Nicolas Tilmans, Anagenex CEO

Seek­ing to 'close the loop' in drug dis­cov­ery with ma­chine learn­ing, Catalio-backed biotech emerges from se­mi-stealth

Two years af­ter se­cur­ing seed fund­ing and re­main­ing in a state of “se­mi-stealth,” a San Fran­cis­co biotech keen on com­bin­ing evo­lu­tion and small mol­e­cule dis­cov­ery re­cent­ly bagged a VC round that will let it do just that.

Known as An­a­genex, the com­pa­ny an­nounced Wednes­day that it raised a $30 mil­lion Se­ries A round, se­cur­ing the at­ten­tion of Catalio Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment as lead in­vestor. A few oth­er in­vestors tagged along, such as Lux Cap­i­tal and Khosla Ven­tures.

Lux Cap­i­tal had led An­a­genex’s seed round back in 2020, which net­ted the biotech $7.2 mil­lion. Ac­cord­ing to An­a­genex CEO Nico­las Tilmans, the round should last the biotech at least two years.

An­a­genex said in a state­ment that it plans to use its Se­ries A funds to “fur­ther ex­pand its nov­el da­ta gen­er­at­ing plat­form and build a ro­bust pipeline of pro­grams ad­dress­ing his­tor­i­cal­ly chal­leng­ing un­met med­ical needs.”

Tilmans start­ed off by telling End­points News that in his mind, the force of evo­lu­tion is one of the strongest forces in na­ture.

“And if you can cre­ate a sys­tem that har­ness­es evo­lu­tion, you will al­most al­ways do bet­ter in bi­ol­o­gy than oth­er­wise,” added the CEO, who has a PhD in bio­chem­istry out of Stan­ford.

The biotech got off the ground in 2018, af­ter Tilmans said he saw this evo­lu­tion­ary con­cept in both an­ti­body and pro­tein-based drug dis­cov­ery. So he won­dered, why not ap­ply this in small mol­e­cules? From his per­spec­tive, the im­ped­i­ment had been a lack of ways to “close the loop.”

The CEO com­pared it to sub­ject­ing finch­es to evo­lu­tion­ary pres­sures and see­ing which finch­es make it through. As they re­pop­u­late over time, one could cre­ate the per­fect finch — a sim­i­lar the­o­ry posit­ed by Charles Dar­win with his finch­es.

Ac­cord­ing to An­a­genex, the plat­form now gives way to a closed loop that can be re­fined again and again, mak­ing for a di­rect­ed evo­lu­tion process, in Tilmans’ words.

Af­ter tak­ing an ini­tial li­brary of po­ten­tial com­pounds (any­where from a cou­ple hun­dred mil­lion to more than a bil­lion) and screen­ing them to see if they bind to a cer­tain tar­get, re­sults are fed in­to the biotech’s ma­chine learn­ing plat­form. Then, that plat­form cre­ates a nar­rowed li­brary of 1 mil­lion of more “promis­ing” com­pounds based on the re­sults of the pre­vi­ous screen. The re­fined com­pound li­brary gets screened again as re­sults are re-fed in­to the ma­chine learn­ing plat­form, and it spits out an­oth­er nar­row com­pound li­brary to be fur­ther re­fined.

The com­pa­ny will be­gin with syn­thet­ic lethal on­col­o­gy, with An­a­genex al­so tak­ing a look at cer­tain in­flam­ma­tion and car­dio­vas­cu­lar tar­gets. So far, there are three pro­grams in play: two in syn­thet­ic lethal on­col­o­gy and one in car­dio­vas­cu­lar.

Tilmans said he can see small mol­e­cules branch out in­to mul­ti­ple in­di­ca­tions akin to Keytru­da or Hu­mi­ra, which are both an­ti­bod­ies — and that is their goal.

“We don’t have the lux­u­ry of Pfiz­er. So yes, any­thing we pick, we’d like to be able to have it go in­to mul­ti­ple dif­fer­ent in­di­ca­tions. But the most im­por­tant thing for us is to take a prob­lem that we’re pret­ty sure we’re gonna win. And we’re pret­ty sure that the mar­ket at the oth­er end is go­ing to be big enough,” the CEO added.

In terms of part­ner­ships, Tilmans said that there are a few on­go­ing con­ver­sa­tions, but he claims his ap­proach to part­ner­ships is marked­ly dif­fer­ent from oth­er biotech CEOs.

