Maureen Hillenmeyer, Hexagon Bio CEO

Us­ing AI to se­quence fun­gi genomes for can­cer treat­ments, Hexa­gon Bio nets $47M in Se­ries A

A Stan­ford spin­out ex­plor­ing how fun­gi can be se­quenced to dis­cov­er new med­i­cines in on­col­o­gy and in­fec­tious dis­eases now has sig­nif­i­cant­ly more cash to do so.

Ear­ly Tues­day morn­ing, Hexa­gon Bio an­nounced the clos­ing of their Se­ries A fi­nanc­ing, pulling in $47 mil­lion from a group of in­vestors led by The Col­umn Group. The round, which al­so saw par­tic­i­pa­tion from 8VC and Two Sig­ma Ven­tures, will go to­ward cre­at­ing a pro­pri­etary ge­nomics data­base as well as build­ing out a drug dis­cov­ery team to de­vel­op the new com­pounds. Hexa­gon brought on Tod Smeal as its new CSO af­ter he served in the same po­si­tion at Lil­ly Re­search Labs.

“This is go­ing to take us in­to this next phase from com­pa­ny build­ing,” CEO Mau­reen Hil­len­mey­er told End­points News. “We’ve built this great plat­form, but now we’re at a stage where we’re re­al­ly fo­cused on tak­ing mol­e­cules to­wards the clin­ic.”

The tech that Hexa­gon has de­vel­oped aims to op­ti­mize the search for nat­ur­al prod­ucts with­in fun­gi that can serve as foun­da­tions for can­cer treat­ments, Hil­len­mey­er said. His­tor­i­cal­ly, such search­es have been “brute force” meth­ods re­quir­ing painstak­ing ef­forts to se­quence.

But Hexa­gon wants to pair da­ta min­ing with drug dis­cov­ery in or­der to find such nat­ur­al prod­ucts, al­so known as sec­ondary metabo­lites. Fun­gi pro­duce sec­ondary metabo­lites as self-de­fense mech­a­nisms, pro­tect­ing them­selves from dis­ease. Hil­len­mey­er’s goal is to ap­ply an AI al­go­rithm to se­quence and sift through mas­sive amounts of genome da­ta to try to de­ter­mine what oth­er fun­gi nat­u­ral­ly cul­ti­vate metabo­lites use­ful in even­tu­al can­cer ther­a­pies.

Smeal com­pared the task to check­ing out am­a­teur base­ball play­ers to draft for a cham­pi­onship team. The play­ers, or the metabo­lites, are all out there wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered, while the scouts and front of­fices — Hexa­gon’s plat­form and drug dis­cov­ery team, in this in­stance — try to de­ter­mine which have the most po­ten­tial.

“What’s ex­cit­ing about it is that, in the past, there’s al­ready been a lot of suc­cess in de­vel­op­ing drugs based on nat­ur­al prod­ucts but it was re­al­ly a non-sys­tem­at­ic ap­proach,” Smeal said. “Mau­reen’s team is in the process of go­ing through and sam­pling a huge di­ver­si­ty of the pos­si­ble agents that are out there. So it’s sort of a new fron­tier, but it’s be­ing done in a sys­tem­at­ic and ef­fi­cient way.”

Tod Smeal

Metabo­lites from fun­gi have been pro­duced be­fore, most no­tably peni­cillin in ad­di­tion to cho­les­terol-re­duc­ing statins. But while a rev­o­lu­tion­ary an­tibi­ot­ic, peni­cillin was dis­cov­ered by ac­ci­dent in the 1920s, and it took years for re­searchers to ful­ly se­quence the genomes used in statin-based med­i­cines.

That’s where Hexa­gon hopes the da­ta min­ing will pro­vide a huge boon, by cut­ting down the bulk search process it­self and get­ting pro­grams in­to the clin­ic at a faster clip.

“There’s about 5 mil­lion fun­gal genomes on the earth, of which on­ly about 5,000 have been se­quenced,” Hil­len­mey­er said. “Each of those genomes con­tains a huge amount of da­ta that we have to sift through to find what we call the nee­dle in the haystack: drugs that are use­ful for peo­ple.”

As of now, Hexa­gon says it’s too ear­ly to de­ter­mine what any treat­ment might end up look­ing like. Whether the com­pa­ny de­vel­ops an IV-based drug or a once-a-day pill, those de­ci­sions are still up in the air and will de­pend on what tar­gets the com­pa­ny ul­ti­mate­ly goes af­ter.

But one thing’s for cer­tain: Hexa­gon, be­liev­ing in its tech, is not go­ing to be picky.

“We’re fo­cused on on­col­o­gy, but ini­tial­ly we’re go­ing to be work­ing in an­ti-in­fec­tives and on­col­o­gy,” Smeal said. “We’re go­ing to be very op­por­tunis­tic, so de­pend­ing on what comes out of the plat­form, if there’s op­por­tu­ni­ties in oth­er ther­a­peu­tic ar­eas, we will prob­a­bly ex­plore them as well.”

