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Biotech Partners for A.I. Drug Discovery in $1B Deal

Artificial intelligence graphic

(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

10 Mar. 2020. Two companies are collaborating on the use of artificial intelligence to find new drugs addressing a set of proteins that regulate immune-related functions, including inflammation. The deal with Bridge Biotherapeutics in Seongnam, Korea is expected to bring Atomwise Inc. in San Francisco more than $1 billion if all phases of the agreement are completed.

Atomwise uses artificial intelligence to discover new drugs, with a variation of machine learning known as convolutional neural networks. A convolutional neural network combines image analysis and machine learning to dissect an image by layers for understanding features in the image. Different aspects of each layer discovered and analyzed by the algorithm are translated into data that the algorithm then uses to train its understanding of the problem being solved, with that understanding enhanced and refined as more images and data are encountered.

The Atomwise technology, called AtomNet, adapts the statistical processing techniques of image analysis to parse the hierarchical structure of chemical compounds that number in the billions. These analytical processes identify the optimum mix of binding with protein targets and biological activities in the body, including interactions with other functions that affect the safety of therapy candidates. The company says its technology makes possible highly sophisticated chemical analyses, without the repeated trial-and-error required in most drug discovery projects. AtomNet is based on research by company co-founder and current chief technology officer Izhar Wallach while at University of Toronto.

The agreement with Bridge Biotherapeutics calls for Atomwise to discover new drugs addressing Pellino E3 ubiquitin ligases, a collection of enzymes affecting immune system functions. Once activated, Pellino enzymes add molecules of another protein called ubiquitin that can stimulate a range of cell activities ranging from cell division and multiplication to apoptosis, or cell death.

In the Bridge Biotherapeutics agreement, Atomwise is expected to begin with Pellino enzymes regulating inflammation, although the deal covers discovery of up to 13 new drugs addressing these and other targets selected by Bridge. In return, Atomwise is eligible for upfront, milestone, and royalty payments upon completion of each program. Atomwise says that based on historical averages for small-molecule drugs, the company could earn as much as $1.08 billion if all 13 programs are successfully executed.

Bridge Biotherapeutics is a five year-old clinical-stage biotechnology company that, according to Crunchbase, operates from Korea largely as a virtual enterprise. Abraham Heifets, co-founder and CEO of Atomwise says in a company statement, “Bridge is a recognized biotech leader and has successfully out-licensed development programs to global partners such as Boehringer Ingelheim. Our team has been impressed by their ability to consistently bring new therapies to the clinic and looks forward to a long-term relationship.”

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