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.”

The Price of Re­lief: Ex­plor­ing So­lu­tions to the Ris­ing Costs of On­col­o­gy Drugs

In 2020, The National Cancer Institute estimated about 1.8 million new cases of cancer diagnosed in the United States, while the costs associated with treatment therapies continued to escalate. Given the current legislative climate on drug pricing, it’s never been more important to look at the evolution of drug pricing globally and control concerns of sustainable and affordable treatments in oncology.

Lat­est news on Pfiz­er's $3B+ JAK1 win; Pacts over M&A at #JPM22; 2021 by the num­bers; Bio­gen's Aduhelm reck­on­ing; The sto­ry of sotro­vimab; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

For those of you who attended #JPM22 in any shape or form, we hope you had a fruitful time. Regardless of how you spent the past hectic week, may your weekend be just what you need it to be.

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A $3B+ peak sales win? Pfiz­er thinks so, as FDA of­fers a tardy green light to its JAK1 drug abroc­i­tinib

Back in the fall of 2020, newly crowned Pfizer chief Albert Bourla confidently put their JAK1 inhibitor abrocitinib at the top of the list of blockbuster drugs in the late-stage pipeline with a $3 billion-plus peak sales estimate.

Since then it’s been subjected to serious criticism for the safety warnings associated with the class, held back by a cautious FDA and questioned when researchers rolled out a top-line boast that their heavyweight contender had beaten the champ in the field of atopic dermatitis — Dupixent — in a head-to-head study.

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Robert Califf, FDA commissioner nominee (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Rob Califf ad­vances as Biden's FDA nom­i­nee, with a close com­mit­tee vote

Rob Califf’s second confirmation process as FDA commissioner is already much more difficult than his near unanimous confirmation under the Obama administration.

The Senate Health Committee on Thursday voted 13-8 in favor of advancing Califf’s nomination to a full Senate vote. Several Democrats voted against Califf, including Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Maggie Hassan. Several other Democrats who aren’t on the committee, like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, also said Thursday that they would not vote for Califf. Markey, Hassan and Manchin all previously expressed reservations about the prospect of Janet Woodcock as an FDA commissioner nominee too.

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Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (World Economic Forum/Ciaran McCrickard)

Bio­gen vows to fight CM­S' draft cov­er­age de­ci­sion for Aduhelm be­fore April fi­nal­iza­tion

Biogen executives made clear in an investor call Thursday they are not preparing to run a new CMS-approved clinical trial for their controversial Alzheimer’s drug anytime soon.

As requested in a draft national coverage decision from CMS earlier this week, Biogen and other anti-amyloid drugs will need to show “a meaningful improvement in health outcomes” for Alzheimer’s patients in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial to get paid for their drugs, rather than just the reduction in amyloid plaques that won Aduhelm its accelerated approval in June.

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CRO own­er pleads guilty to ob­struct­ing FDA in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to fal­si­fied clin­i­cal tri­al da­ta

The co-owner of a Florida-based clinical research site pleaded guilty to lying to an FDA investigator during a 2017 inspection, revealing that she falsely portrayed part of a GlaxoSmithKline pediatric asthma study as legitimate, when in fact she knew that certain data had been falsified, the Department of Justice said Wednesday.

Three other employees — Yvelice Villaman Bencosme, Lisett Raventos and Maytee Lledo — previously pleaded guilty and were sentenced in connection with falsifying data associated with the trial at the CRO Unlimited Medical Research.

Susan Galbraith, AstraZeneca EVP, Oncology R&D

Can­cer pow­er­house As­traZeneca rolls the dice on a $75M cash bet on a buzzy up­start in the on­col­o­gy field

After establishing itself in the front ranks of cancer drug developers and marketers, AstraZeneca is putting its scientific shoulder — and a significant amount of cash — behind the wheel of a brash new upstart in the biotech world.

The pharma giant trumpeted news this morning that it is handing over $75 million upfront to ally itself with Scorpion Therapeutics, one of those biotechs that was newly birthed by some top scientific, venture and executive talent and bequeathed with a fortune by way of a bankroll to advance an only hazily explained drug platform. And they are still very much in the discovery and preclinical phase.

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‘Skin­ny la­bels’ on gener­ics can save pa­tients mon­ey, re­search shows, but re­cent court de­ci­sions cloud fu­ture

New research shows how generic drug companies can successfully market a limited number of approved indications for a brand name drug, prior to coming to market for all of the indications. But several recent court decisions have created a layer of uncertainty around these so-called “skinny” labels.

While courts have generally allowed generic manufacturers to use their statutorily permitted skinny-label approvals, last summer, a federal circuit court found that Teva Pharmaceuticals was liable for inducing prescribers and patients to infringe GlaxoSmithKline’s patents through advertising and marketing practices that suggested Teva’s generic, with its skinny label, could be employed for the patented uses.

A patient in Alaska receiving an antibody infusion to prevent Covid hospitalizations in September. All but one of these treatments has been rendered useless by Omicron (Rick Bowmer/AP Images)

How a tiny Swiss lab and two old blood sam­ples cre­at­ed one of the on­ly ef­fec­tive drugs against Omi­cron (and why we have so lit­tle of it)

Exactly a decade before a novel coronavirus broke out in Wuhan, Davide Corti — a newly-minted immunologist with frameless glasses and a quick laugh — walked into a cramped lab on the top floor of an office building two hours outside Zurich. He had only enough money for two technicians and the ceiling was so low in parts that short stature was a job requirement, but Corti believed it’d be enough to test an idea he thought could change medicine.

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