UPDATED: Bristol Myers expands Celgene-era deal with Exscientia, taking its AI R&D engine to the next step
One day after taking a shot on an anti-TIGIT bispecific from Agenus, Bristol Myers Squibb is still in a dealmaking mood.
For Wednesday’s chaser, Bristol Myers is returning to a company that had teamed up with Celgene before its acquisition in 2019. That biotech is Exscientia, and they’ve scored an expanded deal with Bristol Myers to further build on its artificial intelligence capabilities less than a month after a massive Series D financing.
The updated collaboration calls for “up to” a $50 million upfront payment to the Oxford, UK-based biotech, along with $125 million in “near to mid-term” milestones, the companies said in a release. Other milestones for regulatory and commercial aspects can bring the total value of the deal past $1.2 billion.
Much like the original deal, the expansion will cover three new projects, Exscientia CEO Andrew Hopkins told Endpoints News. The partnership also allows the pair an option to go into even further projects, he added. Indications will cover primarily oncology and immunology but can cover any disease within those umbrellas.
Over the last few years, AI deals have begun grabbing a bigger foothold throughout the biopharma industry. Several biotechs have also popped up promising to speed up the drug development process through machine learning and other AI-focused models, including players like insilico, Denovio and Genesis.
Bristol Myers has made these types of AI plays before, signing on to work with Concerto HealthAI in March 2019 to do just that. They also partnered with machine-learning startup Insitro in October 2020 to potentially find new ways to create drugs for ALS.
And AstraZeneca announced in February it added the first target generated by AI to its portfolio, coming out of a collaboration with the London-based company, BenevolentAI. That deal focused on identifying and validating a new way to attack chronic kidney disease.
Exscientia is no stranger to wheeling and dealing, having scored several major collaborations before its first major financing round about a year ago. The biotech netted partnerships with a host of Big Pharmas including Bayer, Roche, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline, not limiting their platform to one area: The deals ranged from cardiology and oncology to psychiatric and metabolic diseases.
Those deals also followed a team-up with Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma for an experimental pill in obsessive compulsive disorder, which the pair claim was the first AI-developed drug to enter the clinic when it began Phase I in early 2020.
But back in May 2020, Exscientia began hitting the gas in raising capital, netting a $60 million Series C to more than double their previous round from 2018. The Series C was ultimately expanded this past March when BlackRock pushed its total to $100 million, and Exscientia quickly raised another $525 million in late April — a raise that included a $252 Series D round, plus a $300 million equity investment by SoftBank.
“Technologically we see our goal is to solve drug design and to then use that tech to then scale how we deliver high-quality, precision-engineered drugs into the clinic,” Hopkins told Endpoints. “The more projects we run, the more our system learns and the better it gets. There is a direct correlation of learning by doing.”
The biotech has also continued to tout what it says are the first-ever experimental drugs to hit the clinic. In the vein of its OCD pill, Exscientia said in April that its AI-designed molecule for immuno-oncology is the first such compound to reach in-human testing in that area as well.
This article has been updated to include comment from Exscientia CEO Andrew Hopkins.