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.

Biotech and Big Phar­ma: A blue­print for a suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship

Strategic partnerships have long been an important contributor to how drugs are discovered and developed. For decades, big pharma companies have been forming alliances with biotech innovators to increase R&D productivity, expand geographical reach and better manage late-stage commercialization costs.

Noël Brown, Managing Director and Head of Biotechnology Investment Banking, and Greg Wiederrecht, Ph.D., Managing Director in the Global Healthcare Investment Banking Group at RBC Capital Markets, are no strangers to the importance of these tie-ups. Noël has over 20 years of investment banking experience in the industry. Before moving to the banking world in 2015, Greg was the Vice President and Head of External Scientific Affairs (ESA) at Merck, where he was responsible for the scientific assessment of strategic partnership opportunities worldwide.

No­var­tis' sec­ond at­tempt to repli­cate a stun­ning can­cer re­sult falls flat

Novartis’ hopes of turning one of the most surprising trial data points of the last decade into a lung cancer drug has taken another setback.

The Swiss pharma announced Monday that its IL-1 inhibitor canakinumab did not significantly extend the lives or slow the disease progression of patients with previously untreated locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer when compared to standard of-care alone.

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Robert Califf (Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP Images, File)

As buzz on Califf FDA nom heats up, in­dus­try and agency in­sid­ers of­fer a strong nod for the ‘per­fect’ choice

For once in this long, dramatic road to finding a new FDA commissioner, there’s been some continuity. Both CNN and Politico reported this weekend that Rob Califf met with President Biden to discuss the permanent commish role, following earlier news broken by the Washington Post that all signs point to Califf.

Although there may be a few Democrats who continue to grandstand about the dangers of COI (Califf has worked for Verily, sits on the board of Centessa Pharmaceuticals, and has other ties to industry research), with the pandemic ongoing and the need for some kind of continuity at FDA mounting, Califf is likely to meet the same fate as when he first won Senate confirmation in 2016, by a vote of 89-4 — Bernie Sanders and 6 others didn’t vote.

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AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot (Raphael Lafargue/Abaca/Sipa USA)

A com­bo of As­traZeneca's Imfinzi and chemo wins where oth­ers have failed in piv­otal bil­iary tract test

Looking to run with the big dogs in the PD-(L)1 class, AstraZeneca’s Imfinzi has a tall hill to climb to compete in an increasingly bustling market. An aggressive combo strategy for the drug has paid off so far, and now AstraZeneca is adding another notch to its belt.

A combo of Imfinzi (durvalumab) and chemotherapy significantly extended the lives of first-line patients with advanced biliary tract cancer over chemo alone, according to topline results from the Phase III TOPAZ-1 study revealed Monday.

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Sean Ianchulev, Eyenovia CEO and CMO

Re­cent court de­ci­sion push­es FDA to re­ject and re­clas­si­fy drug-de­vice com­bo, crush­ing shares

Back in April, the FDA lost a crucial court case in which its broad discretion of regulating medical products that might satisfy the legal definitions of either “drug” and/or “medical device” was sharply curtailed.

In addition to the appeals court ruling that Genus Medical Technologies’ contrast agent barium sulfate (aka Vanilla SilQ) should not be considered a drug, as the FDA had initially ruled, but as a medical device, the agency also was forced to spell out which drugs would transition to devices as a result of the ruling.

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Peter Greenleaf, Aurinia CEO

Af­ter pass­ing on Ac­celeron, Bris­tol My­ers eyes bolt-on ac­qui­si­tion of au­toim­mune spe­cial­ist — re­port

Bristol Myers Squibb is looking to beef up its autoimmune portfolio by scooping up Aurinia Pharmaceuticals, Bloomberg reported.

The recent overtures to Aurinia, relayed by anonymous insiders, came just as Bristol Myers turned down buyout talks with partners at Acceleron — which Merck ultimately struck a deal to acquire for $11.5 billion. Bristol Myers has reportedly decided to cash out on its minority stake, likely bagging $1.3 billion in the process, while keeping the royalty deals on two of Acceleron’s blood disorder drugs.

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So — that pig-to-hu­man trans­plant; Po­ten­tial di­a­betes cure reach­es pa­tient; Ac­cused MIT sci­en­tist lash­es back; 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.

We’re incredibly excited to welcome Beth Bulik, seasoned pharma marketing reporter, to the team. You can find much of her work in our new Marketing channel — and in her weekly newsletter, Endpoints PharmaRx, which will launch in early November. Add it to your subscriptions here.

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NYU surgeon transplants an engineered pig kidney into the outside of a brain-dead patient (Joe Carrotta/NYU Langone Health)

No, sci­en­tists are not any clos­er to pig-to-hu­man trans­plants than they were last week

Steve Holtzman was awoken by a 1 a.m. call from a doctor at Duke University asking if he could put some pigs on a plane and fly them from Ohio to North Carolina that day. A motorcyclist had gotten into a horrific crash, the doctor explained. He believed the pigs’ livers, sutured onto the patient’s skin like an external filter, might be able to tide the young man over until a donor liver became available.

UP­DAT­ED: Agenus calls out FDA for play­ing fa­vorites with Mer­ck, pulls cer­vi­cal can­cer BLA at agen­cy's re­quest

While criticizing the FDA for what may be some favoritism towards Merck, Agenus on Friday officially pulled its accelerated BLA for its anti-PD-1 inhibitor balstilimab as a potential second-line treatment for cervical cancer because of the recent full approval for Merck’s Keytruda in the same indication.

The company said the BLA, which was due for an FDA decision by Dec. 16, was withdrawn “when the window for accelerated approval of balstilimab closed,” thanks to the conversion of Keytruda’s accelerated approval to a full approval four months prior to its PDUFA date.

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