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.

Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk gestures to the audience after being recognized by President Trump following the successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center. (via Getty Images)

Tes­la chief Elon Musk teams up with Covid-19 play­er Cure­Vac to build 'R­NA mi­cro­fac­to­ries'

Elon Musk has joined the global tech crusade now underway to revolutionize vaccine manufacturing — now aimed at delivering billions of doses of a new mRNA vaccine to fight Covid-19. And he’s cutting right to the front.

In a late-night tweet Wednesday, the Tesla chief announced:

Tesla, as a side project, is building RNA microfactories for CureVac & possibly others.

That’s not a lot to go on. But the tweet comes a year after Tesla’s German division in Grohmann and CureVac filed a patent on a “bioreactor for RNA in vitro transcription, a method for RNA in vitro transcription, a module for transcribing DNA into RNA and an automated apparatus for RNA manufacturing.” CureVac, in the meantime, has discussed a variety of plans to build microfactories that can speed up the whole process for a global supply chain.

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George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

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Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

Elias Zer­houni dis­cuss­es ‘am­a­teur hour’ in DC, the de­struc­tion of in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D and how we need to prep for the next time

Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

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Sec­ond death trig­gers hold on Astel­las' $3B gene ther­a­py biotech's lead pro­gram, rais­ing fresh con­cerns about AAV

Seven months after Astellas shelled out $3 billion to acquire the gene therapy player Audentes, the biotech company’s lead program has been put on hold following the death of 2 patients taking a high dose of their treatment. And there was another serious adverse event recorded in the study as well, with a total of 3 “older” patients in the study affected.

The incidents are derailing plans to file for a near-term approval, which had been expected right about now.

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Look­ing for 'ex­ter­nal in­no­va­tion,' Boehringer In­gel­heim re­serves $500M+ for new Shang­hai hub

Now that Boehringer Ingelheim’s bet on contract manufacturing in China has paid off, the German drugmaker is anteing up more to get into the research game.

Boehringer has set aside $507.9 million (€451 million) for a new External Innovation Hub to be built in Shanghai over five years. The site will become one of its “strategic pillars” as the team strives to get 71 approvals — either for new products or indications — by 2030, said Felix Gutsche, president and CEO of Boehringer Ingelheim China.

Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Patrick Straub/​EPA-EFE/​Shutterstock)

No­var­tis pays $678M for kick­back scheme as Vas Narasimhan tries to dis­tance phar­ma gi­ant from shady be­hav­ior

Novartis has reached another large settlement to resolve misconduct allegations, agreeing to pay more than $678 million to settle claims that it had spent hundreds of millions of dollars on lavish dinners, so-called speaking fees and expensive alcohol “that were nothing more than bribes” to get doctors to prescribe Novartis medications.

The top-shelf alcohol and lavish meals included a $3,250 per person night at Nobu in Dallas, a $672-per person dinner at Washington DC’s Smith & Wollensky and a $314 per person meal at Sushi Roku in Pasadena, according to the Justice Department complaint. There were at least 7 trips to Hooters and fishing trips in Alaska and off the Florida coast. Each of these events were supposed to be “speaker programs” where doctors educated other doctors on a drug, but the DOJ alleged many were “bogus” wine-and-dine events where the drug was barely mentioned, if at all.  (“Nobody presented slides on the fishing trips,” the complaint says.)

No­vavax snags Ben Machielse for CMC and pro­motes a trio of staffers; Mar­ty Du­vall lands an­oth­er CEO post at On­copep­tides

Novavax has been making waves recently by securing a $384 million commitment from CEPI to cover R&D and manufacturing for its Covid-19 vaccine while also spending $167 million on a 150,000 square-foot facility. The Maryland biotech continues to shore up its leadership team as well, bringing in Ben Machielse as their EVP of CMC just a couple weeks after nabbing AstraZeneca vet Filip Dubrovsky as their new CMO. Machielse was president and CEO of Vtesse from 2014-17, and before that, he also spent more than 11 years at MedImmune and was EVP of operations for the back half of his tenure.

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Dan Gold, MEI Pharma CEO

De­vel­op­ment part­ners at MEI, Helsinn dump a high-risk PhI­II AML study af­ter con­clud­ing it would fail sur­vival goal

Four years after Switzerland’s Helsinn put $25 million of cash on the table for an upfront and near-term milestone to take MEI Pharma’s drug pracinostat into a long-running Phase III trial for acute myeloid leukemia, the partners are walking away from a clinical pileup.

The drug — an HDAC inhibitor — failed to pass muster during a futility analysis, as researchers concluded that pracinostat combined with azacitidine wasn’t going to outperform the control group in the pivotal.

No­var­tis los­es biosim­i­lar ap­peal as court up­holds a 31-year mo­nop­oly by Am­gen's En­brel

A new court ruling has strengthened Amgen’s grip on the IP estate around Enbrel, keeping biosimilars of the autoimmune and inflammatory drug at bay until 2029.

Novartis, the patent challenger, isn’t throwing in the towel yet. In a statement noting the failed appeal, its generics division Sandoz noted its reviewing options, “including potential appeal to US Supreme Court.”

It’s been almost four years since the FDA approved Erelzi, Sandoz’s copycat version of Enbrel. While sales of the Pfizer-partnered drug in the US — the market Amgen is in charge of — have dipped slightly during that time, it remains a solid megablockbuster with 2019 revenue slightly above $5 billion.