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.

In his­toric Covid-19 ad­comm, vac­cine ex­perts de­bate a sea of ques­tions — but of­fer no clear an­swers

The most widely anticipated and perhaps most widely watched meeting in the FDA’s 113-year history ended late Thursday night with a score of questions and very few answers.

For nearly 9 hours, 18 different outside experts listened to public health agencies and foundations present how the United States’ Covid-19 vaccine program developed through October, and they debated where it should go from there: Were companies testing the right metrics in their massive trials? How long should they track patients before declaring a vaccine safe or effective? Should a vaccine, once authorized, be given to the volunteers in the placebo arm of a trial?

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Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca CEO (Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: FDA gives As­traZeneca the thumbs-up to restart PhI­II Covid-19 vac­cine tri­als, and J&J is prepar­ing to re­sume its study

Several countries had restarted their portions of AstraZeneca’s global Phase III Covid-19 vaccine trial after the study was paused worldwide in early September, but the US notably stayed on the sidelines — until now. Friday afternoon the pharma giant announced the all clear from US regulators. And on top of that, J&J announced Friday evening that it’s preparing to resume its own Phase III vaccine trial.

Ul­tragenyx in­jects $40M to grab Solid's mi­crody­s­trophin trans­gene — while side­step­ping the AAV9 vec­tor that stirred up safe­ty fears

Since before Ilan Ganot started Solid Bio to develop a gene therapy for kids like his son, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Ultragenyx CEO Emil Kakkis has been watching and advising the former investment banker as he navigated the deep waters of drug development.

Just as Solid is getting back up on its feet after a yearlong clinical hold, Kakkis has decided to jump in for a formal alliance.

With a $40 million upfront, Ultragenyx is grabbing 14.45% of Solid’s shares $SLDB and the rights to its microdystrophin construct for use in combination with AAV8 vectors. Solid’s lead program, which utilizes AAV9, remains unaffected. The company also retains rights to other applications of its transgene.

A top drug pro­gram at Bay­er clears a high bar for CKD — open­ing the door to an FDA pitch

Over the past 4 years, Bayer has been steering a major trial through a pivotal program to see if their drug finerenone could slow down the pace of chronic kidney disease in patients suffering from both CKD as well as Type 2 diabetes.

Today, their team jumped on a virtual meeting hosted by the American Society of Nephrology to offer a solid set of pivotal data to demonstrate that the drug can delay dialysis or a kidney replacement as well as cardio disease, while also adding some worrying signs of hyperkalemia among the patients taking the drug. And they’re hustling it straight to regulators in search of an approval for kidney disease and cardio patients — one of the toughest challenges in the book, as demonstrated by repeated past failures.

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Adam Koppel and Jeffrey Schwartz, Bain

Bain ex­ecs Adam Kop­pel and Jef­frey Schwartz line up $125M for their first blank check deal as Wall Street con­tin­ues to em­brace biotech

Adam Koppel and Jeffrey Schwartz have jumped into the blank check game, raising $125 million for a stock listing in search of a company.

Their SPAC, BCLS Acquisition Corp, raised $125 million this week, with a line on $25 million more as it scouts for a biotech in search of money and a place on Wall Street.

The two principals at Bain Life Sciences have been on a romp since they set up the Bain operation 4 years ago. Their S-1 spells out a track record of 22 deals totaling $650 million for the life sciences group, which led to 9 IPOs.

Covid-19 roundup: An mR­NA play­er gets a boost out of the lat­est round of an­i­mal da­ta; Phase­Bio pulls the plug on treat­ment tri­al

The big tell for CureVac $CVAC is coming up with a looming early-stage readout on their mRNA Covid-19 vaccine in the clinic. But for now they’ll make do with an upbeat assessment on the preclinical animal data they used to get into the clinic.

Researchers for the German biotech say they got the high antibody titers and T cell activation they were looking for, lining up a hamster challenge to demonstrate — in a simple model — that the vaccine could protect the furry creatures. Like the other mRNA vaccines, the drug sends instructions to spur cells to decorate themselves with the distinctive spike on the virus to elicit an immune response.

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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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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Chi­nese in­vestors wa­ger $105M on an IPO-bound biotech look­ing to push RNAi as main­stream can­cer ther­a­py

Shortly after Sirnaomics brought in a $47 million Series C for its small interfering RNA pipeline last year, Patrick Lu — the founder, president and CEO — was asked to outline the scientific advances that will be necessary to make better drugs out of RNA tech.

“The next step in the evolution of RNAi as a leading therapeutic will be the ability to safely target organs outside the liver such as lung, brain, etc,” he had offered. “This will revolutionize disease treatments if the industry can demonstrate similar data sets for non-liver targets as we have seen in liver-based diseases.”