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.

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

Covid-19 vac­cine boost­ers earn big thumbs up, but Mod­er­na draws ire over world sup­ply; What's next for Mer­ck’s Covid pill?; The C-suite view on biotech; 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.

You may remember that at the beginning of this year, Endpoints News set a goal to go broader and deeper. We are still working towards that, and are excited to share that Beth Snyder Bulik will be joining us on Monday to cover all things pharma marketing. You can sign up for her weekly Endpoints MarketingRx newsletter in your reader profile.

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No­var­tis de­vel­op­ment chief John Tsai: 'We go deep in the new plat­form­s'

During our recent European Biopharma Summit, I talked with Novartis development chief John Tsai about his experiences over the 3-plus years he’s been at the pharma giant. You can read the transcript below or listen to the exchange in the link above.

John Carroll: I followed your career for quite some time. You’ve had more than 20 years in big pharma R&D and you’ve obviously seen quite a lot. I really was curious about what it was like for you three and a half years ago when you took over as R&D chief at Novartis. Obviously a big move, a lot of changes. You went to work for the former R&D chief of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan, who had his own track record there. So what was the biggest adjustment when you went into this position?

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Amit Etkin, Alto Neuroscience CEO (Alto via Vimeo)

A star Stan­ford pro­fes­sor leaves his lab for a start­up out to re­make psy­chi­a­try

About five years ago, Amit Etkin had a breakthrough.

The Stanford neurologist, a soft-spoken demi-prodigy who became a professor while still a resident, had been obsessed for a decade with how to better define psychiatric disorders. Drugs for depression or bipolar disorder didn’t work for many patients with the conditions, and he suspected the reason was how traditional diagnoses didn’t actually get at the heart of what was going on in a patient’s brain.

Susan Galbraith, Executive VP, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

As­traZeneca on­col­o­gy R&D chief Su­san Gal­braith: 'Y­ou're go­ing to need or­thog­o­nal com­bi­na­tion­s'

 

Earlier in the week we broadcast our 4th annual European Biopharma Summit with a great lineup of top execs. One of the one-on-one conversations I set up was with Susan Galbraith, the oncology research chief at AstraZeneca. In a wide-ranging discussion, Galbraith reviewed the cancer drug pipeline and key trends influencing development work at the pharma giant. You can watch the video, above, or stick with the script below. — JC

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Roche's Tecen­triq cross­es the fin­ish line first in ad­ju­vant lung can­cer, po­ten­tial­ly kick­ing off gold rush

While falling behind the biggest PD-(L)1 drugs in terms of sales, Roche has looked to carve out a space for its Tecentriq with a growing expertise in lung cancer. The drug will now take an early lead in the sought-after adjuvant setting — but competitors are on the way.

The FDA on Friday approved Tecentriq as an adjuvant therapy for patients with Stage II-IIIA non small cell lung cancer with PD-(L)1 scores greater than or equal to 1, making it the first drug of its kind approved in an early setting that covers around 40% of all NSCLC patients.

John Oyler, BeiGene CEO (Paul Yeung/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Bris­tol My­ers wants to pull out of its Abrax­ane deal in Chi­na. BeiGene says no way

A year and a half after Chinese officials ordered BeiGene to stop selling Bristol Myers Squibb’s Abraxane in the wake of an alarming inspection of a US facility, the manufacturing issues at the root of the import suspension still appear unresolved.

And Bristol Myers wants to axe the Abraxane supply deal altogether.

But BeiGene, which is currently in arbitration proceedings against its Big Pharma partner, won’t let it off the hook so easily.

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FDA ad­comm votes unan­i­mous­ly in sup­port of a J&J Covid-19 boost­er two months af­ter one-dose shot

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) on Friday voted 19-0 in favor of authorizing a second shot of J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine to follow at least two months after the initial dose.

Regulators don’t have to follow VRBPAC’s recommendation, but they almost always do. Considering that the CDC’s advisory committee has already been set to review the expanded EUA, VRBPAC’s recommendation is likely to be adopted.

Yao-Chang Xu, Abbisko Therapeutics founder and CEO

Qim­ing-backed Ab­bisko makes $200M+ Hong Kong de­but, as a SPAC and Agenus spin­out al­so price on Nas­daq

Three new entities priced their public debuts late Thursday and early Friday, including a SPAC, a traditional Nasdaq IPO and a Chinese biotech joining the Hong Kong Index.

Shanghai-based Abbisko Therapeutics raised the most money of the triumvirate, garnering $226 million in its Hong Kong debut and pricing at HK$12.46, or roughly $1.60 in US dollars. The blank check company followed up with a $150 million raise, while MiNK Therapeutics priced on Nasdaq at $12 per share and a $40 million raise.