Vik Bajaj (Foresite)

Ex­clu­sive: Vik Ba­jaj set out al­most 2 years ago to hatch new com­pa­nies that would shake up health­care with da­ta sci­ence. Here are 5 di­rec­tions he's tak­ing at Fore­site Labs

If it was clear in late 2019 that the US health­care sys­tem is poised for trans­for­ma­tion, Vik Ba­jaj be­lieves the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic rammed the gas ped­al by lay­ing bare the “fun­da­men­tal in­ef­fi­cien­cies and in­equal­i­ties.”

Take, for in­stance, the idea that the most cost-ef­fec­tive way to treat dis­ease is to catch it ear­ly. That was the mis­sion at Grail, the high-fly­ing can­cer de­tec­tion start­up that he had been CSO of. But at Fore­site, where he’s now man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, they ex­pect­ed wide­spread em­pha­sis on pre­ven­ta­tive care would take about a decade to achieve — as with many of the changes in busi­ness mod­els that they were hop­ing for.

“It’s hap­pen­ing far more quick­ly than I would ever have guessed a few years ago,” he said.

The oth­er dif­fer­ence? Fore­site Labs, the in­cu­ba­tor that he has been spear­head­ing, is now home to five fledg­ling com­pa­nies that would test out some of the oth­er big ideas Ba­jaj and his col­leagues be­lieve would fill crit­i­cal gaps in the health­care sys­tem. And they’ve as­sem­bled a dream team of en­tre­pre­neurs in res­i­dence as well as sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­sors to re­fine those star­tups us­ing the datasets and tools on the nascent plat­form.

With the ex­cep­tion of one, the com­pa­nies are all still in stealth mode. But in an in­ter­view with End­points News, Ba­jaj of­fered a look be­hind the cur­tain of what they are work­ing on.

Ses­ti­na Bio, the on­ly com­pa­ny that’s launched, is a syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy play­er aim­ing to cre­ate sus­tain­able sources for chem­i­cals and ma­te­ri­als through “high-through­put, high-de­f­i­n­i­tion sin­gle cell ex­per­i­ments” in com­bi­na­tion with ma­chine learn­ing al­go­rithms.

Then there are two sep­a­rate ef­forts to take pre­ci­sion med­i­cines out­side of on­col­o­gy — one to au­toim­mune dis­eases and an­oth­er to car­diometa­bol­ic dis­or­ders. A fourth com­pa­ny seeks to map the “pro­tein in­ter­ac­tome” and mod­u­late the way pro­teins in­ter­act with one an­oth­er, while the last is work­ing on col­lat­ing re­al-time, re­al-world da­ta.

Ba­jaj high­light­ed three sea­soned biotech ex­ecs who are help­ing run these ven­tures: June Lee, who helped steer a heart drug tar­get­ed at a ge­net­i­cal­ly de­fined pa­tient pop­u­la­tion as chief de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer at MyoKar­dia (now part of Bris­tol My­ers Squibb); Zach Sweeney, the for­mer De­nali CSO who brings chem­istry ex­per­tise; and Doug Fos­ter, founder of health da­ta ag­gre­ga­tion provider Ve­r­ana Health.

Mov­ing for­ward, he en­vi­sions cre­at­ing a cou­ple of com­pa­nies a year.

“Start­ing 5 com­pa­nies in 18 months has been very in­tense and we’re un­like­ly to start that many at that pace,” Ba­jaj said. “What we con­tin­ue to look for are en­tre­pre­neurs in res­i­dence who want to change this part of the world, change the health­care sys­tem and have the am­bi­tion to be on a plat­form like that. That’s what’s re­al­ly go­ing to gate the num­ber of com­pa­nies that we cre­ate — it’s in find­ing those good re­la­tion­ships and peo­ple who re­al­ly want to adopt some­thing as their mis­sion or come to us with ideas that they think we can help with.”

Op­ti­miz­ing Cell and Gene Ther­a­py De­vel­op­ment and Pro­duc­tion: How Tech­nol­o­gy Providers Like Corn­ing Life Sci­ences are Spurring In­no­va­tion

Remarkable advances in cell and gene therapy over the last decade offer unprecedented therapeutic promise and bring new hope for many patients facing diseases once thought incurable. However, for cell and gene therapies to reach their full potential, researchers, manufacturers, life science companies, and academics will need to work together to solve the significant challenges facing the industry.

