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Another AI alliance
September 2017
by Rachel Flehinger  |  Email the author
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DUNDEE, U.K.—Exscientia, a leading company in artificial intelligence (AI)-driven drug discovery, has announced that it has entered into a strategic drug discovery collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). During this collaboration, Exscientia will apply its AI-enabled platform in combination with the expertise of GSK in order to discover novel and selective small molecules for up to 10 disease-related targets, as chosen by GSK across multiple therapeutic areas. The reproducible costs and time savings offered through AI have the potential to positively impact early-stage drug discovery, the companies say.
 
Exscientia will receive research payments from GSK to undertake new discovery programs related to nominated targets with the goal of delivering preclinical drug candidates. In addition to research funding, Exscientia is eligible to receive near-term lead and preclinical candidate milestones if all objectives are achieved. The total amount payable by GSK to Exscientia on achieving these milestones is £33 million, if all 10 projects are advanced.
 
“Companies are highly impressed with the productivity gains that we have shown AI to offer. In our case, Exscientia is concentrating on the discovery of new IP in the critical area of lead optimization. Lead optimization is the most expensive area of research per launched drug and therefore any improvements in this area of the discovery pipeline would have a profound effect,” said Dr. Mark Swindells, chief operating officer of Exscientia.
 
As part of this collaboration, Exscientia is incentivized to reduce the number of compounds required for synthesis and assay in order to achieve lead and candidate compound goals. The company will apply both its Big Data resources comprising, among other things, medicinal chemistry and large-scale bio-assays, and its AI-driven algorithms to design novel molecules that fulfill the requirements of the lead and candidate criteria.
 
John Baldoni, senior vice president, Platform Science and Technology at GSK, added: “Exscientia has built an excellent team with proven innovation in drug discovery technologies. We anticipate that their industry-leading approach will accelerate the discovery of new molecules against high-value GSK targets with speed and confidence, and without compromising quality.”
 
Exscientia has developed several partnerships with pharmaceutical companies in recent years, each applying their ability to identify multi-target small molecules in accordance with demanding selectivity and development criteria towards enhanced therapeutic performance. Japanese company Sumitomo Dainippon is developing a bispecific, dual-agonist compound retrieved by Exscientia that selectively activates two G-protein-coupled receptors from two distinct families that have the potential to deliver enhanced therapeutic performance in the treatment of psychiatric diseases. A key part of their collaborative success was the interplay between Exscientia’s automated drug design system and Sumitomo Dainippon’s researchers.
 
“Success in this project can be attributed to two key factors: the expertise of Exscientia in proposing the right molecules to synthesize, and the capabilities of Sumitomo Dainippon researchers to rapidly make and assay compounds to feed back into our active learning systems so that we could in turn refine the models developed and evolve the designs,” stated Prof. Andrew Hopkins, CEO at Exscientia.
 
Exscientia has also embarked on a strategic research collaboration with French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi, focusing on the high-interest area of metabolic disease. Delivery of new therapies for metabolic disease (such as diabetes) is hampered by a lack of single targets that are amenable to drug discovery. To address this challenge, Exscientia will apply its unique platform to identify and validate combinations of drug targets that could work synergistically and be amenable to their powerful bispecific small-molecule design strategy, where a small molecule is designed to be compatible with two distinct drug targets.
 
They will identify bispecific small molecules to be explored as potential full candidate delivery projects for Sanofi. As part of this agreement, Exscientia will be responsible for all compound design, while chemistry synthesis will be delivered by Sanofi. Further assays, preclinical experiments and subsequent trials for compounds progressing to the clinic will be managed by Sanofi, where Sanofi exercises the license option.
 
“[Our] agreement with GSK is the second we have signed in recent months with a top global pharma company,” asserts Hopkins. “The alliance provides further validation of our AI-driven platform and its potential to accelerate the discovery of novel, high-quality drug candidates. Applying our approach to client discovery projects has already delivered candidate-quality molecules in roughly one-quarter of the time, and at one-quarter of the cost of traditional approaches ... 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.”
 
Code: E091701

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