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Sanofi Partners in $5.3B Precision Drug Discovery Deal

Chemical atom model

(Fernando Zhiminaicela, Pixabay.

7 Jan. 2021. A company using artificial intelligence to design drugs for personalized treatments is partnering with drug maker Sanofi in a deal valued at $5.3 billion. The agreement with Exscientia in Oxford, U.K. is expected to provide Paris-based Sanofi with up to 15 new drug candidates to treat personalized cancer and immune-related conditions.

Exscientia is a 10 year-old company that applies artificial intelligence for discovery and design of new drugs. Exscientia’s technology combines machine learning and synthetic drug design to identify drug molecules with the best likelihood of success against specified targets. The company says it assesses candidate compounds for their potency and chemical activity in the body, with the findings from previous evaluations fed back into the program to identify the optimum design characteristics for new drugs. Exscientia says its process starts with data from real-world tissue samples in patients to keep focused on precise outcomes.

As reported by Science & Enterprise in June 2021, Exscientia’s process promises more efficient drug development at lower costs. The company is collaborating with biotechnology enterprise EQRx to design new drugs to be marketed at lower prices. In a 2018 conference paper, Exscientia said its technology 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 the company, usually start with a pool of 2,500 compounds, Exscientia’s discovery process first identifies some 500 compounds. And while the typical timeline for drug discovery from start to preclinical candidate is about five years, the company says it can reduce that amount of time to about 1.5 years.

Identify characteristics of patients most likely to respond

“Our AI-driven platform,” says Exscientia CEO and founder Andrew Hopkins in a statement, “can be leveraged across drug discovery, translational research and development, with applications ranging from improving the precision medicine and quality of drug candidates to enriching for patient selection in clinical trials.” Hopkins adds, “When you consider the change this represents, testing candidates against actual human tissue years before a clinical trial, it’s transformative.”

The agreement with Sanofi calls for the two companies to collaborate on discovery of up to 15 new small molecule, or low molecular weight, drugs to treat cancer and immune-related disorders. In addition to discovering new compounds, Exscientia is also expected to identify precise characteristics of patients most likely to respond to the new drugs. Exscientia will take charge of design and lead optimization of the new treatments, while Sanofi will be responsible for preclinical and clinical development, manufacturing, and commercialization.

Sanofi is providing Exscientia with an initial payment of $100 million, with Exscientia eligible for further payments once certain research, translational, clinical development, regulatory and commercial milestones are achieved. If all milestones are reached, those payments will come to $5.2 billion.

“Sanofi’s collaboration with Exscientia aims to transform how we discover and develop new small molecule medicines for cancer and immune-mediated diseases,” says Sanofi’s chief scientist Frank Nestle. ” Application of sophisticated AI and machine learning methods will not only shorten drug discovery timelines, but will also help to design higher quality and better targeted medicines for patients.”

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