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Celgene Adopting A.I. Drug Discovery Technology

Research lab

(filexioncool, Pixabay)

21 Mar. 2019. Drug maker Celgene is gaining access to an artificial intelligence platform developed by Exscientia Ltd, to find treatment candidates for cancer and autoimmune disorders. The deal is expected to bring Exscientia, in Oxford, England, $25 million initially, with unspecified milestone payments and royalties on sales later on.

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, known as bispecifics.

The company says its technology, known as Centaur Chemist, can reduce the time needed to discover new preclinical small molecule, or low molecular weight, drug candidates by 75 percent. Where most industry drug discovery efforts, says Exscientia, usually start with a pool of 2,500 compounds, its Centaur Chemist process begins with about 500 compounds. And while the typical timeline for drug discovery from start to preclinical candidate is about 5 years, the company says it can reduce that amount of time to about 1.5 years.

In the new agreement Celgene, a biopharmaceutical company in Summit, New Jersey, and Exscientia will collaborate on discovery of 3 small-molecule drug candidates for cancer and autoimmune disorders. The 3-year deal will give Exscientia an initial payment of $25 million, as well as undisclosed milestone payments and royalties on sales. As reported by Science & Enterprise, Exscientia entered into a similar deal with drug maker GlaxoSmithKline in July 2017, and has drug-discovery partnerships with other pharmaceutical companies including Roche, Sanofi, and Evotec.

Exscientia is a spin-off enterprise from University of Dundee in Scotland, licensing the research of Andrew Hopkins, now the company’s CEO. “Today, patients can wait more than ten years from initial drug discovery to its availability as a treatment,” says Hopkins in a company statement. “With autoimmune diseases and cancer rates increasing, the pharmaceutical industry’s R&D productivity needs to dramatically improve, and technology is a key part of this.” Hopkins adds that, “we have been developing our AI platform on the principle that AI combined with human creativity can significantly accelerate the drug discovery process and thus drastically improve access of new drugs to the market.”

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