Soft­Bank, Morn­ing­side help put US-Chi­na AI play­er on the map with $318M bet

Be­fore Ten­cent made its first for­ay in­to AI-aid­ed drug dis­cov­ery this Ju­ly, the Chi­nese tech gi­ant had bought it­self a line in­to the bur­geon­ing field.

Ten­cent had backed a US-Chi­na AI start­up by the name of XtalPi late 2015, and kept fol­low­ing up through two $15 mil­lion and $46 mil­lion rounds through 2018. Now Soft­Bank, Morn­ing­side and the ven­ture arm of a Chi­nese gov­ern­ment-owned in­sur­ance group are all fol­low­ing its lead, head­lin­ing a Se­ries C that brings in a whop­ping $318.8 mil­lion.

Wen Shuhao

Af­ter putting the com­pa­ny to­geth­er at MIT in 2014 where they were each do­ing re­search in physics, the three founders soon opened their first busi­ness de­vel­op­ment of­fice in Cam­bridge’s Kendall Square. With­in that year, they set up head­quar­ters in Shen­zhen, where XtalPi’s com­pu­ta­tion­al R&D cen­ter and ex­per­i­men­tal cen­ter are now lo­cat­ed.

For the full pack­age, XtalPi al­so boasts of an AI re­search hub in Bei­jing.

Like many of its coun­ter­parts in the West, the big idea at XtalPi is to short­en the drug dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment time­frame by ap­ply­ing a mix of AI, quan­tum physics al­go­rithms and cloud com­put­ing tech­nolo­gies.

In par­tic­u­lar, the com­pa­ny ini­tial­ly leaned heav­i­ly on CEO Wen Shuhao’s ex­per­tise in pre­dict­ing crys­tal struc­tures, which in turn sheds light on the prop­er­ties of drug can­di­dates. That fo­cus is hint­ed in its name, with Xtal be­ing the ab­bre­vi­a­tion of crys­tal in aca­d­e­m­ic-speak.

For now, XtalPi al­so ap­pears con­tent with be­ing just a part­ner to bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies, who still shoul­der much of the R&D work es­pe­cial­ly when it comes to clin­i­cal tri­als, putting them in the same group as In­sitro and In­sil­i­co (Oth­ers, such as Schro­ding­er, Atom­wise and Re­cur­sion, have in­creas­ing­ly wad­ed in­to drug de­vel­op­ment).

The new fi­nanc­ing will fu­el fur­ther ad­vances on its plat­form, XtalPi not­ed, strength­en­ing al­go­rith­mic pow­er, al­go­rithm de­sign as well as data­base.

A slew of heavy­weight VC firms in Chi­na joined the round, in­clud­ing CI­CC Cap­i­tal, CMB In­ter­na­tion­al, CITIC Cap­i­tal, Shun­wei Cap­i­tal, Ocean­pine Cap­i­tal, Foursquare Cap­i­tal and IMO Ven­tures, in ad­di­tion to Ko­rea’s Mi­rae As­set. Ear­li­er in­vestors such as Se­quoia al­so came back for more.

Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen spot­lights a pair of painful pipeline set­backs as ad­u­canum­ab show­down looms at the FDA

Biogen has flagged a pair of setbacks in the pipeline, spotlighting the final failure for a one-time top MS prospect while scrapping a gene therapy for SMA after the IND was put on hold due to toxicity.

Both failures will raise the stakes even higher on aducanumab, the Alzheimer’s drug that Biogen is betting the ranch on, determined to pursue an FDA OK despite significant skepticism they can make it with mixed results and a reliance on post hoc data mining. And the failures are being reported as Biogen was forced to cut its profit forecast for 2020 as a generic rival started to erode their big franchise drug.

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Bo Cumbo, AavantiBio CEO (file photo)

Bo Cum­bo jumps from the top com­mer­cial post at Sarep­ta to the helm of a gene ther­a­py start­up with some in­flu­en­tial back­ers, big plans and $107M

After a 7-year stretch building the commercial team at Sarepta, longtime drug salesman Bo Cumbo is jumping to the entrepreneurial side of the business, taking the helm of a startup that’s got several deep-pocket investors. And he’s not just bringing his experience in selling drugs.

He tells me that when he told Sarepta CEO Doug Ingram about it, his boss got excited about the venture and opted to jump in with a $15 million investment from Sarepta to add to the launch money, alongside 3 of the busiest investors in biotech.

