Solid founder Ilan Ganot steps aside.

The merger news this morning features some high-profile investors.

Perceptive Advisors, RA Capital Management and Bain Capital Life Sciences are leading a $75 million raise to add to the pool of cash Solid will have after the tie-up. That will leave Solid $215 million in cash as Bain’s Adam Koppel jumps on the board — enough to pay for ops and get through some key data milestones on their way into 2025.

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George Church (courtesy EnPlusOne BioSciences)

George Church, Wyss sci­en­tists and North­pond chal­lenge con­ven­tion­al RNA man­u­fac­tur­ing with new biotech

RNA medicine has been at the forefront for the past few years, with the first RNA silencing therapy approved in 2018, and mRNA Covid vaccines following after. But flying under the radar has been the process of actually making RNA for these treatments.

That’s what Daniel Wiegand and Jonathan Rittichier have been working on in George Church’s lab for the past six years.

Friday morning, they unveiled EnPlusOne Biosciences, a biotech built on their RNA synthesis platform. Wiegand will serve as the Watertown, MA-based biotech’s CEO, and Rittichier will be CSO. And no different from his other startups, Church will be acting as scientific advisor. Its fourth co-founder, Dan Ahlstedt, joined through a Harvard Business School program, and will be COO.

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Up­dat­ed: Al­ny­lam re­in­forces APOL­LO-B patisir­an da­ta be­fore head­ing to the FDA

Weeks after uncorking some mostly positive data for patisiran in transthyretin-mediated (ATTR) amyloidosis with cardiomyopathy, Alnylam is bolstering its package with new exploratory and subgroup data before shipping it off to regulators.

The RNAi drug maintained “generally consistent” benefits in efficacy and quality of life across several prespecified subgroups at month 12, Alnylam announced on Friday afternoon, including age, baseline tafamidis use, ATTR amyloidosis type, baseline six-minute walk test score and others.

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Nooman Haque, head of life sciences and healthcare at Silicon Valley Bank, and John Carroll

I’m head­ed to Lon­don soon for #EU­BIO22. Care to join me?

It was great getting back to a live ESMO conference/webinar in Paris followed by a live pop-up event for the Endpoints 11 in Boston. We’re staying on the road in October with our return for a live/streaming EUBIO22 in London.

Silicon Valley Bank’s Nooman Haque and I are once again jumping back into the thick of it with a slate of virtual and live events on October 12. I’ll get the ball rolling with a virtual fireside chat with Novo Nordisk R&D chief Marcus Schindler, covering their pipeline plans and BD work.

#AAO22: J&J’s first look at com­mon eye dis­ease port­fo­lio pads the case for PhII of gene ther­a­py

CHICAGO — While the later-stage drug developers in the geographic atrophy field are near the finish line, Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen is taking a more deliberate route, with a treatment that it hopes to be a one-time fix.

The Big Pharma will take its Hemera Biosciences-acquired gene therapy into a Phase II study later this year in patients with GA, a common form of age-related macular degeneration that impacts about five million people worldwide. To get there, Janssen touted early-stage safety data at the American Academy of Ophthalmology annual conference Saturday morning, half a day after competitors Apellis and Iveric Bio revealed their own more-detailed Phase III analyses.

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