Re­plac­ing lab rats? Bay Area tech fund backs Em­u­late's $36M round to com­mer­cial­ize 'or­gan chip' tech

Af­ter ink­ing a slew of big phar­ma part­ner­ships ear­li­er this year, Em­u­late is stack­ing away $36 mil­lion in new cap­i­tal to com­mer­cial­ize a drug-test­ing tech it hopes will one day re­place the lab rat.

Aaron Van­De­ven­der

The round was led by a Bay Area tech in­vestor group — Founders Fund — whose part­ners found­ed and fund­ed com­pa­nies like Pay­Pal, Face­book, and SpaceX. While Em­u­late may not grow to those great heights, the com­pa­ny’s tech is pret­ty in­ter­est­ing to the drug dev crowd.

The whole idea be­hind the com­pa­ny, a Wyss In­sti­tute spin­off, is to im­prove how drug­mak­ers de­cide if a med­i­cine will work in a cer­tain pa­tient group. Test­ing drugs in an­i­mals and dish­es isn’t as pre­dic­tive as it could be, Em­u­late’s pres­i­dent and CSO Geral­dine Hamil­ton told me a few months ago. An­i­mals and dish­es are flawed en­vi­ron­ments. An­i­mals are not hu­mans, and they of­ten fail to pre­dict how drugs will per­form in pa­tients. And cells in dish­es don’t work like they do in the hu­man body, so they aren’t very pre­dic­tive ei­ther. Hamil­ton says ex­ist­ing drug-test­ing tools are miss­ing “key fac­tors,” in­clud­ing me­chan­i­cal forces, dy­nam­ic flow sys­tems, and cir­cu­lat­ing im­mune cells.

En­ter, Em­u­late’s tech­nol­o­gy.

The com­pa­ny makes tiny chips that hold liv­ing cells in cham­bers. The chips are en­gi­neered to mim­ic the en­vi­ron­ment nat­ur­al cells might ex­pe­ri­ence in the hu­man body — for ex­am­ple, the tech us­es me­chan­i­cal forces that mim­ics breath­ing. Em­u­late calls its tech the “hu­man em­u­la­tion sys­tem,” or “or­gan chips” for short. And the com­pa­ny has al­ready signed on sev­er­al big phar­ma part­ners, in­clud­ing deals with Roche, Take­da, and As­traZeneca this year.

Em­u­late’s “or­gan chip”

For now, these part­ner­ships are fo­cused on the goal of per­son­al­ized drug safe­ty, us­ing the chips to test how a pa­tient or pa­tient group might re­spond to a drug. But one day, Hamil­ton tells us, she’d like to see the tech­nol­o­gy re­place an­i­mal tox­i­col­o­gy stud­ies in pre­clin­i­cal drug re­search.

Aaron Van­De­ven­der, the chief sci­en­tist and a prin­ci­pal at Founders Fund, says Em­u­late’s tech might be able to ad­dress what he calls a “cri­sis” of in­ac­cu­rate drug re­sponse pre­dic­tions.

The de­pen­dence of drug de­vel­op­ment on an­i­mal mod­els for safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy test­ing has hit a wall. As ther­a­peu­tic ap­proach­es be­come ever more pre­cise and com­plex, the lim­i­ta­tions of lega­cy an­i­mal mod­els in­creas­ing­ly pre­vent ac­cu­rate pre­dic­tions of drug re­spons­es in hu­mans. This cri­sis has si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly put pa­tients at risk of un­pre­dictable side ef­fects while in­hibit­ing the ap­proval of nov­el life-sav­ing ther­a­pies. Em­u­late’s plat­form us­es hu­man cells to re­ca­pit­u­late hu­man phys­i­ol­o­gy, en­abling the de­vel­op­ment of safer, more ef­fi­ca­cious drugs. We be­lieve its adop­tion by drug de­vel­op­ers is a sci­en­tif­ic, com­mer­cial, and moral im­per­a­tive.

