Vik Bajaj. Foresite Labs

Vik Ba­jaj un­veils Fore­site's new in­cu­ba­tor, look­ing to hatch fu­ture gi­ants cross­ing tech and health­care

When it comes to har­ness­ing da­ta for health­care and the life sci­ences, a rich in­fra­struc­ture of ex­pan­sive da­ta col­lect­ed and mea­sured with the right tools are es­sen­tial to un­cov­er new in­sights and ad­vance new prod­ucts. And to build that, you need ac­cess to di­verse tal­ents backed by a pa­tient in­vestor.

Jim Tanan­baum

Just ask Vik Ba­jaj. The for­mer UC Berke­ley re­searcher first left acad­e­mia for Ver­i­ly, Google’s for­ay in­to life sci­ences, where he saw the meth­ods of mar­ry­ing com­pu­ta­tion and bi­ol­o­gy were near­ing ma­tu­ri­ty. Af­ter a few years as CSO there he moved on to Grail work­ing to­wards the ear­ly de­tec­tion of can­cer — an­oth­er da­ta in­ten­sive en­deav­or — be­fore land­ing his cur­rent role as man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Fore­site Cap­i­tal.

Yet in spite of all the progress he’s seen and helped prop­a­gate, it’s not quite there yet. There is still a gap be­tween what’s cur­rent­ly avail­able and what he sees as a trans­for­ma­tion in health­care en­abled by the in­for­ma­tion rev­o­lu­tion.

“Re­al­ly what we per­ceive — and ob­vi­ous­ly I’m not alone in stat­ing this — is that there is an eco­nom­ic cri­sis in our health­care sys­tem where we are spend­ing so much of our na­tion­al prod­uct on health­care and yet we have out­comes that are ac­tu­al­ly in de­cline in many pop­u­la­tions,” Ba­jaj told End­points News. “And we think that there are many ways to make that in­dus­try more ef­fi­cient and more re­spon­sive to the needs of its pa­tients, but ob­vi­ous­ly this idea of us­ing da­ta sci­ence, the pow­er of mea­sure­ments, of un­der­stand­ing of ex­per­i­ments is fun­da­men­tal to gen­er­at­ing re­li­able ev­i­dence that will solve some of these large health­care prob­lems.”

The no­tion is what spurred him and Fore­site CEO Jim Tanan­baum to launch Fore­site Labs, an en­tre­pre­neur­ial in­cu­ba­tor de­signed to nur­ture some of the foun­da­tion­al com­pa­nies at the nexus of da­ta sci­ence and health­care.

Fore­site Labs re­moves three of the biggest bar­ri­ers for star­tups in this space, ac­cord­ing to Ba­jaj: It of­fers a pool of pub­lic and pro­pri­etary datasets, which would be ex­pen­sive for any one com­pa­ny to gen­er­ate; an analy­sis plat­form con­sist­ing of the lead­ing tools to aid with clin­i­cal ap­pli­ca­tion of da­ta; as well as a sea­soned team of 20-plus — be­tween the Boston and San Fran­cis­co of­fices — to of­fer sci­en­tif­ic, tech­ni­cal and busi­ness sup­port. As part of that, they al­so hook com­pa­nies up with part­ners for re­sources such as lab space.

Cor­re­spond­ing­ly, he sees three types of ven­tures that would ben­e­fit the most from their in­cu­ba­tion — and that they would be most in­ter­est­ed in.

The first in­volves ther­a­peu­tic op­por­tu­ni­ties cen­tered around func­tion­al ge­nomics; the sec­ond group build the in­fra­struc­ture need­ed for clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment us­ing re­al-world ev­i­dence; the third cat­e­go­ry would look in­to per­son­al­ized health­care de­liv­ery based on in­di­vid­ual as­sess­ment of dis­ease risk.

Out­side of these high lev­el de­tails, though, he’s let­ting lit­tle else slip about what Fore­site Labs has been work­ing on over the past year. The cap­i­tal Fore­site has to de­ploy, the num­ber of ven­tures they would back at any one time, the ca­pa­bil­i­ties they are con­sid­er­ing adding — these are all stay­ing un­der wraps.

One thing we know, though, is that Fore­site has plen­ty of fire­pow­er and pa­tience to seed com­pa­nies where they see po­ten­tial. Last May the firm closed its fourth fund at a record $668 mil­lion and vowed to beef up their ma­chine learn­ing chops to en­able bet­ter in­vest­ment de­ci­sions.

“We’re get­ting in­to this area where we be­lieve through long ex­pe­ri­ence has tremen­dous po­ten­tial,” he said. “But it’s a po­ten­tial that will be re­al­ized rough­ly over the next decade. […] That means that we’re go­ing to be ini­tial­ly very mea­sured in what we do, and very de­lib­er­ate in launch­ing a few high qual­i­ty com­pa­nies with­out putting num­bers or tar­gets on it.”

