The jury’s still out on whether the first wave of AI companies can significantly change drug development, but investors are increasingly buying into the hype.
Exscientia, the decade-old UK machine learning outfit, announced Thursday that they’ve expanded their Series C, first announced in May, from $60 million to $100 million. The expansion most notably includes BlackRock, the private equity firm that has been wading deeper and deeper into biotech. They now join Novo Holdings, Bristol Myers Squibb and others among the company’s most recent backers.
“Exscientia is breaking ground in small molecule drug design, with a platform that radically improves drug discovery” William Abecassis, head of BlackRock’s biotech fund Innovation Capital, said in a statement. “We are thrilled to be investing in this world-class team, who are already delivering results with AI-designed drugs now entering clinical trials.”
One of the first AI biotechs that emerged in the early 2010s promising to accelerate drug development by screening for molecules far faster than human chemists, Exscientia announced in 2020 that they brought the first AI-discovered drug into human trials. It was a dubious claim, dependent on precisely what one means by AI-developed; Recursion Pharmaceuticals had claimed the same mantle not long before.
Still, Exscientia has emerged as a clear winner of the first round of AI drug developers, partnering with Bayer, Bristol Myers, Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, Evotec and Sumitomo Danippon among others.
Other companies that emerged around the same time have also found momentum and dollars. Recursion landed a $239 million mega-round and a $1 billion Bayer partnership in September. Atomwise, a company that started out at Y combinator and received criticism for overhyping its services, more than tripled its total ever fundraising with a $123 million Series B.
At the same time, other companies have popped up: Most prominently Daphne Koller’s Insitro, which raised nearly $250 million and scored a big-money partnership with Gilead within 2 years of its 2018 launch. But also a raft of other smaller biotechs, including Genesis Therapeutics and Reverie Labs, that have launched teamed with big biotech or big pharma and raised small to mid-sized rounds.
The pandemic also brought the AI field one of its first concrete successes: Early in the outbreak, Benevolent AI identified Eli Lilly’s JAK inhibitor baricitinib as a potential treatment for Covid-19. Lilly pushed it through preclinical and clinical development on their suggestion, eventually showing it improved time-to-recovery in hospitalized patients and landing an EUA from the FDA.
Exscientia will use the cash to keep scaling the machine learning platform they’ve used to identify candidates for big pharma but also to expand their ability to develop their own pipeline of drugs. It’s a pivot several of the first AI biotechs have made as they raise more capital and expand operations. Exscientia said they’ve doubled in size over the past year and now employ over 100 people.
“We are delighted that BlackRock shares our vision for revolutionising how drugs are discovered,” CEO Andrew Hopkins said in a statement. “BlackRock’s investment is an important step in our vision that all drugs will be designed by AI. I believe that our company’s reimagined approach to drug discovery will become the new de facto standard”
Before David Liu became famous for inventing new forms of gene editing, he was known around academia in part for a more obscure innovation: a Rube Goldberg-esque system that uses bacteria-infecting viruses to take one protein and turn it into another.
Since 2011, Liu’s lab has used the system, called PACE, to dream up fantastical new proteins: DNA base editors far more powerful than the original; more versatile forms of the gene editor Cas9; insecticides that kill insecticide-resistant bugs; enzymes that slide synthetic amino acids into living organisms. But they struggled throughout to master one of the most common and powerful proteins in the biological world: proteases, a set of Swiss army knife enzymes that cut, cleave or shred other proteins in everything from viruses to humans.
The global pandemic may have roiled economies, killed hundreds of thousands and throttled entire industries, but the only effect it had on biopharma venture investing was to help turbocharge the field to giddy new heights.
Below you’ll find the new top 100 venture investors in the industry, ranked by the number of deals they were publicly involved in, as tracked by DealForma chief Chris Dokomajilar. The numbers master then calculated the estimated amount of money they put into each deal — divvying up the cash by the number of players — to indicate how they managed their syndicates.
Eli Lilly isn’t just gunning for a better diabetes drug in tirzepatide. They want to cut ahead of Novo Nordisk’s blockbuster rival Ozempic (semaglutide) on the obesity front as well. But a newly-claimed win in a head-to-head Phase III showdown over reducing A1C while shedding pounds — complete with clear evidence of superiority over the approved rival — could prove a tough sell right now.
