Insilico Medicine Nets $225M, Pistoia Alliance Pushes Forward with FAIR, New Products

June 29, 2021

June 29, 2021 | Colorado researchers publish a new method to increase the utility and equity of large genetic databases, new collaboration for BC Platforms and CareDuchenne, Minnesota Supercomputing Institute joins iRODS, and what’s next for Biogen and Eisai. Plus new products from Benchling, Egnyte, Cytek, Waters, Bruker, and more.

XPRIZE and IBM have announced the winners of the $5M IBM Watson AI XPRIZE Challenge. First launched in 2016, the five-year global competition looked to accelerate adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies and spark creative, innovative and audacious demonstrations of the technology that are truly scalable to solve societal grand challenges. Winning first place honors is Zzapp Malaria. Based in Tel Aviv, Israel, Zzapp Malaria’s AI technology is geared towards tackling the main challenges faced by malaria elimination campaigns by creating custom models, built with tools like IBM Watson Studio for Cloud Pak for Data, to predict the number of small water bodies caused by weather, enabling it to optimize the timing for launching larviciding operations. Second and third place winners were Aifred Health, followed by Marinus Analytics. These finalists were selected out of a pool of 10 semifinalists following presentations of their solutions to a panel of judges during an event held at TED headquarters in New York City last year. A $3 million grand prize, $1 million second place prize, and $500k third place prize will be awarded to the teams. In total, over 150 teams throughout the world joined the competition. Press release.

DNA Script has launched their SYNTAX platform with their first product, the SYNTAX System, the first benchtop nucleic acid printer powered by Enzymatic DNA Synthesis (EDS) technology. The SYNTAX System is a fully integrated, automated printer that synthesizes 96 DNA oligos in parallel, comprised of up to 60 nucleotides in length, and delivers them ready for use in molecular biology and genomics workflows, without the need for additional handling. With the launch of the SYNTAX System, DNA Script plans to accelerate the design-print-test cycle for assay optimization by enabling rapid, on-site synthesis of DNA oligos for use in genomics workflows, including endpoint PCR, qPCR, amplicon sequencing and mutagenesis. By providing researchers with complete control of same-day oligo synthesis, the SYNTAX System enables DNA oligos to be printed on-demand at record speed and without the delays or backorders that can occur with outsourced phosphoramidite synthesis services. On-site oligo synthesis also provides researchers with confidential control over proprietary sequence information. The SYNTAX System includes a benchtop DNA printer, reagent and consumable kits, and management software. With less than 15 minutes of setup required, the SYNTAX System synthesizes 20mers in about 6 hours, providing same-day results, and up to 60mers in about 13 hours, which can be efficiently run overnight. Upon synthesis completion, the SYNTAX printer purifies, quantifies and normalizes the oligos for seamless input into the next step of the research workflow. The software suite monitors reagent levels and enables easy re-ordering of the SYNTAX kit, which includes four inks — A, T, G and C, and enables an integrated workflow where users can manage DNA print runs, reagents and results. Press release.

ATCC is expanding its collection of next-generation 2-D and 3-D patient tissue-derived in vitro cancer models, including three-dimensional organoids, as part of its renewed partnership with the National Cancer Institute (NCI), of the National Institutes of Health, to support the Human Cancer Models Initiative (HCMI). ATCC has been collaborating with the NCI and the HCMI since 2016 to offer scientists a wide variety of novel and physiologically relevant models to study cancer, identify and target novel therapies, and facilitate translational cancer research. The ATCC collection is the first collection of novel cancer models that is derived from the biopsy of patients, and it’s the leading commercially available patient-derived collection that contains rare and pediatric cancers. For this latest expansion, over the coming months, ATCC will add to the collection nearly 100 human-patient derived models from primary, metastatic, and recurrent cancers — in addition to models from diverse genetic backgrounds. The expanded collection will include rare and pediatric cancers — along with organoids and other advanced models — for cancers of the colon, pancreas, breast, stomach, and esophagus. ATCC also will be releasing its first gallbladder model. Press release.