The Fac­tors Dri­ving a Rapid Evo­lu­tion of Gene & Cell Ther­a­py and CAR-T Clin­i­cal Re­search in APAC

APAC is the fastest growing region globally for cell & gene therapy trials representing more than a third of all cell & gene studies globally, with China leading in the region. 

APAC is the leading location globally for CAR-T trials with China attracting ~60% of all CAR-T trials globally between 2015-2022. The number of CAR-T trials initiated by Western companies has rapidly increased in recent years (current CAGR of about 60%), with multiple targets being explored including CD19, CD20, CD22, BCMA, CD30, CD123, CD33, CD38, and CD138.

The End­points 11; blue­bird's $3M gene ther­a­py; Bio­gen tout new neu­ro da­ta; Harsh re­views for can­cer drugs; 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.

Reading about John Carroll’s pick of biotech’s most promising startups has become a treasured tradition. If you ever get curious about previous classes of the Endpoints 11, you can find all of them (plus a number of our other regular specials) here.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 150,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

EMA warns of short­ages of two Boehringer heart drugs due to a spike in de­mand

The EMA is putting EU member states on alert over the shortage of two drugs that counter heart attacks due to an uptick in demand.

On Friday, the EMA sent out a warning that two Boehringer Ingelheim drugs are experiencing a shortage: Actilyse and Metalyse. The drugs are used as emergency treatments for adults experiencing acute myocardial infarction, or a heart attack, by dissolving blood clots that have formed in the blood vessels.

The End­points 11: The top pri­vate biotechs in pur­suit of new drugs. Push­ing the en­ve­lope with pow­er­ful new tech­nolo­gies

Right around the beginning of the year, we got a close-up look at what happens after a boom ripples through biotech. The crash of life sciences stocks in Q1 was heard around the world.

In the months since, we’ve seen the natural Darwinian down cycle take effect. Reverse mergers made a comeback, with more burned out shells to go public at a time IPOs and road shows are out of favor. And no doubt some of the more recent arrivals on the investing side of the business are finding greener pastures.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Mene Pangalos (AstraZeneca via YouTube)

As­traZeneca shuts the PhI­II door for Ion­is' PC­SK9 drug de­spite pos­i­tive PhI­Ib

When Ionis and AstraZeneca unveiled the first round of mid-stage data for their antisense PCSK9 drug, Mene Pangalos, AstraZeneca’s EVP of biopharmaceuticals R&D, underscored the drug’s “potential best-in-class efficacy profile.”

But now that the second batch is in, it appears AZD8233 isn’t hitting the mark after all.

Ionis announced Friday morning that although the candidate, also dubbed ION449, met the primary endpoint in the Phase IIb SOLANO trial, its partners at AstraZeneca have decided not to move it into Phase III studies because the “results did not achieve pre-specified efficacy criteria.”

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 150,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Up­dat­ed: Bio­gen throws it­self back in­to mud­dled da­ta ar­gu­ments with more de­tails on its an­ti­sense ALS drug

With a highly watched FDA decision deadline coming in late January, Biogen and Ionis dropped the full data on the Phase III study of their ALS drug tofersen in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday.

Biogen is looking for approval for tofersen in a very small subset of ALS patients — some 2%, according to the paper — who have a SOD1 gene mutation, which has previously been linked to ALS. Tofersen is meant to reduce levels of mutant SOD1 proteins.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 150,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

As­traZeneca, Mer­ck cull one Lyn­parza in­di­ca­tion in heav­i­ly pre­treat­ed ovar­i­an can­cer pa­tients

Just one day after blockbuster Lynparza got access to another indication in China, its Big Pharma owners have decided to withdraw it in certain patients after reviewing Phase III data.

The two companies that work together on Lynparza decided to recall one of the indications several weeks ago in a specific type of ovarian cancer, Lynparza’s first indication when it was first FDA-approved in 2014. Initial data showed that rates of overall survival in patients with at least three rounds of chemo before getting on the PARP inhibitor were lower than in patients with less previous chemo treatment.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 150,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar

Should SCO­TUS hear Am­gen's Repatha case? So­lic­i­tor gen­er­al says no

Back in April, Amgen said it was encouraged by the solicitor general’s anticipated review of its Supreme Court petition to rehear a Repatha patent case. They’re likely much less optimistic about the outcome now.

Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote in a recent 27-page brief that Amgen’s arguments “lack merit and further review is not warranted.”

The case traces back to a suit filed in 2014 against Sanofi and Regeneron’s Praluent, which ended up beating Amgen’s PCSK9 blockbuster Repatha to market by a month just a year later.

Phil Sharp, Nobel Prize laureate (L), and John Carroll, Endpoints News co-CEO (via Michael Last)

The End­points 11: Fire­side chat with No­bel Prize lau­re­ate Phil Sharp

On Thursday evening in Boston I had the great good fortune to talk about the creation of the biotech industry with Nobel Prize-winning scientist Phil Sharp. I learned quite a bit about the early days of Genentech, Biogen and Alnylam, which all helped birth this unusual drug development ecosystem. And that’s why we can do things like the Endpoints 11. Here’s my talk with Phil Sharp, which you can either watch or read below.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.