Let’s start with the latest data from Lilly.
The EMA has started a rolling review of Sputnik V, the Russian vaccine that holds the dubious title of the world’s first registered jab for Covid-19.
Seven months after the controversial clearance in Russia, Europe’s human medicines committee says it’s convinced to start looking at the application by data indicating that the adenovirus-based vaccine triggers the production of antibodies and immune cells against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
It’s clear by now that biopharma experienced a massive boom in 2020, but a new report out Thursday says the Massachusetts hub was particularly successful.
The trade group MassBio released its latest industry snapshot, summarizing the last calendar year as the most successful for the Massachusetts biopharma sector. Overall, Massachusetts-based biotechs raised $5.8 billion in 2020, marking a hefty 93% increase from the previous year.
Gilead is chopping 179 jobs in its home state of California as it scales down its headquarters in favor of a hub in North Carolina.
Up to half of the roles would shift to Research Triangle Park, where the company is setting up a new business services and information technology center, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The precise number will depend on how many employees choose to relocate.
Per a WARN notice filed with the state, the layoffs are expected to be effective May 30.
It occasionally occurs to Paul Sekhri that if they pull this off, his company will be on the front page of the New York Times and a lead story in just about every major news outlet on the planet. He tries not to dwell on it, though.
“I just want to be laser-focused on getting to that point,” Sekhri says, before acknowledging, “Yes, it absolutely crossed my mind.”
Sekhri, a longtime biopharma executive with tenures at Sanofi and Novartis, is now entering year three as CEO of eGenesis, the biotech that George Church protégé Luhan Yang founded to genetically alter pigs so that they can be used for organ transplants. He led them through one megaround and has just closed another, raising $125 million from 17 different investors to push the first-ever (humanized) pig to human transplants into the clinic.
Roughly three and a half months since its last fundraising round, the Peter Thiel-backed ATAI Life Sciences has pulled in its latest venture haul.
The company closed a $157 million Series D round early Wednesday as it presses the gas on its psychedelics-based strategy. Though the short time between the two raises will likely fuel speculation about a potential jump to Nasdaq, ATAI isn’t ready to talk about that just yet, preemptively declining comment on all IPO-related questions.
One of Europe’s most high-profile biopharma investors is getting $540 million to invest in new crossover deals for late-stage companies.
The Paris-based VC says the fresh Sofinnova Crossover Fund raise positions them as the “largest crossover investor in Europe dedicated to late-stage biopharma and medtech investments.”
They got a leg up in France after winning a special “Tibi” designation from the French government, giving them access to a pool of €6 billion that helped them gain an edge with institutional investors. Since they were founded close to 50 years ago, the venture group has backed more than 500 companies and currently has more than €2 billion under management.
在同一时期出现的任何企业都有这样的发现。今年9月，Recurression登陆了一艘价值2.39亿美元的Lion Mega Round和一艘价值1美元的Bill Lion Bayer Partner船。Atom Wise是一家从Y公司起步并因其服务过多而受到批评的公司，它以1.23亿美元的销售额将其筹资额翻了三倍多。
与此同时，其他公司也出现了：最受欢迎的是达芙妮·科勒的In-Sitro公司，该公司在2018年上市的两年时间里，筹集了近2.5亿美元的资金，并在Gilead公司获得了巨大的成功。但也有一大堆小型生物技术公司，包括Gene-e-sis ther-a peus和Rever-ie实验室，它们与大型生物技术公司或大型Phar-ma公司联手，推出了小型到中型的研发项目。
Pandem'ic也因此给人工智能领域带来了第一个具体的成果：Ear'ly在Out'break，Benev'o'aiiden'ti't将Eli Lil'ly的JAK In-Shibitor Baric'i'tinib作为COVID-19的一种特殊治疗。在他们的建议下，李尔利推动了它的通过，甚至还显示了它的改进时间----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
据《旧金山纪事报》报道，多达一半的职位将转移到Research Triangle Park，该公司正在那里建立一个新的商业服务和信息技术中心。确切的数字将取决于有多少员工选择搬迁。