Fueled with a fresh half-billion dollars as AI investments boom, Exscientia is hitting the gas on drug development
Can AI revolutionize the way new drugs are found and developed? For Exscientia, that’s now the half-billion-dollar question.
It hasn’t been two months since Exscientia expanded its Series C round, but the decade-old machine learning outfit is already back at the venture well, this time pulling in up to $525 million for its AI platform and pipeline.
The raise includes a $252 Series D round, plus a $300 million equity investment by SoftBank that can be drawn at the company’s discretion. The SoftBank Vision Fund 2 led the Series D, with a hand from Novo Holdings, BlackRock, Mubadala Investment, Farallon Capital, Casdin Capital, GT Healthcare Capital, Marshall Wace, Pivotal bioVenture Partners, Laurion Capital, Hongkou and Bristol-Myers Squibb.
University of Dundee chemist Andrew Hopkins founded Exscientia back in 2012 to build a computational platform that could help more traditional drugmakers find new therapies faster. The team has since developed a platform it believes can be used to “precision engineer” new medicines, using AI for processes like target identification, drug design and patient selection.
“Drug design is precision engineering at the molecular scale,” the company said in a statement. Its platform learns from a wide range of data, using algorithms to identify hypotheses, generate molecular designs, and select which molecules to synthesize and test.
“Our AI platform has allowed us to achieve these results several years faster than industry standards,” CEO Andrew Hopkins told Endpoints News in an email.
So far, the company has put forth seven drug candidates at an average speed of 12 months each, versus the industry standard of three to seven years, he said.
After racking up partnerships with biotechs and Big Pharma, Exscientia landed its first large financing round last May, raising $60 million in a C round led by Novo Holdings. Then early last month, an investment from BlackRock pushed the round to $100 million.
Now, with two Evotec and Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma-partnered candidates in the clinic, Exscientia plans on scaling its operations and developing an internal pipeline of oncology, immuno-oncology and immunology drugs.
“Our patient-first AI platform has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to precision design drugs that address patients’ needs and we intend to continue expanding our technology platform toward full end-to-end autonomous drug design,” Hopkins said.
Exscientia claims its OCD candidate developed with DSP was the first AI-developed drug to enter the clinic, though the claim has been made by other biotechs.
Investors continue to open their wallets for AI companies taking on the challenge of developing better drugs faster. Recursion nabbed a $239 million mega-round and a $1 billion Bayer partnership back in September — followed by a $436 million IPO. Earlier, Atomwise, which got its start at Y Combinator and was criticized for overhyping its services, more than tripled its total fundraising with a $123 million Series B. Daphne Koller’s insitro raised a $400 million Series C round just last month. And others, like Genesis Therapeutics and Reverie Labs, keep cropping up.
In January, AstraZeneca added the first target generated by AI to its portfolio, as the result of a partnership with BenevolentAI that traces back to 2019. BenevolentAI was the company that identified Eli Lilly’s JAK inhibitor baricitinib as a potential treatment for Covid-19, which has since landed emergency use authorization from the FDA.
“We believe Exscientia’s innovative use of AI to discover and design better quality drugs with greater efficiency has the potential to create important medicines faster than ever before,” Eric Chen, managing partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, said in a statement.
When asked if an IPO is on the horizon, Hopkins responded: “The company does not comment on potential future financings, but we would be happy to reach out on updates when they occur.”