Takara Bio has entered into a License and Supply Agreement with BioNTech Cell & Gene Therapies GmbH under which Takara Bio grants BioNTech a commercial license to use applicable patents relating to RetroNectin. Under this agreement, Takara Bio provides BioNTech with reliable supplies of RetroNectin. Takara Bio’s proprietary RetroNectin method includes a technology enabling highly efficient gene transduction to cells by retrovirus/lentivirus vector and expansion of T-cells with high efficiency. With such advantages, RetroNectin method is one of the mostly used standard protocols utilized for "Engineered T-cell Therapy", which includes promising TCR and CAR gene therapies recently raising higher expectations. Under the agreement signed with Takara Bio, BioNTech is allowed to use RetroNectin for production of its cell & gene therapy products, therapies in which a patient’s T cells are genetically engineered to express a CAR for the treatment of multiple solid tumors. Press release.

Early stage digital medicine company Cubismi has been selected to take part in the Microsoft for Startups global program as part of its efforts to propel critical-need interactive digital diagnostics into new standards of precision cancer care. Based in Wisconsin, Cubismi personalizes actionable visualizations and precision insights to transform and empower professional interactions and each patient’s journey. The Microsoft for Startups program provides access to leading technologies including Microsoft Azure, GitHub as well as mentorship and business support. The program will help to support Cubismi’s mission to transform the use of visual technology across healthcare, while addressing the current diagnostic error crisis caused by today’s legacy systems. Cubismi’s vision for its Emerge cloud platform, designed to address the existing pains associated with healthcare legacy systems, will come into fruition using Microsoft’s powerful cloud technology for rapid user interface interaction. Created by a team of multidisciplinary experts, the platform will leverage various forms of health data including medical imaging which represents 90% of the health data digital footprint, turning it into powerful, highly granular new insights about the human body.

The Pistoia Alliance has launched the second phase of its DataFAIRy: Bioassay project, which aims to convert bioassay data into machine-readable formats that adhere to the FAIR guiding principles of Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable. The current pilot phase has been sponsored by AstraZeneca, Bristol Myers Squib, Novartis and Roche, and has successfully annotated 496 assays using a Natural Language Processing model that has been custom-built to recognize life sciences language. This second phase aims to scale the annotation process by 10 to 100-fold, and eventually promote the data model to become the industry standard. There are currently more than 1.3 million biological assay protocols that exist in plain-text formats, such as published papers or vendor notes. Adhering to the DataFAIRy model will reduce the time scientists spend searching and planning assay experiments, eventually enabling greater data sharing between organizations and helping scientists cope with the growing volume and complexity of data generated. Additionally, current data models are not built to recognize scientific language so a new model must be created to automate the annotation of these valuable resources. The second stage of the DataFAIRy project will further develop a model of this kind in a community-wide collaborative way. Press release.

In a paper published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, researchers from Colorado University, Denver, announced the development of Summix, a new method to increase the utility and equity of large genetic databases Summix estimates the genetic ancestry in databases and adjusts the information to match the ancestry of a person or sample of people. This method leads large genetic databases to become more useful for people of various ancestries such as African American or Latinx, as they are underrepresented in genetic databases and studies. Individuals and samples from understudied populations lack large public resources with precisely matched ancestry data. As a result, researchers working with those populations often resort to the closest, but still poorly matched, ancestral group. The team showed the effectiveness of Summix in over 5,000 simulation scenarios and in Genome Aggregation Database (gnomAD). They found Summix’s estimates of ancestry proportions to be highly accurate (within 0.001%) and the ancestry-adjusted genetic information to be less biased. The Summix method is available in open access software increasing the utility of the method and its applications. Press release.

