Andrew Hopkins, Exscientia CEO

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.

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RBC Capital Markets explores what is material in ESG for biopharma companies with the ESG leads at Gilead Sciences. Gilead has long focused on sustainability but recognized a more robust framework was needed. Based on a materiality assessment, Gilead’s ESG strategy today focuses first on drug access and pricing, while also addressing D&I and climate change. Find out why Gilead’s board is “acutely aware” of the contribution that ESG makes to firm’s overall success.

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Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) with reporters in the Senate Subway (Graeme Sloan/Sipa via AP Images)

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Pier Vincenzo Colli, Alfasigma CEO (C. Romagnoli, Alfasigma archive)

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