UCB builds on re­la­tion­ship with Mi­crosoft with new AI deal; Sanofi part­ners with Ger­man AAV vec­tor biotech

More biotechs are jump­ing on the AI band­wag­on, and you can count UCB as one of them.

The Bel­gian com­pa­ny inked a “mul­ti-year” deal with Mi­crosoft on Tues­day, gain­ing ac­cess to its com­pu­ta­tion­al ser­vices, cloud and AI tech. The col­lab­o­ra­tion builds on work UCB did with Mi­crosoft through the COVID Moon­shot project, a crowd­sourced ini­tia­tive to ac­cel­er­ate the de­vel­op­ment of an­tivi­ral can­di­dates.

“It’s one of the ex­pe­ri­ences that built up to this part­ner­ship,” CIO Her­man De Prins said in an in­ter­view with End­points News. 

There are three pil­lars to UCB’s ap­proach to AI and ad­vanced an­a­lyt­ics tech, ac­cord­ing to Roger Pal­fra­man, head of ex­ter­nal in­no­va­tion and US dis­cov­ery sci­ence. Bet­ter un­der­stand the pa­tient and their dis­ease pathol­o­gy, use that to iden­ti­fy bet­ter mol­e­c­u­lar tar­gets that are dri­ving the dis­ease — which will bring about small mol­e­cules, bi­o­log­ic an­ti­bod­ies and gene ther­a­pies — and then de­vel­op those mol­e­cules faster.

“It’s about help­ing our peo­ple pri­or­i­tize their de­ci­sions and make bet­ter de­ci­sions,” Pal­fra­man said. “It can save time, and… it’s max­i­miz­ing the prob­a­bil­i­ty that our dis­cov­ery in­vest­ment will trans­late in­to a ther­a­peu­tic that can ben­e­fit pa­tients.”

AI can al­so be used to de­sign bet­ter clin­i­cal tri­al pro­to­cols and op­ti­mize clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, he ex­plained. For ex­am­ple, pub­lic da­ta can be scoured to un­der­stand which hos­pi­tals are best suit­ed for a tri­al.

UCB is the fi­nan­cial terms and ex­act length of the deal un­der wraps for now.

News of the Mi­crosoft deal comes as more and more biotechs turn to AI for a smarter and faster way to get things done.  Ear­li­er this month, Dyno Ther­a­peu­tics sketched out more than 100,000 virus­es in a study meant to de­ter­mine how many vi­able vari­ants of the AAV2 cap­sid it could de­sign with the aid of ma­chine learn­ing. And just last month, Ab­Sci bought out De­n­ovi­um and its AI en­gine with the goal of even­tu­al­ly be­ing able to dis­cov­er a drug and cell line at the click of a but­ton.

“What we want to do is bring this much clos­er to the sci­en­tists who are mak­ing de­ci­sions, and re­al­ly ac­cel­er­ate that dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment process and have those fast it­er­a­tion cy­cles,” Pal­fra­man said. — Nicole De­Feud­is 

Sanofi part­ners with Ger­man AAV vec­tor biotech

Sanofi has a new gene ther­a­py part­ner.

The French phar­ma is team­ing up with Ger­man out­fit Siri­on Biotech to de­vel­op im­proved tis­sue-se­lec­tive AAV vec­tors for gene ther­a­pies. Fi­nan­cial terms of the deal were not dis­closed, but Siri­on said the col­lab­o­ra­tion will fo­cus on dis­or­ders af­fect­ing ma­jor or­gans.

“This part­ner­ship adds to our ex­pand­ing tool­box of tech­nolo­gies in the im­por­tant, emerg­ing area of gene ther­a­peu­tics,” Sanofi ge­nom­ic med­i­cine chief Chris­t­ian Mueller said in a state­ment.

