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Biotech, M.D. Anderson Partner on Precision Drug Design

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(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

14 Nov. 2022. A company discovering therapies with artificial intelligence is partnering with M.D. Anderson Cancer Center on new small-molecule precision medicines. Financial and intellectual property details of the agreement between M.D. Anderson in Houston, part of the University of Texas system, and Exscientia plc in Oxford, U.K. were not disclosed.

Exscientia applies artificial intelligence tools to discovery and design of precision medicines, those addressing specific molecular targets. The company’s process adapts machine learning, beginning with models using data from real-world tissue samples in patients that it says helps maintain a focus on specific molecular targets and outcomes. From there, Exscientia applies synthetic biology for identifying new therapies, with continuous assessments of potency and chemical activity in the body, fed back into algorithms to find the optimum design.

In addition, Exscientia says its approach makes possible faster and lower cost discovery of small-molecule or low molecular weight drugs. In a 2018 conference paper, an Exscientia team described its process of using A.I. techniques to first identify precise molecular targets, then screening from a smaller pool of candidates than many of today’s other drug discovery techniques. The company says its approach reduces drug-discovery timelines by 75 percent. As reported by Science & Enterprise in June 2021, Exscientia is partnering with low-cost drug developer EQRx in Cambridge, Mass. on discovery of new small-molecule therapies.

Accelerating drug discovery and development

“Artificial intelligence has opened up new possibilities in cancer research,” says Exscientia founder and CEO Andrew Hopkins in a statement, “enabling us to use deep learning multi-omics within our precision medicine platform to test potential drug candidates in Exscientia’s patient tissue models. Further, our platform holds the potential to stratify patients even in the early discovery stage, allowing us to efficiently design drug candidates that are most likely to be impactful for people with cancer.”

The new agreement calls for the Exscientia to collaborate with the Institute for Applied Cancer Science or IACS at M.D. Anderson to discover new precision small-molecule cancer treatments, based on jointly identified therapy targets. IACS is M.D. Anderson’s research center for development of new small-molecule cancer drugs, whose mission includes accelerating the drug discovery and development process. This unit, says M.D. Anderson, combines tools of computational and systems biology and chemistry with cancer biology, medicinal chemistry, and pharmacology.

The collaboration is expected to discover new precision cancer therapies for advancement into proof-of-concept clinical trials at M.D. Anderson. While the cancer center and Exscientia are expected to jointly support and contribute to each program under the collaboration, further financial details and timelines were not disclosed.

“This collaboration,” notes Philip Jones, head of IACS, ” is built upon Exscientia’s A.I.-driven precision medicine platform, the strength of M.D. Anderson’s drug discovery and development engine, and the expertise of our clinical research teams. Our ultimate goal is to decrease the time we spend in drug development and accelerate novel targeted therapies into the clinic.”

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