I want to em­pha­size that we are a ther­a­peu­tics com­pa­ny, and we want to be solv­ing prob­lems and then bring­ing the fruits of our la­bor to the pa­tient, our­selves. So that’s a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent than some of the oth­er com­pa­nies in the space. One of the ways I like to think about it is sort of like Wall Street newslet­ters. If you’re telling me what things to in­vest in, maybe you should in­vest in them, and put your mon­ey where your mouth is. And that’s the way we see drug dis­cov­ery.

An­a­genex cur­rent­ly has about 18 em­ploy­ees, and plans to reach 30 with­in the next 18 months or so.

In the mean­time, An­a­genex’s board gets two new mem­bers as part of the raise: Catalio co-founder and part­ner George Petrochei­los as a di­rec­tor and Catalio an­a­lyst Matthew Hob­son as an ob­serv­er.

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.

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

BREAK­ING: 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.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 151,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Ivan Cheung, Eisai US chairman and CEO

Bio­gen, Ei­sai re­fresh amy­loid hy­poth­e­sis with PhI­II show­ing Alzheimer's med slows cog­ni­tive de­cline

In the first look at Phase III data for lecanemab, Eisai and Biogen’s follow-up Alzheimer’s drug to the embattled Aduhelm launch, results show the drug passed with flying colors on a test looking at memory, problem solving and other dementia metrics.

One of the most-watched Alzheimer’s therapies in the clinic, lecanemab met the study’s primary goal on the CDR-SB — Clinical Dementia Rating-Sum of Boxes — giving the biotech the confidence to ask for full approval in the US, EU and Japan by next March 31. The experimental drug reduced clinical decline on the scale by 27% compared to placebo at 18 months, the companies said Tuesday night Eastern time and Wednesday morning in Japan.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 151,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

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.

Some­one old, some­one new: Mod­er­na pro­motes CTO, raids No­var­tis for re­place­ment amid pipeline push

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel made clear on the last quarterly call that “now is not the time to slow down.” On Thursday, he made a bit more room in the cockpit.

The company unveiled a new executive role on Thursday, promoting former chief technical operations and quality officer Juan Andres to president of strategic partnerships and enterprise expansion, and poaching a former Novartis exec to take his place.

Gilead names 'k­ing­pin­s' in coun­ter­feit HIV med law­suit

Gilead is mounting its counterfeit drug lawsuit, naming two “kingpins” and a complex network of conspirators who allegedly sold imitation bottles of its HIV meds, some of which ended up in US pharmacies.

The pharma giant on Wednesday provided an update on what it called a “large-scale, sophisticated counterfeiting conspiracy,” accusing two new defendants of “leading and orchestrating” a scheme to sell hundreds of millions of dollars in illegitimate drugs posing as meds such as Biktarvy and Descovy.

Vlad Coric, Biohaven CEO (Photo Credit: Andrew Venditti)

As Amy­lyx de­ci­sion waits in the wings, Bio­haven’s ALS drug sinks (again) in plat­form tri­al

The FDA’s decision on Amylyx’s ALS drug is set to come out sometime Thursday. In a space with few drugs, any approval would be a major landmark.

But elsewhere in the ALS field, things are a bit more tepid.

Thursday morning, Biohaven announced that its drug verdiperstat failed its arm of an ALS platform trial led by Massachusetts General Hospital. According to a press release, the drug did not meet its primary endpoint — improvement on an ALS functional status test — or any key secondary endpoints at 24 weeks. The trial had enrolled 167 patients, giving them either verdiperstat or placebo twice a day.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 151,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Tar­sus looks to raise aware­ness of eye­lid mite dis­ease in cam­paign aimed at eye­care spe­cial­ists

Eyelid mite disease may be “gross” but it’s also fairly common, affecting about 25 million people in the US.

Called demodex blepharitis, it’s a well-known condition among eyecare professionals, but they often don’t always realize how common it is. Tarsus Pharmaceuticals wants to change that with a new awareness campaign called “Look at the Lids.”

The campaign and website debut Thursday — just three weeks after Tarsus filed for FDA approval for a drug that treats the disease.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 151,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Marcelo Bigal, Ventus Therapeutics CEO

No­vo Nordisk joins No­var­tis, Roche in NL­RP3 are­na, bet­ting $70M cash on NASH, car­diometa­bol­ic us­es

As a drug target, the NLRP3 inflammasome has drawn serious interest from Big Pharma, inspiring a series of M&A deals from Novartis and Roche on top of venture investments by others. Now Novo Nordisk is jumping on the bandwagon — and the Danish pharma giant is taking the target where it knows best.

Novo Nordisk is getting its NLRP3 inhibitors from Ventus Therapeutics, a Versant-backed startup that set out to make some of the best NLRP3 drugs out there by incorporating new insights into the structure of the target complex.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 151,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.