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Glaxo Using Artificial Intelligence for Drug Discovery

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(DARPA, Wikimedia Commons)

3 July 2017. Drug maker GlaxoSmithKline is hiring a company that applies artificial intelligence for drug discovery and design to identify new small-molecule compounds for up to 10 disease targets. The deal with Exscientia Ltd. is expected to bring the Dundee, Scotland company as much as £33 million ($US 43 million).

Exscientia’s platform combines machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence, and synthetic drug design to identify drug molecules with the best likelihood of success against specified targets. The company says it employs design-make-test cycles assessing candidate compounds for their potency and chemical activity in the body, with the findings from previous cycles fed back into the program to identify the optimum design characteristics for new drugs. Exscientia applied the platform first to discover single-target drugs, and says the technology can also design compounds that address 2 or more targets.

The company says it will use its artificial intelligence algorithms with large-scale libraries of medicinal chemistry and biological research findings to identify and design new small-molecule, or low molecular weight compounds. Exscientia says GlaxoSmithKline built incentives into the deal to reduce the number new compounds to be designed, in order to improve the discovery process’s efficiency.

In the deal, GlaxoSmithKline, or GSK, is funding the research behind the new compound discovery, and will provide Exscientia with payments for achieving designated lead identification and preclinical milestones. If Exscientia meets all of those milestones, the payments will total £33 million. No further financial details were disclosed.

“Applying our approach to client discovery projects.” says Exscientia CEO Andrew Hopkins in a company statement, “has already delivered candidate-quality molecules in roughly one-quarter of the time, and at one-quarter of the cost of traditional approaches. Our intention therefore is to apply these capabilities to projects selected by GSK. Delivering efficiencies to drug discovery has the potential to revolutionize the way early projects are executed, enabling more dynamic target selections from the burgeoning set of opportunities.”

In May, Exscientia signed a similar agreement with pharma company Sanofi, in a deal valued at €250 million ($US 284 million). Under this agreement, Exscientia is identifying new drug molecules for diabetes and other metabolic disorders that simultaneously address 2 targets. Sanofi is responsible for further development of the candidates, including preclinical tests and clinical trials.

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