The new funds will help the com­pa­ny build out its com­mer­cial side. Pro­ceeds will al­so ex­pand the func­tion­al­i­ty of Em­u­late’s or­gan-chips, in­stru­ments, and soft­ware.


Im­age: Geral­dine Hamil­ton. Em­u­late

Gilead baits new al­liance with $45M up­front, div­ing in­to the busy pro­tein degra­da­tion field

Gilead is jump­ing on board the pro­tein degra­da­tion band­wag­on. And they’re turn­ing to a low-pro­file Third Rock start­up for the ex­per­tise. But if you were look­ing for a trans­for­ma­tion­al deal to kick up fresh en­thu­si­asm for Gilead, you’ll have to re­main pa­tient.

 

This one will have a long way to go be­fore they get in­to the clin­ic.

The big biotech said Wednes­day morn­ing that it is pay­ing $45 mil­lion up­front and re­serv­ing a whop­ping $2.3 bil­lion in biotech bucks if San Fran­cis­co-based Nurix can point the way to new can­cer ther­a­pies, as well as drugs for oth­er, un­spec­i­fied dis­eases.

Dave Barrett, Brian Chee, Amir Nashat, Amy Schulman. Polaris

Bob Langer's first port of call — Po­laris Part­ners — maps $400M for ninth fund

Health and tech ven­ture group Po­laris Part­ners, which counts Alec­tor, Al­ny­lam and Ed­i­tas Med­i­cine as part of its port­fo­lio, is set­ting up its ninth fund, rough­ly two years af­ter it closed Po­laris VI­II with $435 mil­lion in the bank, sur­pass­ing its tar­get by $35 mil­lion.

The Boston-based firm, in an SEC fil­ing, said it in­tends to raise $400 mil­lion for the fund. Po­laris — which rou­tine­ly backs com­pa­nies mold­ed out of the work done in the lab of pro­lif­ic sci­en­tist Bob Langer of MIT  — typ­i­cal­ly in­vests ear­ly, and sticks around till com­pa­nies are in the green. Like its peers at Flag­ship and Third Rock, Po­laris is all about cham­pi­oning the lo­cal biotech scene with a steady flow of start­up cash.

The top 10 block­buster drugs in the late-stage pipeline — Eval­u­ate adds 6 new ther­a­pies to heavy-hit­ter list

Vertex comes in for a substantial amount of criticism for its no-holds-barred tactical approach toward wresting the price it wants for its commercial drugs in Europe. But the flip side of that coin is a highly admired R&D and commercial operation that regularly wins kudos from analysts for their ability to engineer greater cash flow from the breakthrough drugs they create.

Both aspects needed for success in this business are on display in the program backing Vertex’s triple for cystic fibrosis. VX-659/VX-445 + Tezacaftor + Ivacaftor — it’s been whittled down to 445 now — was singled out by Evaluate Pharma as the late-stage therapy most likely to win the crown for drug sales in 5 years, with a projected peak revenue forecast of $4.3 billion.

The latest annual list, which you can see here in their latest world preview, includes a roster of some of the most closely watched development programs in biopharma. And Evaluate has added 6 must-watch experimental drugs to the top 10 as drugs fail or go on to a first approval. With apologies to the list maker, I revamped this to rank the top 10 by projected 2024 sales, instead of Evaluate's net present value rankings.

It's how we roll at Endpoints News.

Here is a quick summary of the rest of the top 10:

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A new num­ber 1 drug? Keytru­da tapped to top the 10 biggest block­busters on the world stage by 2024

Analysts may be fretting about Keytruda’s longterm prospects as a host of rival therapies elbow their way to the market. But the folks at Evaluate Pharma are confident that last year’s $7 billion earner is headed for glory, tapping it to beat out the current #1 therapy Humira as AbbVie watches that franchise swoon over the next 5 years.

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John Chiminski, Catalent CEO - File Photo

'It's a growth play': Catal­ent ac­quires Bris­tol-My­er­s' Eu­ro­pean launch pad, ex­pand­ing glob­al CD­MO ops

Catalent is staying on the growth track.

