After years of partnerships, AI biotech Exscientia lands first major financing round at $60M
After years racking up partnerships with biotechs and Big Pharma, the AI drug developer Exscientia has landed its first large financing round.
The UK-based company raised $60 million in a Series C round led by Novo Holdings — more than double the $26 million it garnered in a Series B 18 months ago. The round will help further the company’s expansion into the US and further what it calls, borrowing a term from the software world, its “full-stack capabilities,” i.e. its ability to develop drugs from the earliest stage to the market.
Founded by University of Dundee chemist Andrew Hopkins in 2012, Exscientia has so far largely focused on building a computational platform and providing it to help more traditional biotechs and pharmaceutical companies find new drugs faster. It’s a common tactic for AI biotechs that focused on hastening the isolation and construction of new drug-like molecules, a group that includes well-connected rivals like Atomwise and Insilico. Essentially, these companies use machine learning to screen orders of magnitude more compounds than conventional screening processes could, with the goal of shortening the notoriously lengthy amount of time it takes to develop a new drug.
Exscientia’s particular platform, which it calls Centaur Chemist, has won a few prominent collaborations. In January, they announced a cardiology discovery deal with Bayer. That was after a psychiatry deal with Sunovion, an oncology and autoimmune deal with Celgene, an oncology deal with Roche, a metabolic disease deal with Sanofi and a broad deal for up to ten targets across multiple therapeutic areas with GlaxoSmithKline, which last year produced a lead compound now in animal testing.
One of the company’s first partnerships, though, came with the Japanese developer Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma. Earlier this year, that led to a Phase I experimental pill for obsessive compulsive disorder which the two companies claimed was the first AI-developed drug to enter the clinic. Although the claim has been made by other biotechs, the drug was nevertheless an important proof-of-concept. It took less than 12 months to go through preclinical testing.
Most recently, Exscientia has turned its efforts to Covid-19. Like other researchers, they used their platform to screen existing drugs for potential efficacy against the new virus. Specifically, they have been searching a Scripps library of 15,000 drugs with the help of Diamond Light Source, an Oxford company that helps scientists study viruses by generating a very bright light that works like a microscope.