The team of ex­perts they’ve re­cruit­ed to Fore­site Labs, he added, should prove to be the great­est as­set over the long run. They in­clude:

  • Alex Block­er, head of da­ta sci­ence (for­mer­ly of Grail and Ver­i­ly)
  • Rick Dewey, head of ge­nomics dis­cov­ery (for­mer­ly of the Re­gen­eron Ge­net­ics Cen­ter)
  • Damien Soghoian, head of op­er­a­tions and strat­e­gy (for­mer­ly of Ver­i­ly)
  • Paul Da Sil­va Jar­dine, head of drug dis­cov­ery (for­mer­ly of Pfiz­er)

On top of that, he’s as­sem­bled a star-stud­ded sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­so­ry board fea­tur­ing Math­ai Mam­men of J&J, Pao­la Ar­lot­ta of Har­vard, Eu­an Ash­ley of Stan­ford, Calum MacRae of Brigham and Women’s Hos­pi­tal, Steve Finkbein­er of Glad­stone, Jeff Hu­ber and Alex Ar­a­va­nis of Grail, as well as Rus­lan Medzhi­tov of the Howard Hugh­es Med­ical In­sti­tute.

“Ob­vi­ous­ly it will be an area that will be much big­ger than what Fore­site Labs does, but I think that we are a lit­tle bit ahead and so poised to have a huge in­flu­ence over the trans­for­ma­tion,” Ba­jaj said.

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When the FDA approved Pfizer’s JAK inhibitor Xeljanz for rheumatoid arthritis in 2012, they slapped on a black box warning for a laundry list of adverse events and required the New York drugmaker to run a long-term safety study.

That study has since become a consistent headache for Pfizer and their blockbuster molecule. Last year, Pfizer dropped the entire high dose cohort after an independent monitoring board found more patients died in that group than in the low dose arm or a control arm of patients who received one of two TNF inhibitors, Enbrel or Humira.

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Top gene ther­a­py deals, M&A pacts in 2020 high­light an­oth­er big year in one of the hottest fields in bio­phar­ma

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Both the upfront cash and deal totals last year backed off a bit from the record high hit in 2019, but the totals are still running well ahead of anything we’ve seen in the years prior to 2019/2020.
2020 R&D partnerships came in at 23 deals, with $1.1 billion in disclosed upfront cash and equity and more than $8.5 billion in total deal value. Looking at 2019-2020 M&A, Dokomajilar found: 9 Acquisitions, with over $11.1 billion in disclosed upfront cash and equity and more than $13.4 billion in total M&A value.

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Covid-19 roundup: EU and As­traZeneca trade blows over slow­downs; Un­usu­al unions pop up to test an­ti­bod­ies, vac­cines

After coming under fire for manufacturing delays last week, AstraZeneca’s feud with the European Union has spilled into the open.

The bloc accused the pharma giant on Wednesday of pulling out of a meeting to discuss cuts to its vaccine supplies, the AP reported. AstraZeneca denied the reports, saying it still planned on attending the discussion.

Early Wednesday, an EU Commission spokeswoman said that “the representative of AstraZeneca had announced this morning, had informed us this morning that their participation is not confirmed, is not happening.” But an AstraZeneca spokesperson later called the reports “not accurate.”

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Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

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A coalition of advocacy groups dedicated to the opioid crisis urged Norris Cochran and Xavier Becerra — the acting and designated HHS secretary, respectively — to keep her reign as interim FDA chief a “very short transition.” During her lengthy tenure as CDER, they add, Woodcock presided over “one of the worst regulatory agency failures in U.S. history.”

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Li struck his first big deal at the helm Thursday morning, hammering out a collaboration with Artiva Biotherapeutics that could earn the biotech nearly $1.9 billion when all is said and done. It’s a quick rise and validation for Artiva, which just last June launched with a $78 million Series A.

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A group of researchers at the Montreal Heart Institute has spelled out what they had called positive results suggesting that colchicine, an inexpensive oral anti-inflammatory drug commonly used to treat gout, could prevent Covid-19 complications in newly diagnosed patients.

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'Bank of BAR­DA': In­ves­ti­ga­tion finds HHS raid­ed pan­dem­ic pre­pared­ness funds for decade be­fore Covid-19

Before 2020, few Americans had ever heard of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, BARDA, or its far-flung mission to stave off future pandemics and bio-threats. Allegedly, that made it a pretty good target for others in HHS who needed to scavenge some extra cash.

Over the last decade, other HHS officials raided BARDA’s coffers and misappropriated millions of dollars that Congress had earmarked to fund vaccine research and prepare for public health emergencies like Covid-19, according to a new report from the US Office of Special Counsel, which investigated a whistleblower report.