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.”

Pi­o­neer­ing Click Chem­istry in Hu­mans

Reimagining cancer treatments

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020, which is nearly one in six deaths. Recently, we have seen incredible advances in novel cancer therapies such as immune checkpoint inhibitors, cell therapies, and antibody-drug conjugates that have revamped cancer care and improved survival rates for patients.

Despite this significant progress in therapeutic targeting, why are we still seeing such a high mortality rate? The reason is that promising therapies are often limited by their therapeutic index, which is a measure of the effective dose of a drug, relative to its safety. If we could broaden the therapeutic indices of currently available medicines, it would revolutionize cancer treatments. We are still on the quest to find the ultimate cancer medicine – highly effective in several cancer types, safe, and precisely targeted to the tumor site.

Ivan Cheung, Eisai US chairman and CEO

Bio­gen, Ei­sai re­fresh amy­loid hy­poth­e­sis with PhI­II show­ing Alzheimer's med slows cog­ni­tive de­cline

In the first look at Phase III data for lecanemab, Eisai and Biogen’s follow-up Alzheimer’s drug to the embattled Aduhelm launch, results show the drug passed with flying colors on a test looking at memory, problem solving and other dementia metrics.

One of the most-watched Alzheimer’s therapies in the clinic, lecanemab met the study’s primary goal on the CDR-SB — Clinical Dementia Rating-Sum of Boxes — giving the biotech the confidence to ask for full approval in the US, EU and Japan by next March 31. The experimental drug reduced clinical decline on the scale by 27% compared to placebo at 18 months, the companies said Tuesday night Eastern time and Wednesday morning in Japan.

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Some­one old, some­one new: Mod­er­na pro­motes CTO, raids No­var­tis for re­place­ment amid pipeline push

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel made clear on the last quarterly call that “now is not the time to slow down.” On Thursday, he made a bit more room in the cockpit.

The company unveiled a new executive role on Thursday, promoting former chief technical operations and quality officer Juan Andres to president of strategic partnerships and enterprise expansion, and poaching a former Novartis exec to take his place.

Nooman Haque, head of life sciences and healthcare at Silicon Valley Bank, and John Carroll

I’m head­ed to Lon­don soon for #EU­BIO22. Care to join me?

It was great getting back to a live ESMO conference/webinar in Paris followed by a live pop-up event for the Endpoints 11 in Boston. We’re staying on the road in October with our return for a live/streaming EUBIO22 in London.

Silicon Valley Bank’s Nooman Haque and I are once again jumping back into the thick of it with a slate of virtual and live events on October 12. I’ll get the ball rolling with a virtual fireside chat with Novo Nordisk R&D chief Marcus Schindler, covering their pipeline plans and BD work.

Gilead names 'k­ing­pin­s' in coun­ter­feit HIV med law­suit

Gilead is mounting its counterfeit drug lawsuit, naming two “kingpins” and a complex network of conspirators who allegedly sold imitation bottles of its HIV meds, some of which ended up in US pharmacies.

The pharma giant on Wednesday provided an update on what it called a “large-scale, sophisticated counterfeiting conspiracy,” accusing two new defendants of “leading and orchestrating” a scheme to sell hundreds of millions of dollars in illegitimate drugs posing as meds such as Biktarvy and Descovy.

Paul Hudson, Sanofi CEO (Photographer: Cyril Marcilhacy/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Sanofi, Re­gen­eron’s Dupix­ent scores an­oth­er in­di­ca­tion with first-ever ap­proval for nodu­lar skin dis­or­der

Sanofi chief executive Paul Hudson told investors earlier this year that the Big Pharma was going to emphasize its sales kingpin Dupixent moving forward.

He wasn’t joking — the megablockbuster drug and sales king, recording just shy of $2 billion in sales this past quarter, has now officially secured its fifth indication from the FDA.

Sanofi and Regeneron, who jointly work on Dupixent development and commercialization, announced the new development on Thursday, saying that the FDA gave the all-clear to Dupixent to treat patients with prurigo nodularis, a rare autoimmune disorder characterized by a persistent, severe itch — and also visualized by hard, extremely itchy bumps known as nodules that form on the skin. The FDA noted in its announcement that it is the agency’s first approval for the disease.

Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) (Olivier Douliery/Sipa USA (Sipa via AP Images))

Sen­ate pass­es bill to re­work an­i­mal test­ing re­quire­ments for drug de­vel­op­ers

The US Senate passed via unanimous consent on Thursday afternoon a bipartisan bill that would eliminate a federal mandate for animal testing for new drugs.

Touted as a much-needed modernization of FDA’s rules, co-sponsor Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have said the bill will stop lots of needless suffering of animals.

Pa­tient re­port finds con­sti­pa­tion con­di­tion not well man­aged, open­ing door for bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion from phar­ma

Advertising for constipation treatments often uses light-hearted humor in an effort to spur open discussions about the sometimes stigmatized topic. However, that may not be enough to get people to take the condition seriously, a new patient report from Phreesia finds.

Fewer than one-fifth (17%) of patients with constipation surveyed understand the longer-term health risks of constipation such as hemorrhoids and bowel incontinence. Many are trying to manage their condition with over-the-counter medicines, but often for much longer than recommended. An equal 68% say they use home remedies or OTC meds to manage constipation. But while 90% understand that OTCs are not intended for long-term use, 50% have used an OTC constipation medicine for more than a year.

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Cell and gene ther­a­pies from acad­e­mia: EMA to help 5 projects go­ing af­ter un­met clin­i­cal needs

The European Medicines Agency said Thursday that it’s launching a new pilot program to help academic and other nonprofit researchers developing advanced therapy medicinal products, which includes cell and gene therapies.

Academics have proven to be enormously useful in feeding new products, like chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell therapies first developed by Memorial Sloan Kettering, and ushered to the market by biopharma companies. Jean Bennett, formerly with the University of Pennsylvania, also saw her research lead to the approval of gene therapy Luxturna, which Roche now owns.