Siri­on was found­ed back in 2005 with the goal of cre­at­ing new vi­ral vec­tor tech­nolo­gies for gene and cell ther­a­pies, as well as vac­cines. Their pro­pri­etary tech­nol­o­gy plat­forms are based on lenti-, ade­no-, and ade­no-as­so­ci­at­ed virus­es. — Max Gel­man

No­vo Hold­ings snaps up CRO spe­cial­iz­ing in ear­ly drug de­vel­op­ment

No­vo Hold­ings has scooped up an ear­ly drug de­vel­op­ment ser­vice provider in North Amer­i­ca, with the goal of court­ing small and medi­um-sized bio­phar­ma clients.

Head­quar­tered in Laval, Cana­da, Al­ta­sciences op­er­ates six fa­cil­i­ties that run the gamut on ear­ly drug de­vel­op­ment: pre­clin­i­cal safe­ty test­ing, clin­i­cal phar­ma­col­o­gy, bio­an­a­lyt­i­cal, CRO ser­vices, and even CD­MO ca­pac­i­ty. The cur­rent head­count is 1,300, No­vo added.

Drug de­vel­op­ment ser­vices rep­re­sent a “fast-grow­ing mar­ket,” said Ab­hi­jeet Lele, se­nior part­ner, head of prin­ci­pal in­vest­ments in the US at No­vo Hold­ings.

Al­ta­sciences CEO Chris Perkin — who will con­tin­ue lead­ing the busi­ness unit, just like he has un­der the for­mer own­ers at Au­dax Pri­vate Eq­ui­ty — said be­com­ing a part of No­vo will fos­ter their am­bi­tious growth plans, “giv­en their ex­cep­tion­al rep­u­ta­tion, track record, and broad port­fo­lio of high-growth health­care com­pa­nies.” — Am­ber Tong

The top 100 bio­phar­ma VCs, Bob Brad­way places $2B bet in can­cer, gene edit­ing pi­o­neer's new big idea, 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.

Before diving in, we had some news to share: Endpoints is launching a premium weekly report focusing on all things regulatory. Coverage will be led by our new senior editor, Zachary Brennan, who joins us from POLITICO. Arsalan Arif has more details in his Publisher’s Note.

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Robert Bradway (Photographer: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Am­gen snaps up can­cer drug play­er Five Prime, adding PhI­II-ready FGFR2b drug in $2B M&A play

Amgen is making a long-awaited move on the M&A side, buying South San Francisco-based Five Prime $FPRX for close to $2 billion and adding a slate of new cancer drugs to the pipeline.

Amgen is paying $38 a share, putting the deal value at $1.9 billion. The stock closed at $21.26 last night, giving investors a 78% premium.

The jewel in the crown of this deal is bemarituzumab, which Amgen describes as a first-in-class, Phase III-ready anti-FGFR2b antibody. Amgen was drawn to the bargaining table by Five Prime’s mid-stage data on gastric cancer, satisfied by PFS and OS data helping to validate FGFR2b as a target. Amgen researchers will now expand on the R&D program in other epithelial cancers, including lung, breast, ovarian and other cancers.

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David Liu (Casey Atkins Photography courtesy Broad Institute)

David Liu has a new big idea: pro­teome edit­ing. It could one day shred tau, RAS and some of the worst dis­ease-caus­ing pro­teins

Before David Liu became famous for inventing new forms of gene editing, he was known around academia in part for a more obscure innovation: a Rube Goldberg-esque system that uses bacteria-infecting viruses to take one protein and turn it into another.

Since 2011, Liu’s lab has used the system, called PACE, to dream up fantastical new proteins: DNA base editors far more powerful than the original; more versatile forms of the gene editor Cas9; insecticides that kill insecticide-resistant bugs; enzymes that slide synthetic amino acids into living organisms. But they struggled throughout to master one of the most common and powerful proteins in the biological world: proteases, a set of Swiss army knife enzymes that cut, cleave or shred other proteins in everything from viruses to humans.