Benchling has launched a digital solution for scientists to design, analyze, and develop complex RNA therapeutics in a unified R&D platform for the first time. RNA therapeutics are driving a massive shift in biopharma from the traditional “one-drug, one-target” approach to multi-dimensional and iterative targeting. However, as these approaches have gained traction scientifically and clinically, the tools to engineer them have been frustratingly limited. There has not been a single software solution to date that handles both the biological and chemical nature of RNA therapeutics and captures the full workflow of designing, analyzing, and testing complex biomolecules. As a result, scientists have struggled to standardize how chemically modified biomolecules are modeled and connect structure to experimental impact on stability, efficacy, and potency. Biopharmaceutical R&D teams can use Benchling to collaborate across biology and chemistry workflows to support their collective efforts on this hybrid modality. These teams can work faster and improve their overall success rate by unifying traditionally siloed tasks and phases in one cloud-based solution. Scientists using Benchling can create complex oligonucleotides with ease and contextualized experimental insights. The visualization capabilities with Benchling’s HELM editor are built for oligo-level editing with the ability to zoom in and out on specific areas for modification. Experimental data is contextualized within Benchling’s solution, making high-quality data actionable throughout the oligo design process. Benchling's monomer library helps researchers quickly search and customize the most common base monomers. The embedded HELM notation support standardizes complex biomolecule representation so multidisciplinary teams can all access, understand, and contribute to the molecule's ongoing development. The robust, integrated platform easily registers or creates oligos with uniqueness checks to save time and prevent redundant work. Press release.

Anna Biosciences has launched an immunotherapy platform, Syntem, to fight COVID-19. The Anna Biosciences Syntem Platform deploys engineered proprietary molecules to create synthetic immunity. Syntem’s lab-made molecules are multi-specific: they first target and flag the pathology, and then elicit an immune reaction that targets the virus or disease. Research indicates the Syntem Platform can inhibit viral infection and aid in the removal of COVID-19 infected cells. Showing promise as both a prophylactic and a treatment, there is considerable hope that in addition to supporting the broader population, immunocompromised patients will be able to safely use Syntem to prevent infection. Importantly, Syntem also exhibits high potential against COVID variants. In the case of COVID-19, and coronaviruses more generally, the Syntem Platform represents a significant new tool in the arsenal against these rapidly evolving diseases. Press release.

Insilico Medicine has closed a $255 million Series C financing led by Warburg Pincus. The financing was also participated by current investors including Qiming Venture Partners, Pavilion Capital, Eight Roads Ventures, Lilly Asia Ventures, Sinovation Ventures, BOLD Capital Partners, Formic Ventures, Baidu Ventures, and new investors including CPE, OrbiMed, Mirae Asset Capital, B Capital Group, Deerfield Management, Maison Capital, Lake Bleu Capital, President International Development Corporation, Sequoia Capital China and Sage Partners. As a pioneer and leader in the industry, Insilico Medicine has built a strong drug discovery and drug development team, a broad distributed discovery partner network, and initiated multiple internal therapeutic programs. Proceeds from the financing will be used to progress Insilico Medicine’s current therapeutic programs into human clinical trials, initiate multiple new programs for novel and difficult targets, and further develop its AI and drug discovery capabilities. Press release.

BC Platforms (BCP) and CureDuchenne have announced a new collaboration. CureDuchenne has integrated BCP’s Discovery and Research Platform (DRP) into its newly launched CureDuchenne Link global data hub. Wider reaching than a registry or biobank, CureDuchenne Link directly connects data and biosamples provided by the Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophy community to scientists and those involved with drug development. By reducing the need to search for data connected to biosamples, this data hub helps accelerate the discovery of biomarkers, as well as the development of future treatments, including new gene therapies and exon-skipping approaches. BCP’s role in this 10-year project is to provide a data hub that can fully integrate with a variety of data sources through its DRP, including aggregate data management and data sharing. BCP will support data repository storage, as well as management and analysis tools for genomic, phenotypic, sample, and whole genome sequencing data. Press release.