David Baker working with a student on their protein design (Jason Mast)

Sci­en­tists are fi­nal­ly learn­ing how to de­sign pro­teins from scratch. Drug de­vel­op­ment may nev­er be the same

SEATTLE — It’s a cloudy Thursday afternoon in mid-July and David Baker is reclining into the futon in his corner office at the University of Washington, arms splayed out like a daytime talk show host as he coaches another one of his postdocs through the slings and arrows of scientific celebrity.

“Be jealous of your time,” he says, before plotting ways of sneaking her out of Zooms. “It’s this horrible cost to science that you’re tied up in some stupid meeting.”

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Pre­sent­ing a live End­points News event: Man­ag­ing a biotech in tur­bu­lent times

Biotech is one of the smartest, best educated industries on the planet. PhDs abound. We’ve had a long enough track record to see a new generation of savvy, experienced execs coming together to run startups.

And in these times, they are being tested as never before.

Biotech is going through quite a rough patch right now. For 2 years, practically anyone with a decent resume and some half-baked ideas on biotech could start a company and get it funded. The pandemic made it easy in many ways to pull off an IPO, with traditional road shows shut down in exchange for a series of quick Zoom meetings. Generalist investors flocked as the numbers raised soared into the stratosphere.

Clay Siegall (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Gabrielle's Angel Foundation)

UP­DAT­ED: Clay Sie­gall re­signs from Seagen amid in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence claims

A week after Seagen revealed that longtime CEO Clay Siegall was on leave due to an allegation of domestic violence, he has resigned.

Since that shocking revelation, more details about the claims have emerged into the public eye. As Endpoints News reported, Siegall was arrested on April 23. A police report about that night and a subsequent temporary restraining order described a pattern of abusive behavior against his wife and a physical altercation that left her with multiple bruises. Siegall denied the claims.

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Patty Murray, D-WA (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

Sen­ate user fee reau­tho­riza­tion bill omits ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval re­forms, shows wide gaps with House ver­sion

The Senate health committee on Tuesday released its first version of the bill to reauthorize all the different FDA user fees. But unlike the House version, there are only a few controversial items in the Senate’s version, which does not address either accelerated approval reforms or clinical trial diversity (as the House did).

While it’s still relatively early in the process of finalizing this legislation (the ultimate statutory deadline is the end of September), the House and Senate, at least initially, appear to be starting off in different corners on what should be included.

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Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway CEO

Berk­shire Hath­away pulls out of Ab­b­Vie, Bris­tol My­ers Squibb in­vest­ments

It looks like Warren Buffett is sticking to ice cream and railroads for the moment.

The billionaire CEO of Berkshire Hathaway backed out of two major holdings in the pharma industry, Forexlive first reported, including a $410 million investment in AbbVie and a $324.4 million stake in Bristol Myers Squibb.

The move comes after Berkshire abandoned its Teva shares just last quarter, Bloomberg reported.

Long-ex­pect­ed UK lay­offs im­mi­nent for No­var­tis fol­low­ing sale

Nearly a year ago, more than 200 workers at Novartis’ Grimsby, UK, facility were able to hang on to their jobs after the pharma closed a Switzerland site as a part of its workforce restructuring plan. Now, it looks like those employees’ time is up, as the site has been sold, Grimsby Telegraph reported today.

The manufacturing site has been sold to Humber Industrials, a subsidiary of International Process Plants. None of the current staff members will be working with the new owners, however.

FDA lob­bies Con­gress over rare dis­ease court rul­ing with wide im­pli­ca­tions

Usually reserved for making decisions on drug applications or enforcing what Congress stipulates, the FDA is now dipping its toe into the wild world of congressional politics as it attempts to fix a major court decision that could have a chilling effect on rare disease R&D.

The case in question from last October saw a US appeals court overturn a prior FDA court win, saying that the agency never should’ve approved a rare disease drug because a previously approved but more expensive drug with the same active ingredient has orphan drug exclusivity barring such an approval.

Peter Marks (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

Even FDA's Pe­ter Marks is wor­ried about the com­mer­cial vi­a­bil­i­ty of gene and cell ther­a­pies

When bluebird bio’s gene therapy to treat beta thalassemia won European approval in 2019, the nearly $2 million per patient price tag for the potential cure seemed like a surmountable hurdle.

Fast forward two years later, and bluebird has withdrawn Zynteglo, the beta thal drug, along with the rest of its gene therapy portfolio from Europe, which the company said is generally unwilling to pay a fair price for the treatment.