Brendan Frey, Deep Genomics

SpaceX in­vestor backs Toron­to AI up­start's jour­ney in­to the 'dark re­gion' of ge­net­ic dis­eases

Bren­dan Frey set out, when he be­gan the project to pick out a lead pro­gram for Deep Ge­nomics, to prove that the ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence sys­tems his lab has de­signed can iden­ti­fy new drug tar­gets and find a win­ning can­di­date much faster than tra­di­tion­al meth­ods. Now that they have ze­roed in on an an­ti­sense oligonu­cleotide ex­on-skip­ping ther­a­py for a sub­type of Wil­son dis­ease — se­lect­ed out of 2,400 ail­ments and 120,000 un­der­ly­ing ge­net­ic mu­ta­tions — as their face case, the Toron­to-based biotech is ready to delve in­to new fron­tiers with their AI tech.

Deep Ge­nomics plans to spend rough­ly half of its new $40 mil­lion on clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment of DG12P1, whose first-in-hu­man tri­al is slat­ed for 2021; and the oth­er half on strength­en­ing var­i­ous com­po­nents of its ma­chine learn­ing sys­tems, from ro­bot­ics to as­says. Fu­ture Ven­tures, an in­vestor in Tes­la and SpaceX, led the Se­ries B round while Am­pli­tude Ven­tures, Mag­net­ic Ven­tures, Khosla Ven­tures and True Ven­tures joined.

While they took a splice mod­u­lat­ing ap­proach for their first AI-dis­cov­ered com­pound akin to what Bio­gen has with Spin­raza, Deep Ge­nomics is next fo­cused on hap­loin­suf­fi­cien­cies — dis­or­ders where in­creased ex­pres­sion lev­els of one func­tion­al gene would be valu­able. In oth­er words, where­as the pre­vi­ous chal­lenge lied in find­ing the right mu­ta­tion to tin­ker, the new puz­zle is how best to boost a known tar­get.

It’s a rel­a­tive­ly new ap­pli­ca­tion of oligonu­cleotides with no ap­proved drugs, which is al­so be­ing ex­plored at Stoke Ther­a­peu­tics.

“There are many dif­fer­ent mech­a­nisms that could be rel­e­vant, and so when you look at all these dif­fer­ent mech­a­nisms and all these dif­fer­ent re­gions of the gene that you could de­sign the oli­go for, there are tens of thou­sands, or even hun­dreds of thou­sands of pos­si­ble com­pounds,” says Frey, a star re­searcher that in­sil­i­co’s Alex Zha­voronkov con­sid­ers “with­out doubt in top 10 sci­en­tists in this field in the world.”

Frey elab­o­rates:

That could be in the 5’ UTR, it could be in the in­tron, it could be in an ex­on, in­tron­ic se­quences are very large, could be in a 3’ UTR, dif­fer­ent kinds of mech­a­nisms may be in­volved. It could be a mat­ter of al­ter­ing the up­stream open read­ing frame, or it could be a mat­ter of an in­tron or ten­sion bot­tle neck, it could be a mat­ter of chang­ing the polyadeny­la­tion site, it could be a com­pound that al­ters sec­ondary struc­tures.

New tools will be re­quired to test all these paths they can po­ten­tial­ly trav­el down, and Deep Ge­nomics’ team of 40-plus is al­ready per­fect­ing one mod­el de­signed to pre­dict polyadeny­la­tion pat­terns.

“Mul­ti­lin­gual­ism is an im­por­tant core val­ue for us,” he pre­vi­ous­ly said. “Every­one at the com­pa­ny has had AI train­ing, and every­one at the com­pa­ny has done wet lab work. In fact I ac­tu­al­ly se­quenced the ge­nom­ic DNA for the Wil­son tar­get to val­i­date it once we edit­ed the cell line to put the pa­tient mu­ta­tion in­to the cells.”

In ad­di­tion to deep­en­ing the clin­i­cal bench, Frey is al­so re­cruit­ing for the busi­ness de­vel­op­ment unit.

“Our pipeline is over­flow­ing, and so we’re fo­cused on sign­ing some busi­ness deals,” he tells End­points News in the lead­up to the an­nu­al JP Mor­gan con­fab in San Fran­cis­co.

That in­cludes two ad­di­tion­al pro­grams for Wil­son’s dis­ease that, to­geth­er with the lead pro­gram, would ad­dress up to a quar­ter of the 230,000 pa­tients world­wide. There’s one oth­er undis­closed meta­bol­ic can­di­date for which Frey plans to sub­mit an IND this year, some com­pounds for retinopa­thy, and a dozen hap­loin­suf­fi­cient projects in de­vel­op­ment, he says.

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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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.

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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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.

Paul Grayson, Tentarix CEO (Versant)

Phar­ma vet­er­ans re­group with $50M and a plan to dis­cov­er new mul­ti-specifics

While a horde of drugmakers develops bispecific antibodies to more directly target tumor cells — there were about 100 programs in or nearing clinical trials back in May — a new company is emerging to go one step further.

On Thursday, Tentarix Biotherapeutics unveiled a $50 million Series A round to support its next-gen multi-specifics platform. While the field has largely focused on bispecifics, which engage two targets, Tentarix believes its multifunctional programs have the potential to be even more specific, since more conditions must be met for potent activity to occur.

Tillman Gerngross, Adagio CEO

Q&A: Till­man Gern­gross ex­plains why his Covid mAb will have an edge over an al­ready crowd­ed field

If anyone knows about monoclonal antibodies, it’s serial entrepreneur, Adimab CEO, and Dartmouth professor of bioengineering Tillman Gerngross.

Even the name of Gerngross’ new antibody startup Adagio Therapeutics is meant to reflect his vision behind the development of his Covid-19 mAb: slowly, he said, explaining that “everyone else, whether it’s Regeneron, Lilly, or AstraZeneca, Vir, they all valued speed over everything.”

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