After nabbing two AI-generated molecules, AstraZeneca returns to BenevolentAI with new collaboration – Endpoints News

Rough­ly three years ago, As­traZeneca teamed up with Lon­don’s Benev­o­len­tAI to bring new drugs in­to its port­fo­lio us­ing the biotech’s AI and ma­chine learn­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Now that the orig­i­nal deal has borne fruit, the two com­pa­nies are re-up­ping their col­lab­o­ra­tion.
As­traZeneca and Benev­o­len­tAI will work to­geth­er in two more dis­ease ar­eas: sys­temic lu­pus and heart fail­ure, the com­pa­nies an­nounced Thurs­day. It’s a three-year part­ner­ship that comes af­ter two can­di­dates dis­cov­ered by Benev­o­len­tAI for chron­ic kid­ney dis­ease and id­io­path­ic pul­monary fi­bro­sis were nom­i­nat­ed to As­traZeneca’s port­fo­lio last year.
No fi­nan­cials were dis­closed, but Benev­o­len­tAI CSO Anne Phe­lan told End­points News there would be an up­front pay­ment, an eq­ui­ty in­vest­ment and mile­stones.
The orig­i­nal part­ner­ship proved a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone for As­traZeneca, as the CKD mol­e­cule nom­i­nat­ed last Jan­u­ary was the com­pa­ny’s first gen­er­at­ed by AI. At the time, As­traZeneca iden­ti­fied and val­i­dat­ed a new way to at­tack CKD thanks to the biotech’s plat­form AI tech, and be­gan de­vel­op­ing com­pounds cen­tered on this tar­get.
The IPF com­pound fol­lowed up just last month, and now marks the “per­fect time” to ex­tend the work­ing re­la­tion­ship, Phe­lan said.
Lu­pus and heart fail­ure “fall with­in [As­traZeneca’s] pri­or­i­ty ther­a­peu­tic ar­eas,” Phe­lan said. “They’re com­plex dis­eases, dif­fi­cult spaces to work in. It’s a tricky prob­lem that lends it­self well to AI and our ma­chine learn­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties.”
At the heart of Benev­o­len­tAI’s tech­nol­o­gy is what Phe­lan de­scribes as a “knowl­edge graph,” which es­sen­tial­ly looks like a “hair­ball” net­work of thou­sands of da­ta points, or nodes, in­ter­con­nect­ed by mil­lions of lines or re­la­tion­ships. Such re­la­tion­ships are first iden­ti­fied by the ma­chine learn­ing al­go­rithms and can con­nect many dif­fer­ent and un­re­lat­ed dis­eases.
Benev­o­len­tAI is able to dif­fer­en­ti­ate it­self from the buzzy and grow­ing field of AI drug de­vel­op­ment be­cause it is dri­ven by a hy­poth­e­sis-first ap­proach rather than fo­cus­ing on phe­no­typ­ic screen­ing, Phe­lan added. Where­as com­peti­tors’ AI might be mak­ing new mol­e­cules and try­ing to re­verse-en­gi­neer the process, Benev­o­len­tAI starts from scratch.
“It’s not a right and wrong sit­u­a­tion … it’s a re­al­ly mul­ti­di­men­sion­al pic­ture of hu­man bi­ol­o­gy across the com­mon­al­i­ties of hu­man dis­ease,” Phe­lan said. “For ex­am­ple, de­pend­ing on the cell type that’s af­fect­ed, the graph could end up con­nect­ing to Alzheimer’s or di­a­betes, where un­der­ly­ing phys­i­ol­o­gy could be re­al­ly quite sim­i­lar.”
For As­traZeneca, lu­pus re­cent­ly turned in­to a po­ten­tial mon­ey­mak­er, as the Big Phar­ma whisked a new drug past the FDA fin­ish line last Au­gust in Saph­ne­lo. It’s the first new lu­pus ap­proval in at least the last 10 years, As­traZeneca said at the time, and re­duces over­all dis­ease ac­tiv­i­ty across or­gan sys­tems and oral cor­ti­cos­teroid use com­pared to place­bo.