Egnyte has announced a new product for emerging life sciences companies to manage regulated documentation. Egnyte for Life Sciences Quality is an easy-to-use, GxP-compliant product that digitizes the lifecycle of regulated documents, like standard operating procedures (SOPs) and training records. Egnyte for Life Sciences Quality is the third product in a growing lineup of offerings, following the release of Egnyte for Life Sciences in November 2020 and new review and approval workflows. This enables quality personnel to streamline review and approval workflows and automate the handling of effective documentation while meeting FDA 21 CFR Part 11 requirements for e-signatures. Egnyte for Life Sciences Quality enables Life Sciences companies to meet GxP & FDA 21 CFR Part 11; sign off on documents, like SOPs and clinical trial protocols, in a compliant manner, without needing third-party plugins; manage effective documents; scale compliance processes quickly; and support multiple departments and use cases. Press release.

BGI Americas Corporation has announced a collaborative agreement with Champions Oncology, a global oncology data-driven solutions provider, to offer their respective customers end-to-end proteomics and multiomics solutions for oncology biomarker discovery and validation. As part of the collaboration, BGI’s Mass Spectrometry Center in San Jose, California, will be responsible for sample preparation as well as generation and analysis of proteomics and metabolomics data using the laboratory’s cutting-edge mass spectrometers. BGI’s customers will have access to Champions’ Lumin Bioinformatics platform, a unique and sophisticated data visualization software featuring over 25,000 multiomic datasets, to visualize and process their proteomics data and leverage large proteomics datasets available throughout the platform in order to perform advanced analytics. Champions Oncology will also leverage the mass spectrometry services from BGI to further enhance the characterization of its patient-derived xenograft (PDX) bank with proteomic and metabolomic profiling datasets. This fully streamlined analysis workflow and the multiomics-characterized PDX model assets aim to address the needs of a variety of drug discovery and development projects by customers in the biopharmaceutical space. Press release.

Cytek Biosciences has introduced a new high-dimensional benchtop cell sorter—the Cytek Aurora CS. Built on the same Full Spectrum Profiling (FSP) technology comprising Cytek’s Aurora cell analysis system, the Aurora CS delivers high resolution capabilities at the single cell level to resolve and sort even the most challenging cell populations regardless of assay complexity or autofluorescence level. Press release. Cytek has also introduced a new plate loader—the Automated Sample Loader (ASL)—to streamline experimental workflows and seamlessly integrate into Cytek’s Aurora and Northern Lights cell analysis systems. Cytek’s ASL automates the sample loading process, offering “walk away” capabilities and expanding high-throughput acquisition options for researchers. Press release.

Copado has announced automated tools for configuration, deployment and integration of Veeva CRM, which will help customers drive digital transformation with speed, quality and value. Through the Veeva Technology Partner Program, Copado helps life sciences customers adopt proven DevOps tools, templates and best practices for seamless use with Veeva CRM, a leading multi-channel engagement solution built on the Salesforce platform. This enables DevOps teams to accelerate the delivery and security of Veeva CRM applications and features. This partnership will enable Veeva CRM customers to move faster through their deployments. For example, the Copado platform helps companies migrate applications and features from a sandbox into production quickly with confidence, by providing guidance, testing, security and compliance. Press release.

Genedata has named Sophion Bioscience, a global leader in automated patch clamp (APC) technology, a Ready-to-Run partner. Sophion joins a continually expanding group of leading technology providers who collaborate with Genedata to offer standardized integrations with the Genedata Biopharma Platform. The deep integration of Sophion QPatch II and Qube 384 APC instruments with Genedata Screener enables direct capture, remote analysis, and enterprise access to APC data’s highly informative mechanistic and safety aspects of tested molecules. Integrating Sophion APC instrumentation with Genedata Screener improves lab efficiency by automating end-to-end data processing; furthers standardization and de-duplication in global research for increased cost benefits; and yields transparent information for high-quality decisions in research and development projects, allowing researchers to focus on the best molecules to progress. Press release.

