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.”

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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Per­cep­tive's fourth — yes, fourth — SPAC jumps to Nas­daq as the blank check tree con­tin­ues to ripen

The biotech SPAC boom has gone almost hand-in-hand with the industry’s IPO gold rush, and this week saw more blank check companies hop aboard the train.

Leading the way is Perceptive Advisors’ fourth SPAC, appropriately named Arya Sciences Acquisition IV, which priced Friday morning after raising $130 million. And on top of that, new Ziopharm executive chair James Huang is launching his own SPAC with MSD Partners and Panacea Venture, filing S-1 paperwork Thursday with plans to raise $200 million.

Roche and Genen­tech re­searchers plot $53M dis­cov­ery quest aimed at spark­ing a 'Holy moly' piv­ot in neu­ro R&D

Roche and Genentech have committed $53 million to back a 10-year quest aimed at going back to the drawing board to use new technology and fresh scientific insights to generate a pipeline of drugs for neurological diseases.

Researchers from both Roche and its big South San Francisco hub — mixing teams from gRED and pRED this time — will mix it up with the scientists drawn together for the Weill Neurohub — formed in 2019 as a joint research partnership involving UCSF, Berkeley and the University of Washington — in an exploration of the field to develop new therapies for some of the toughest diseases in drug R&D: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, ALS and autism.

Am­gen, As­traZeneca speed to­ward fil­ing next-gen an­ti­body for asth­ma af­ter un­cork­ing full late-stage da­ta

On the hunt for a novel competitor to Sanofi and Regeneron’s Dupixent in severe asthma, Amgen and AstraZeneca posted “exciting” results from their next-gen antibody late last year. Now, the partners are showing their hands, and the results look good enough for approval.

Amgen and AstraZeneca’s tezepelumab plus standard of care cut the rate of severe asthma attacks by 56% at the one-year mark compared with SOC alone, according to full data from the Phase III NAVIGATOR study presented Friday at the virtual American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology meeting. And those significant results were consistent regardless of patients’ baseline eosinophil counts.

Tal Zaks, Moderna CMO (AP Photo/Rodrique Ngowi, via still image from video)

CMO Tal Zaks bids Mod­er­na a sur­prise adieu as biotech projects $18.4B in rev­enue, plots post-Covid ex­pan­sion

How do you exit a company after six years in style? Developing one of the most lucrative and life-saving products in pharma history is probably not the worst way to go.

Tal Zaks, Moderna’s CMO since 2015, will leave the mRNA biotech in September, the biotech disclosed in their annual report this morning. The company has already retained the recruitment firm Russell Reynolds to find a replacement.

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Glax­o­SmithK­line re­thinks strat­e­gy for Covid-19 an­ti­body — not the Vir ones — af­ter tri­al flop. Is there hope in high-risk pa­tients?

In the search for a better Covid-19 therapeutic, GlaxoSmithKline and Vir have partnered up on two antibodies they hope have a chance. GSK is also testing its own in-house antibody, and early results may have shut the door on its widespread use.

A combination of GSK’s monoclonal antibody otilimab plus standard of care couldn’t best standard of care alone in preventing death and respiratory failure in hospitalized Covid-19 patients after 28 days, according to data from the Phase IIa OSCAR study unveiled Thursday.