Heart fail­ure, mean­while, is an area where As­traZeneca is look­ing to stake out a block­buster with Farx­i­ga. Back in 2020, the drug was ap­proved to re­duce the risk of car­dio­vas­cu­lar death or hos­pi­tal­iza­tion in heart fail­ure pa­tients with a re­duced ejec­tion frac­tion. It al­so picked up an ap­proval in CKD last April.
In 2020, The National Cancer Institute estimated about 1.8 million new cases of cancer diagnosed in the United States, while the costs associated with treatment therapies continued to escalate. Given the current legislative climate on drug pricing, it’s never been more important to look at the evolution of drug pricing globally and control concerns of sustainable and affordable treatments in oncology.
Back in the fall of 2020, newly crowned Pfizer chief Albert Bourla confidently put their JAK1 inhibitor abrocitinib at the top of the list of blockbuster drugs in the late-stage pipeline with a $3 billion-plus peak sales estimate.
Since then it’s been subjected to serious criticism for the safety warnings associated with the class, held back by a cautious FDA and questioned when researchers rolled out a top-line boast that their heavyweight contender had beaten the champ in the field of atopic dermatitis — Dupixent — in a head-to-head study.
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Rob Califf’s second confirmation process as FDA commissioner is already much more difficult than his near unanimous confirmation under the Obama administration.
The Senate Health Committee on Thursday voted 13-8 in favor of advancing Califf’s nomination to a full Senate vote. Several Democrats voted against Califf, including Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Maggie Hassan. Several other Democrats who aren’t on the committee, like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, also said Thursday that they would not vote for Califf. Markey, Hassan and Manchin all previously expressed reservations about the prospect of Janet Woodcock as an FDA commissioner nominee too.
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Biogen execs on Thursday tried to level with their Aduhelm sales staff and prep for a 28-day blitz to convince CMS to reverse or loosen its recent decision to only cover the controversial Alzheimer’s drug in clinical trials.
Its back against the wall, the company faces an Aduhelm launch that never materialized and growing ire from investors as they try to generate some of the glittering billions in blockbuster sales analysts once so confidently forecast.
Biogen executives made clear in an investor call Thursday they are not preparing to run a new CMS-approved clinical trial for their controversial Alzheimer’s drug anytime soon.
As requested in a draft national coverage decision from CMS earlier this week, Biogen and other anti-amyloid drugs will need to show “a meaningful improvement in health outcomes” for Alzheimer’s patients in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial to get paid for their drugs, rather than just the reduction in amyloid plaques that won Aduhelm its accelerated approval in June.
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The co-owner of a Florida-based clinical research site pleaded guilty to lying to an FDA investigator during a 2017 inspection, revealing that she falsely portrayed part of a GlaxoSmithKline pediatric asthma study as legitimate, when in fact she knew that certain data had been falsified, the Department of Justice said Wednesday.
Three other employees — Yvelice Villaman Bencosme, Lisett Raventos and Maytee Lledo — previously pleaded guilty and were sentenced in connection with falsifying data associated with the trial at the CRO Unlimited Medical Research.
After establishing itself in the front ranks of cancer drug developers and marketers, AstraZeneca is putting its scientific shoulder — and a significant amount of cash — behind the wheel of a brash new upstart in the biotech world.
The pharma giant trumpeted news this morning that it is handing over $75 million upfront to ally itself with Scorpion Therapeutics, one of those biotechs that was newly birthed by some top scientific, venture and executive talent and bequeathed with a fortune by way of a bankroll to advance an only hazily explained drug platform. And they are still very much in the discovery and preclinical phase.
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While 2021 was another big year for biopharma R&D — with the number of IPOs and biotech VC funding eclipsing last year’s impressive amounts — we also saw a few shifts in the market.
First off, biopharma M&A was down 11% from 2020, with a notable increase in deals around CDMOs and the services space. And VCs have also shown a growing interest in platform and earlier-stage programs, according to numbers compiled by DealForma.
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Just two days after the US bought 600,000 more doses of Vir and GSK’s Covid-19 antibody sotrovimab to guard against Omicron, Vir Biotechnology announced a partnership expansion with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for its T-cell vaccine program.
The partnership had been in place for a few years with Vir’s T-cell vaccine program targeting TB and HIV. The foundation is putting up $50 million — $10 million in the form of a grant and the rest in an equity investment.
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