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

Fangliang Zhang, AP Images

UP­DAT­ED: Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom as shares soar

Amid a flurry of splashy pandemic IPOs, a J&J-partnered Chinese biotech has emerged with one of the largest public raises in biotech history.

Legend Biotech, the Nanjing-based CAR-T developer, has raised $424 million on NASDAQ. The biotech had originally filed for a still-hefty $350 million, based on a range of $18-$20, but managed to fetch $23 per share, allowing them to well-eclipse the massive raises from companies like Allogene, Juno, Galapagos, though they’ll still fall a few dollars short of Moderna’s record-setting $600 million raise from 2018.

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Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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As it hap­pened: A bid­ding war for an an­tibi­ot­ic mak­er in a mar­ket that has rav­aged its peers

In a bewildering twist to the long-suffering market for antibiotics — there has actually been a bidding war for an antibiotic company: Tetraphase.

It all started back in March, when the maker of Xerava (an FDA approved therapy for complicated intra-abdominal infections) said it had received an offer from AcelRx for an all-stock deal valued at $14.4 million.

The offer was well-timed. Xerava was approved in 2018, four years after Tetraphase posted its first batch of pivotal trial data, and sales were nowhere near where they needed to be in order for the company to keep its head above water.

RA Cap­i­tal, Hill­house join $310M rush to back Ever­est's climb to com­mer­cial heights in Chi­na

Money has never been an issue for Everest Medicines. With an essentially open tab from their founders at C-Bridge Capital, the biotech has gone two and a half years racking up drug after drug, bringing in top exec after top exec, and issuing clinical update after update.

But now other investors want in — and they’re betting big.

Everest is closing its Series C at $310 million. The first $50 million comes from the Jiashan National Economic and Technological Development Zone; the remaining C-2 tranche was led by Janchor Partners, with RA Capital Management and Hillhouse Capital as co-leaders. Decheng Capital, GT Fund, Janus Henderson Investors, Rock Springs Capital, Octagon Investments all joined.

Por­tion of Neil Wood­ford’s re­main­ing in­vest­ments, in­clud­ing Nanopore, sold off for $284 mil­lion

It’s been precisely one year and one day since Neil Woodford froze his once-vaunted fund, and while a global pandemic has recently shielded him from the torrent of headlines, the fallout continues.

Today, the California-based patent licensing firm Acacia Research acquired the fund’s shares for 19 healthcare and biotech companies for $284 million.  Those companies include shares for public and private companies and count some of Woodford’s most prominent bio-bets, such as Theravance Biopharma, Oxford Nanopore and Mereo Biopharma, according to Sky News, which first reported the sale. It won’t include shares for BenevelontAI, the machine learning biotech once valued at $2 billion.

Drug man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Lon­za taps Roche/phar­ma ‘rein­ven­tion’ vet as its new CEO

Lonza chairman Albert Baehny took his time headhunting a new CEO for the company, making it absolutely clear he wanted a Big Pharma or biotech CEO with a good long track record in the business for the top spot. In the end, he went with the gold standard, turning to Roche’s ranks to recruit Pierre-Alain Ruffieux for the job.

Ruffieux, a member of the pharma leadership team at Roche, spent close to 5 years at the company. But like a small army of manufacturing execs, he gained much of his experience at the other Big Pharma in Basel, remaining at Novartis for 12 years before expanding his horizons.

Covid-19 roundup: Ab­b­Vie jumps in­to Covid-19 an­ti­body hunt; As­traZeneca shoots for 2B dos­es of Ox­ford vac­cine — with $750M from CEPI, Gavi

Another Big Pharma is entering the Covid-19 antibody hunt.

AbbVie has announced a collaboration with the Netherlands’ Utrecht University and Erasmus Medical Center and the Chinese-Dutch biotech Harbour Biomed to develop a neutralizing antibody that can treat Covid-19. The antibody, called 47D11, was discovered by AbbVie’s three partners, and AbbVie will support early preclinical work, while preparing for later preclinical and clinical development. Researchers described the antibody in Nature Communications last month.

Michael Gladstone, partner at Atlas Venture

At­las rais­es new $400M fund amid spree of VC rais­es. Here’s what they’ll spend it on

You can add another few hundred million to the now Montana-sized reservoir of cash biotech VCs have raised since the WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic.

Atlas Venture, the prominent Kendall Square incubator, has raised $400 million for its twelfth biotech fund, their first in 3 years. After a string of mammoth new raises from other major VCs in April and May, the total pot now stands between $5 billion and $6 billion, depending on how you slice it.

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