Biopharma companies are relying more and more on artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) to help them uncover the intricacies of disease mechanisms and open up strategies to develop novel medicines for treatment. As a result, the BioWorld Artificial Intelligence price-weighted index, which includes biopharmaceutical companies, medical devices and health care services companies, has climbed in value and is currently up almost 37% year-to-date. (See BioWorld Artificial Intelligence index, below.)

Driving the index

Fueling the index has been biopharmaceutical company Bioxcel Therapeutics Inc., of New Haven, Conn., which is utilizing artificial intelligence to identify improved therapies in neuroscience and immuno-oncology. Its shares (NASDAQ:BTAI) have been on a tear so far this year, gaining a whopping 229%, catalyzed by significant clinical progress in its product pipeline.

In July, the company reported that it had initiated an expanded access program at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) to provide its alpha 2A adrenoceptor agonist, BXCL-501, a sublingual thin-film formulation of dexmedetomidine, to individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 who are critically ill in the intensive care unit and may require calming or arousable sedation.

In a research report, Guggenheim Partners analyst Yatin Suneja wrote, “We think this program could further accelerate development of '501.” One of the reasons cited for that conclusion was that “the FDA agreed to the IND protocol after having extensive communication with BTAI/MGH, which bodes well for the agency's overall view of the drug.”

In its second-quarter financial results and business progress, it reported that its SERENITY I and II phase III trials of BXCL-501 achieved all primary and secondary endpoints. As a result, Vimal Mehta, CEO said the company would be submitting an NDA for the compound to the FDA in the first quarter of next year.

The company also padded its balance sheet, completing a follow-on offering that raised approximately $200 million in gross proceeds.

Latest deals

In the last few months, BioWorld has shown deals activity in the space has been robust. Recent deals include Hong Kong-based Insilico Medicine establishing a research collaboration agreement with Astellas Pharma Inc. to utilize its artificial intelligence technology aimed at accelerating development of candidates against a conventionally challenging target family. Astellas will synthesize, optimize and characterize the molecules generated using artificial intelligence. Insilico Medicine will receive an up-front payment and downstream milestone payments.

Revivemed Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., said it is pursuing an evaluation study with New York-based Bristol Myers Squibb Co. designed to leverage its artificial intelligence platform to better understand mechanisms of response and resistance to immunotherapies in patients with cancer. Revivemed said it has established one of the most comprehensive databases about metabolites and their interactions with other molecules. It said its proprietary AI algorithm utilizes that resource for rapidly identifying a large number of metabolites for each patient. Those data are used to find novel disease mechanisms and molecules for drug discovery purposes.

Cerevel Therapeutics Inc., of Boston, and Cyclica Inc., of Toronto, are working together to accelerate the discovery of medicines for neurological diseases. Cerevel will draw on Cyclica’s Ligand Express and Ligand Design artificial intelligence platforms to screen, identify, design and evaluate compounds directed at prespecified targets.

Waltham, Mass.-based Bostongene Corp. is working with NEC Corp., of Tokyo, to conduct cancer patient analysis under NEC's clinical trials. The collaboration brings together NEC's artificial intelligence-driven approach to cancer immunotherapy with Bostongene's analytical tools. The latter will perform tumor molecular profiling and microenvironment analysis for cancer patients identified in trials by NEC and or NEC affiliates across cancer types and disease stages.

Venture investments target AI

The increasing influence AI is having on drug research has attracted the attention of venture capital and since the beginning of the year well over $500 million has been invested, with Erasca Inc., of San Diego, being involved in the largest deal to date, attracting $236 million in a series B financing round. The company will use the proceeds to support the buildout of its artificial intelligence platform that will drive its discovery and development of a new generation of oncology drugs into clinical development.

OPRA (Oncology Pattern Recognition Algorithm) is the company’s AI drug discovery platform that analyzes large-scale datasets, generated in-house and by collaborators, to provide insights on the most promising strategies to tackle essential oncogenes.

Biofourmis Inc. raised $100 million from a series C round that was led by Softbank Vision Fund 2. The funds will help accelerate U.S. and global expansion of the company’s AI-powered health analytics platform and to advance its pipeline of digital therapeutics. It focuses on software-based therapeutics and AI tools for personal predictive care and has U.S. FDA-cleared products that aim to boost clinicians’ ability to remotely monitor and treat patients.

To position it for future growth, the Boston-based company reported that it is restructuring into two vertical business units: Biofourmis Health and Biofourmis Therapeutics. The new funds will be split about equally between the two businesses.

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