EQRx and Exscientia, a pair of self-styled disruptors, team up to overturn the drug pricing apple cart
The biotech industry has seen no shortage of innovation in recent years, but in one area — drug pricing — the field has been anything but innovative. Now, two brash startups taking different roads to upset the drug pricing model will partner up to create a sort of “super-disruptor.”
EQRx and UK-based AI specialist Exscientia will team up on a discovery-through-commercialization collaboration the partners hope will work better than the sum of its parts to bring cheaper medicines to patients faster, the companies said Thursday.
As part of the deal, Exscientia will pick up discovery duties through IND while EQRx will handle development and commercialization. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
EQRx, helmed by Blueprint co-founder Alexis Borisy, has made its name on targeting drug markets without any meaningful price competition with a commercial strategy of directly undercutting its competitors. Its first target is PD-1, which despite seven drugs on the market hasn’t seen a single player try a discounting strategy to undercut those drugs’ notoriously high list prices.
Late last month, EQRx and partner CStone read out late-stage data showing their PD-1 drug sugemalimab hit its primary endpoint of progression-free survival as a consolidation therapy for patients with stage III non-small cell lung cancer whose disease hasn’t progressed after concurrent or sequential chemoradiotherapy.
The GEMSTONE-301 study followed up results from GEMSTONE-302, which tested sugemalimab against placebo in Stage IV NSCLC. That Phase III study, with results presented last year, was also a win, and taken together the data “set the stage” for regulatory filings.
Exscientia, for its part, has touted its work in bringing the first “AI-discovered” molecule to human trials, a process the company says can significantly cut down development time and lower the benchmark R&D estimate of $2.6 billion for any new drug on average.
Whether Exscientia’s molecules are actually “AI-discovered” — the company’s platform crunches trial data to narrow down its discovery search — is up for debate, the company has earned some serious investors in its mission. In April, Exscientia scored a $225 Series D round as well as a $300 million equity investment from SoftBank Vision Fund 2 with backing from a range of blue-chip investors.
In a conversation with Endpoints News, Exscientia CEO Andrew Hopkins said the EQRx collaboration began from a series of impromptu talks with Borisy about the companies’ mission statements.
“There’s a real chemistry between the two teams, and I think it fits down to a very similar philosophy and mission between the two companies,” he said. “Once we started talking about what Exscientia was developing, how our technology had validated itself, then we could see a real synergy between what Exscientia wants to achieve with what EQRx’s mission is.”
The key to the collaboration is patient access, Hopkins said, and pricing is a key roadblock there. The companies take two separate approaches — EQRx on the commercial end and Exscientia in discovery — but combined, they think they can cut costs across the R&D chain and open pricey, cutting-edge therapies up for a broader, global patient pool than may normally have been able to afford them.
“For us, it’s the whole concept of increasing the access of innovative medicines to a wider range of patients,” he said.
Hopkins was mum on what milestones for this deal will look like and didn’t disclose any lead targets or molecules. It’s early days, he said, but Exscientia’s speedy discovery process could begin churning out drugs sooner than you think.