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A new chap­ter in the de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal tri­al ap­proach

Despite the promised decentralized trial revolution, we haven’t yet moved the needle in a significant way, although we are seeing far bolder commitments to this as we continue to experience the pandemic restrictions for some time to come. The vision of grandeur is one thing, but operationalizing and execution are another and recognising that change, particularly mid-flight on studies, is worthy of thorough evaluation and consideration in order to achieve success. Here we will discuss one of the critical building blocks of a Decentralized and Remote Trial strategy: TeleConsent; more than paper under glass, it is a paradigm change and key digital enabler.

Covid-19 roundup: WSJ of­fers in­side look at Ox­ford-As­traZeneca deal, in­clud­ing fi­nan­cial terms; Lil­ly plant un­der scruti­ny again

Oxford scientists developing a Covid-19 vaccine are working with British drugmaker AstraZeneca, and together the pair have become one of the frontrunners in the race to end the pandemic. But a new Wall Street Journal report out Wednesday offered a behind-the-scenes look at how that deal came together in the wake of a scholar-led revolt over a potential collaboration with Merck, and included previously unreported financial terms of the AstraZeneca deal.

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Jean-Pierre Sommadossi, Atea president and CEO (file photo)

Roche wades deep­er in­to Covid-19 fight, ink­ing an­tivi­ral pact with $350M cash fol­low­ing Re­gen­eron deal

Roche is making its first bet on an antiviral against Covid-19 in style, shelling out $350 million in cash to grab ex-US rights.

The drug comes from Atea Pharmaceuticals, the 7-year-old biotech created by Pharmasset co-founder Jean-Pierre Sommadossi, which essentially rebranded itself as a Covid-19 fighter in May when it closed a whopping $215 million venture round. Over a dozen investors bought in, including marquee names like Bain Capital and RA Capital.

Peter Kolchinsky and Raj Shah (file photo)

Pe­ter Kolchin­sky and Raj Shah's RA Cap­i­tal has $461M more to play with, af­ter 'rapid' in­vest­ment in the last 15 months

Just over 15 months after launching its first venture fund, RA Capital Management is ready for more. And this time the firm is bringing an even bigger load of cash to the table.

Announcing the close of its Nexus II fund on Wednesday, RA said it raised $461 million for investments in private companies across the biotech industry. The first venture fund, which raised $300 million, has churned through roughly 80% of its capital already, a pace that managing partner Raj Shah called unusually quick.

Stephen Hahn, FDA commissioner (AP Images)

As FDA sets the stage for the first Covid-19 vac­cine EUAs, some big play­ers are ask­ing for a tweak of the guide­lines

Setting the stage for an extraordinary one-day meeting of the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee this Thursday, the FDA has cleared 2 experts of financial conflicts to help beef up the committee. And regulators went on to specify the safety, efficacy and CMC input they’re looking for on EUAs, before they move on to the full BLA approval process.

All of this has already been spelled out to the developers. But the devil is in the details, and it’s clear from the first round of posted responses that some of the top players — including J&J and Pfizer — would like some adjustments and added feedback. And on Thursday, the experts can offer their own thoughts on shaping the first OKs.

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Philipp Spycher, Araris CEO

Promis­ing bet­ter link­er tech to ADC field, Araris has 'very, very am­bi­tious' plans for the clin­ic

A couple months after raising CHF 2.5 million ($2.76 million) in initial seed funding, one-year-old Araris Biotech is topping off the round with another CHF 12.7 million ($14 million).

The Paul Scherrer Institute and ETH Zurich spinout now has CHF 15.2 million to work with, and CEO Philipp Spycher has big plans. He hopes to bring one of the company’s antibody-drug conjugates (ADC) to the clinic by late 2022 or early 2023. “It’s very, very ambitious, but we are very optimistic that we actually can make it,” he said.

David Hung (file photo)

Mas­ter deal­mak­er David Hung re­tools a SPAC sedan in­to a fi­nanc­ing mus­cle ve­hi­cle that leaves his can­cer start­up with $850M and a place on Wall Street

It’s only right that one of the industry’s top dealmakers just completed one of the biggest SPAC-related deals in the pipeline.

David Hung, of Medivation fame, has completed a back flip into the market, merging with EcoR1 Capital’s SPAC Panacea and landing neatly on Wall Street with an $NUVB stock ticker after filling out the blank check in his name. In addition to the $144 million held in the SPAC — provided none of the investors opt out — Hung is getting ahold of $500 million more being chipped in by a slate of institutional investors who feel that Hung could have the keys to another Medivation-style success.

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