Waters Corporation has introduced the Waters SELECT SERIES MRT, a high-resolution mass spectrometer that combines Multi Reflecting Time-of-Flight (MRT) technology with both enhanced DESI and new MALDI imaging sources. Together, these technologies enable scientists to explore molecular structure and function through the precise identification and localization of individual molecules in samples, with a unique combination of speed, resolution, and mass accuracy. The SELECT SERIES MRT platform is the basis for the next generation of Waters’ high-resolution mass spectrometers. It is the first commercially available instrument of its kind that is capable of attaining 200,000 Full Width Half Maximum (FWHM) resolution and part-per-billion mass accuracy independent of scan speed. The superior performance of the SELECT SERIES MRT allows scientists to get the highest quality mass spectrometry data and information faster than any commercial mass spectrometer on the market today. Press release.

AELIS FARMA, a biotechnology company specializing in the treatment of brain disorders, has announced a strategic collaboration and option-license agreement with INDIVIOR to address the serious consequences of cannabis use disorders (CUD), including cannabis-induced psychosis (CIP). AELIS’s AEF0117 is the first drug candidate of a new pharmacological class, the Signaling Specific Inhibitors of the CB1 receptor (CB1-SSi), that AELIS developed over the last seven years. AELIS has built extensive knowledge and intellectual property rights around this new family of inhibitors of the CB1 receptors. Thanks to a unique mechanism of action, CB1-SSi selectively inhibit a CB1-mediated hyperactive state, thus preserving the normal functioning of the brain and behavior. Under the terms of the agreement with AELIS, INDIVIOR is being granted an option to an exclusive worldwide license for AEF0117 for the treatment of cannabis-related disorders, and in particular, addiction and psychosis. The collaboration will be coordinated by a joint steering committee comprised of drug development leadership from AELIS and INDIVIOR. During the option period AELIS will conduct clinical and non-clinical development to ready AEF0117 to enter Phase 3. If INDIVIOR exercises the option, it would then be responsible for all future development, regulatory, commercial and manufacturing costs and activities. AELIS will receive an immediate upfront payment of $30 million. Upon successful phase 2b proof of concept studies for cannabis use disorders, INDIVIOR could exercise the option triggering a $100 million license fee payment. AELIS is also eligible to receive additional payments for achieving certain further development and regulatory milestones, as well as mid-teens royalties on any net sales. Press release.

Bruker Corporation has launched two new timsTOF instruments. With the introduction of the next-generation timsTOF Pro 2, Bruker continues the revolution in CCS-enabled 4D-Proteomics, as well as in 4D-Epiproteomics, defined here broadly as the characterization of all protein posttranslational modifications (PTMs). The timsTOF Pro 2 offers deeper proteome coverage of >6,000 protein groups and >60,000 unique peptides in 60 minute gradients on 200 ng HeLa digests. It also achieves good depth of proteome and epiproteome coverage at 10x lower amounts, e.g., with ~4,000 proteins and ~30,000 peptides on 20 ng digests. The outstanding timsTOF Pro 2 sensitivity significantly enhances methods to detect post-translational modificiations (PTMs), such as phosphoproteomics and ubiquitination studies, for CCS-enabled, unbiased, large-scale 4D-Epiproteomics, which is tremendously important in physiology, cell biology and disease biology, especially in cancer. Bruker also announced new capabilities in PaSER real-time search software for 4D-Proteomics. The new PaSER 2022 offers large-scale CCS-enabled bioinformatics, leveraging the unique tims/PASEF methods. For example, the new TIMScore increases the confidence of peptide IDs by leveraging the fourth dimension of large-scale collision cross sections (CCS) on all measured peptides. Increased confidence using CCS reduces ambiguities of redundant peptide sequences, resulting in more protein group and unique peptide identifications based on the same FDR threshold. Press release.