Just two months after committing $1.2 billion to pick up Paragon and take a deep dive into the sizzling hot gene therapy manufacturing sector, the CDMO is bouncing right back with a deal to buy out Bristol-Myers’ central launchpad for new therapies in Europe, acquiring a complex in Anagni, Italy, southwest of Rome, that will significantly expand its capacity on the continent.

There are no terms being offered, but this is no small deal. The Anagni campus employs some 700 staffers, and Catalent is planning to go right in — once the deal closes late this year — with a blueprint to build up the operations further as they expand on oral solid, biologics, and sterile product manufacturing and packaging.

This is an uncommon deal, Catalent CEO John Chiminski tells me. But it offers a shortcut for rapid growth that cuts years out of developing a green fields project. That’s time Catalent doesn’t have as the industry undergoes unprecedented expansion around the world.

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Partners Innovation Fund

David de Graaf now has his $28.5M launch round in place, build­ing a coen­zyme A plat­form in his lat­est start­up

Long­time biotech ex­ec David de Graaf has the cash he needs to set up the pre­clin­i­cal foun­da­tion for his coen­zyme A me­tab­o­lism com­pa­ny Comet. A few high-pro­file in­vestors joined the ven­ture syn­di­cate to sup­ply Comet with $28.5 mil­lion in launch mon­ey — enough to get it two years in­to the plat­form-build­ing game, with­in knock­ing dis­tance of the clin­ic.

Canaan jumped in along­side ex­ist­ing in­vestor Sofinno­va Part­ners to co-lead the round, with par­tic­i­pa­tion by ex­ist­ing in­vestor INKEF Cap­i­tal and new in­vestor BioIn­no­va­tion Cap­i­tal.

In­vestor day prep at Mer­ck in­cludes a new strat­e­gy to pick up the pace on M&A — re­port

Mer­ck’s re­cent deals to buy up two bolt-on biotechs — Ti­los and Pelo­ton — weren’t an aber­ra­tion. In­stead, both ac­qui­si­tions mark a new strat­e­gy to beef up its dom­i­nant can­cer drug op­er­a­tions cen­tered on Keytru­da while look­ing to ad­dress grow­ing con­cerns that too many of its eggs are in the one I/O bas­ket for their PD-1 pro­gram. And Mer­ck is go­ing af­ter more small- and mid-sized buy­outs to calm those fears.

Right back at you, Pfiz­er: BeiGene and a Pfiz­er spin­out launch a new­co to de­vel­op a MEK/BRAF in­hibitor that could ri­val $11.4B com­bo

A day af­ter Pfiz­er bought Ar­ray and its ap­proved can­cer com­bo, BeiGene and Pfiz­er spin­out Spring­Works have part­nered in launch­ing a new biotech that has an eye on the very same mar­ket the phar­ma gi­ant just paid bil­lions for. And they’re plan­ning on us­ing an ex-Pfiz­er drug to do it.

In a nut­shell, Chi­na’s BeiGene is toss­ing in a pre­clin­i­cal BRAF in­hibitor — BGB-3245, which cov­ers both V600 and non-V600 BRAF mu­ta­tions — for a big stake in a new, joint­ly con­trolled biotech called Map­Kure with Bain-backed Spring­Works.

Step­ping on Roche's toes, Mer­ck cuts in­to SCLC niche with third-line Keytru­da OK

In the in­creas­ing­ly crowd­ed check­point race, small cell lung can­cer has been a rare area where Roche, a sec­ond run­ner-up, has a lead over the en­trenched lead­ers Mer­ck and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb. But Mer­ck is fi­nal­ly mak­ing some head­way in that di­rec­tion with the lat­est ap­proval for its PD-1 star.

The lat­est green light en­dors­es Keytru­da in the third-line treat­ment of metasta­t­ic SCLC, where it would be giv­en to pa­tients whose dis­ease ei­ther don’t re­spond to or re­lapse af­ter chemother­a­py, which would have fol­lowed at least one pri­or line of ther­a­py.