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The 2021 top 100 bio­phar­ma in­vestors: As the pan­dem­ic hit and IPOs boomed, VCs swung in­to ac­tion like nev­er be­fore

The global pandemic may have roiled economies, killed hundreds of thousands and throttled entire industries, but the only effect it had on biopharma venture investing was to help turbocharge the field to giddy new heights.

Below you’ll find the new top 100 venture investors in the industry, ranked by the number of deals they were publicly involved in, as tracked by DealForma chief Chris Dokomajilar. The numbers master then calculated the estimated amount of money they put into each deal — divvying up the cash by the number of players — to indicate how they managed their syndicates.

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Bruce Cozadd, Jazz CEO (Jazz Pharmaceuticals)

Jazz CEO Bruce Cozadd cam­paigned for 6 months to buy GW Phar­ma. A 90% pre­mi­um sealed the deal — along with $17.6M in ‘re­ten­tion’ in­cen­tives

Jazz CEO Bruce Cozadd didn’t beat around the bush.

In his first video meeting with GW Pharma chief Justin Gover last July 8, he offered to pay $172 a share to get the company, which had beaten the odds in getting its remarkable cannabinoid drug Epidiolex across the regulatory finish line for epilepsy. GW’s stock closed at $129 that day.

Cozadd had already done his homework on the financing to make sure he could swing it the way he wanted. He just needed to do some due diligence before making the non-binding bid firm.

Seagen warns in­vestors against TRC Cap­i­tal’s lat­est 'mi­ni-ten­der of­fer'; BeiGene goes af­ter a new in­di­ca­tion for top PD-1 play­er

TRC Capital, which has selected various biotechs like Vertex and Biogen for the “mini-tender” treatment, jumped back into the game last month with an offer to buy shares in Seagen for $151. The problem, says Seagen, is that price was 4.28% lower than what the stock was selling for at the time they made the offer on Feb. 20, giving TRC a shot at an instant windfall.

So why sell for less than what it’s worth? Seagen notes warnings from regulatory authorities that these offers essentially try to trick investors into believing that they’re being offered a premium for the stock.

UP­DAT­ED: Not 3 weeks af­ter tak­ing Hu­ma­cyte pub­lic, Ra­jiv Shuk­la launch­es an­oth­er blank check com­pa­ny

One of biotech’s earliest SPAC investors is back with another blank-check company, less than a month after his last effort announced its intent to merge.

Rajiv Shukla is intending to take a third lucky winner public with Alpha Healthcare Acquisition III, filing to go public Thursday with a $150 million raise penciled in. The move comes just a couple of weeks after Shukla’s second SPAC said it would jump to Nasdaq in tandem with Laura Niklason’s Humacyte in a $255 million new investment.

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Paul Hudson, Getty Images

How does Paul Hud­son's $13.5M comp pack­age stack up against oth­er CEOs? He's in the 'first quar­tile'

Paul Hudson arrived at Sanofi like a hurricane, chopping off duds in the pipeline, shaking up the C-suite, striking big M&A deals and jumping into the Covid-19 vaccine race — all in an attempt to reboot a pharma giant notorious for its setbacks.

Now, we’re getting a look at what the CEO brought home in his first year on the job.

When all is said and done, Hudson will have made about $6.7 million in 2020, about $2.5 million of which has already been paid. The bigger figure includes a $2.3 million bonus that’s subject to approval at an April meeting, and another $1.8 million in variable compensation that has yet to be paid.

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Af­ter three years of courtship (and turn­downs), Mer­ck pounced on the first glance of clin­i­cal da­ta in $1.85B Pan­dion takeover

It’s almost become cliché for biotech executives to talk about the importance of keeping your options open and being prepared to go all the way. But when it comes to negotiating with a giant like Merck, a little patience can indeed go a long way.

Just ask Pandion Therapeutics.

Days ago we already learned that Merck is shelling out $1.85 billion to pick up the biotech and its slate of autoimmune hopefuls. What we didn’t know until the SEC disclosure dropped Thursday is that the deal comes after Pandion turned down two other proposals from Merck over the past three years and held out until the last minute for a sweetened deal.

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