The Minnesota Supercomputing Institute (MSI) of the University of Minnesota has become the newest member of the iRODS Consortium, the membership-based foundation that leads development and support of the integrated Rule-Oriented Data System (iRODS). MSI provides state-of-the art compute and storage solutions to accelerate scientific inquiry at the University of Minnesota and beyond. Its high-performance computing resources, specialized hardware, visualization tools, and dedicated consultants support data intensive research in any area of science, engineering, and the humanities. Looking ahead, the team plans to expand its use of iRODS to help users manage and share their data in MSI’s second tiered storage system. Munsell noted that the open source nature of iRODS makes it possible to customize the system for MSI’s specific needs by building in additional logging and permissions handling. In addition, the team plans to take advantage of iRODS’ capability to automatically extract and tag objects with metadata, helping MSI move closer to completely automating some user workflows. Press release.

On the heels of the FDA approval of ADUHELMTM for treating Alzheimer's disease Biogen and Eisai Inc., U.S. subsidiary of Eisai Co., Ltd., have announced a range of programs intended to support access for all qualified patients, including traditionally underserved populations. These initiatives aim to help patients and their families understand the disease, navigate the diagnostic journey, secure culturally competent care and afford treatment. Personal Biogen Support Service Coordinators are now available to patients and their families to provide one-on-one support. The service coordinators can answer questions about Alzheimer's disease and ADUHELM treatment, assess financial assistance options for eligible patients, and locate healthcare providers and infusion sites, among other topics. Biogen and Eisai have also established a program with Labcorp and Mayo Clinic Laboratories to help physicians and patients access cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) diagnostic laboratory testing to aid in the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. Press release.

Researchers from Critical Analytics for Manufacturing Personalized-Medicine (CAMP), an Interdisciplinary Research Group (IRG) at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), MIT’s research enterprise in Singapore, have developed a new method for rapid and accurate detection of viral nucleic acids. The new methodological development by CAMP—the RApid DIgital Crispr Approach (RADICA)—allows absolute quantification of viral nucleic acids in 40-60 minutes in an isothermal manner in a water bath, a prototypical and inexpensive laboratory equipment. The team’s research is explained in a paper titled “Digital CRISPR-based method for the rapid detection and absolute quantification of nucleic acids” published recently in Biomaterials. Press release.

Akoya Biosciences is collaborating with AstraZeneca to advance new multiplex immunofluorescence (mIF) workflows and spatial biomarker signatures, based on Akoya’s Phenoptics platform. With this collaboration, AstraZeneca’s immuno-oncology division will partner with Advanced Biopharma Solutions (ABS), a premium service offering from Akoya, to leverage the comprehensive spatial phenotyping capabilities of the Phenoptics platform to study drug mechanism of action, confirm target biology prevalence, and discover predictive signatures for subsequent trial designs. The aim of this collaboration will be the development and implementation of predictive assays and analysis frameworks to enable AstraZeneca, and the pharmaceutical industry in general, to advance a spatial biomarker-informed drug development strategy for immunotherapy. The results could lead to increased trial success rates and advancement of precision medicine. Press release.

Genomenon is partnering with Nostos Genomics, which includes integration of the Mastermind Genomic Search Engine into their cloud-based AION variant interpretation platform. This integration will allow users of AION to preview the number of published articles related to their search and easily link out to view the evidence in Mastermind. Mastermind connects patient genetic data with relevant evidence from scientific literature, an essential component of precision medicine for cancer and genetic disease. Using an AI-driven algorithm to index the full text of millions of genomic research articles, Mastermind has created a comprehensive database of over 7 million published variants across all genes and gene elements, updated on a weekly basis. Nostos Genomics’ AION platform enhances genetic variant interpretation for clinical genetic testing by leveraging AI and functional genomics. Their white-box approach allows users to access a regularly updated knowledge repository with more than 100 annotations, including a selection of data from high-throughput functional genomics assays that directly reflect the molecular impact of thousands of selected mutations. Press release.