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.”

Mov­ing Out of the Clin­ic with Dig­i­tal Tools: Mo­bile Spirom­e­try Dur­ing COVID-19 & Be­yond

An important technology in assessing lung function, spirometry offers crucial data for the diagnosis and monitoring of pulmonary system diseases, as well as the ongoing measurement of treatment efficacy. But trends in the healthcare industry and new challenges introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic are causing professionals in clinical practice and research to reevaluate spirometry’s deployment methods and best practices.

Paul Hudson (Getty Images)

Sanofi, Glax­o­SmithK­line jump back in­to the PhI­II race for a Covid vac­cine — as the win­ners con­gre­gate be­hind the fin­ish line

Sanofi got out early in the race to develop a vaccine using more of a traditional approach, then derailed late last year as their candidate failed to work in older people. Now, after likely missing the bus for the bulk of the world’s affluent nations, they’re back from that embarrassing collapse with a second attempt using GSK’s adjuvant that may get them back on track — with a potential Q4 launch that the rest of the world will be paying close attention to.

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SCO­TUS de­clines to re­view En­brel biosim­i­lar case, tee­ing up 30+ years of ex­clu­siv­i­ty and $20B more for Am­gen’s block­buster

As the House Oversight Committee is set to grill AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez on Tuesday over tactics to block competition for its best-selling drug of all time, another decision on Capitol Hill on Monday opened the door for billions more in Amgen profits over the next eight years.

The Supreme Court on Monday denied Novartis subsidiary Sandoz’s petition to review a Federal Circuit’s July 2020 decision concerning its biosimilar Erelzi (etanercept-szzs), which FDA approved in 2016 as a biosimilar to Amgen’s Enbrel (etanercept). Samsung’s Enbrel biosimilar Eticovo also won approval in 2019 and remains sidelined.

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How to man­u­fac­ture Covid-19 vac­cines with­out the help of J&J, Pfiz­er or Mod­er­na? Bi­ol­yse sees the dif­fi­cul­ties up close

When Biolyse, an Ontario-based manufacturer of sterile injectables, forged a deal with Bolivia last week to manufacture up to 50 million J&J Covid-19 vaccine doses, the agreement kicked off what will prove to be a test case for how difficult the system of compulsory licenses is to navigate.

The first problem: When Biolyse asked J&J, via a March letter, to license its Covid-19 vaccine, manufacture it in Canada and pay 5% royalties on shipments to needy, low-income countries, J&J rejected the offer, refusing to negotiate. J&J also did not respond to a request for comment.

Tim Mayleben (L) and Sheldon Koenig (Esperion)

On the heels of a sting­ing Q1 set­back, Es­pe­ri­on's long­time cham­pi­on is ex­it­ing the helm and turn­ing the wheel over to a mar­ket­ing pro

Just days after getting stung by criticism from a badly disappointed group of analysts, there’s a big change happening today at the helm of Esperion $ESPR.

Longtime CEO Tim Mayleben, who championed the company for 9 years from early clinical through a lengthy late-stage drive to successfully get their cholesterol drug approved for a significant niche of patients in the US, is out of the C suite, effective immediately. Sheldon Koenig — hired at the end of 2020 with a resume replete with Big Pharma CV sales experience —  is stepping into his place, promising to right a badly listing commercial ship that’s been battered by market forces.

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No­var­tis' En­tresto takes its 2nd fail­ure of the week­end at ACC, show­ing no ben­e­fit in most dire heart fail­ure pa­tients

Novartis’ Entresto started the ACC weekend off rough with a trial flop in heart attack patients, slowing the drug’s push into earlier patients. Now, an NIH-sponsored study is casting doubt on Entresto’s use in the most severe heart failure patients, another black mark on the increasingly controversial drug’s record.

Entresto, a combination of sacubitril and valsartan, could not beat out valsartan alone in an outcomes head-to-head for severe heart failure patients with a reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF), according to data presented Monday at the virtual American College of Cardiology meeting.

A T-cell play­er with back­ing from Roche takes next big step for BiTE drugs with 'on-of­f' switch to avoid tox­i­c­i­ty

The bispecific T cell engager field is absolutely packed with big-name players who have crowded in despite some high-profile failures in the class. Now, a Bay Area biotech thinks it may have the key to tackling BiTE toxicity, using an old “on-off switch” idea to give doctors more control of the drugs’ effect on patients.

San Francisco-based Soteria Biotherapeutics uncloaked Monday with a $42 million Series A co-led by Roche Venture Fund and 5AM Ventures with participation from the Novartis Venture Fund to advance its bispecific T cell engagers with an “on-off” switch the founders think can avoid some of the dire safety flags endemic to the class.

Matt Gline (L) and Vivek Ramaswamy

In­sid­er ac­count of Roivan­t's SPAC deal — and that $7.3B val­u­a­tion — re­veals a few se­crets as Matt Gline po­si­tions the com­pa­ny as the new ‘Big Phar­ma’

It was Oct. 7, 2020, and Matt Gline wasn’t wasting any time.

The CEO of Roivant had word that KKR vet Jim Momtazee’s SPAC had priced late the night before, triggering a green light for anyone interested in pursuing a big check for future operations and riding the financial instrument to Nasdaq. So he wrote a quick email congratulating Momtazee, whom he knew, for the launch.

Oh, and maybe Momtazee would like to schedule something with Gline and his executive chairman, Roivant founder Vivek Ramaswamy, to chat about Roivant and its business?

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$DNA is once again on NYSE; FDA clears Soliris chal­lenger for the mar­ket; Flag­ship’s think­ing big again with eR­NA; 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.

I still remember the uncertainty in the air last year when nobody was sure whether ASCO would cancel their in-person meeting. But it’s now back again for the second virtual conference, and Endpoints News is here for it. Check out our 2-day event reviewing the landscape of cancer R&D and send news our way.

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