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.”

How Pa­tients with Epilep­sy Ben­e­fit from Re­al-World Da­ta

Amanda Shields, Principal Data Scientist, Scientific Data Steward

Keith Wenzel, Senior Business Operations Director

Andy Wilson, Scientific Lead

Real-world data (RWD) has the potential to transform the drug development industry’s efforts to predict and treat seizures for patients with epilepsy. Anticipating or controlling an impending seizure can significantly increase quality of life for patients with epilepsy. However, because RWD is secondary data originally collected for other purposes, the challenge is selecting, harmonizing, and analyzing the data from multiple sources in a way that helps support patients.

Jason Kelly, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO (Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Gink­go Bioworks re­sizes the de­f­i­n­i­tion of go­ing big in biotech, rais­ing $2.5B in a record SPAC deal that weighs in with a whop­ping $15B-plus val­u­a­tion

Ginkgo Bioworks execs always thought big. But today should redefine just how big an upstart biotech player can dream.

In the largest SPAC deal to clear the hurdles to Nasdaq, the biotech that envisioned everything from remaking synthetic meat to a whole new approach to developing drugs has joined forces with one of the biggest disruptors in biotech to slam the Richter scale on dealmaking.

Soon after becoming the darling of the VC crew and clearing the bar on a $4 billion valuation, Ginkgo — a synthetic biotech player out to reprogram cells with industrial efficiency — has now struck a deal to go public in the latest leviathan SPAC that sets its pre-money valuation at $15 billion. In one swift vault, Ginkgo will combine with Harry Sloan’s Soaring Eagle Acquisition Corp. and leap into the public markets.

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FDA un­veils six ICH guide­lines ahead of meet­ing with Health Cana­da

A sign that the FDA’s non-Covid-related processes are beginning to normalize: The release of six guidelines from the International Council of Harmonisation.

Years in development, the ICH documents offer an international perspective on drug development, with these latest guidelines covering everything from recommendations to support the classification of drug substances, featured in the M9 guidance, to standards for nonclinical safety studies for pediatric medicines in the S11 guideline.

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Sanofi, Glax­o­SmithK­line, Boehringer ac­cused of play­ing games, de­stroy­ing emails re­lat­ed to law­suit over con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed Zan­tac

A recent court filing raises new questions about how major pharma companies like Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, and Boehringer Ingelheim have dealt with a lawsuit related to recalls of certain over-the-counter heartburn drugs due to the presence of a potentially cancer-causing substance found in them.

More than 70,000 people who took Sanofi’s Zantac and other heartburn drugs containing ranitidine, which have been recalled over the past two years, have sued the manufacturers, including generic drugmakers, and other retailers and distributors as part of a consolidated suit before US District Court Judge Robin Rosenberg in Florida.

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Chris Garabedian (Xontogeny)

Per­cep­tive Ad­vi­sors, Xon­toge­ny bring the band back and then some with a $515M sec­ond fund sniff­ing out lead com­pounds

When Perceptive Advisors and startup accelerator Xontogeny initially teamed up on an early-stage VC round in 2019, the partners hoped to prove their investments could be a force multiplier for early-stage companies. Now, with that proof of concept behind them, the pair have closed a second VC round worth more than double the money.

Dubbed PXV Fund II and headed by Xontogeny CEO and former Sarepta head Chris Garabedian, the $515 million fund will target 10 to 12 early-stage preclinical companies with Series A rounds in the $20 million to $40 million range with opportunities for Series B follow-ups. The oversubscribed fund is bringing the band back with initial investors from PXVI as well as new investors that include “top-tier” asset managers, endowments, foundations, family offices, and individual investors.

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Stephen Squinto, Gennao Bio CEO (Gennao)

Alex­ion co-founder Stephen Squin­to is back in the game as CEO, this time for a small gene ther­a­py play­er

With his name already behind a rare disease success story in Alexion, Stephen Squinto was looking for a great story to drive him to jump back into the biotech game. He found that in a fledging non-viral gene therapy company, and now he’s got a few backers on board as well.

On Tuesday, Gennao Bio launched with a $40 million Series A co-led by OrbiMed and Logos Capital with participation by Surveyor Capital. The biotech, which is looking to use its cell-penetrating antibody platform to deliver nucleic acid “payloads” during into the nucleus, had to rush for its initial series — and had a name change along the way.

Alvotech takes Ab­b­Vie to court over al­leged patent 'mine­field' sur­round­ing megablock­buster Hu­mi­ra

AbbVie has so far been successful in shooing away competition to its megablockbuster Humira, deploying a number of patents and settlements to keep biosimilars off the US market until 2023. But one Icelandic drugmaker doesn’t want to wait — and on Tuesday, it filed a lawsuit challenging what it called a patent “minefield.”

Alvotech has accused AbbVie of trying to “overwhelm” and “intimidate” it with “an outrageous number of patents of dubious validity,” according to court documents. The company is currently seeking approval for its Humira copycat AVT02, which AbbVie says would infringe upon 62 patents.

UP­DAT­ED: Feds charge an­oth­er CRO staffer with fak­ing da­ta in a Glax­o­SmithK­line pe­di­atric asth­ma study

A Florida woman has been indicted as part of a clinical trial fraud scheme over a GlaxoSmithKline pediatric asthma study, the Justice Department announced Tuesday, the latest development in a case where three individuals have already pleaded guilty.

Jessica Palacio was charged with participating in a plot to falsify medical records, giving off the appearance that trial participants were making their scheduled visits to a Miami CRO and taking an experimental asthma medication as required. Palacio was also charged with lying to FDA investigators about her conduct.

Sanofi, Cel­lec­tis team up to pair Lem­tra­da with al­lo­gene­ic CAR-Ts; Bris­tol My­ers joins Evotec's dri­ve to ad­vance UK sci­ence

Sanofi is partnering up with Cellectis on their allogeneic CAR-Ts.

Cellectis struck a deal to use the French pharma’s drug alemtuzumab (Lemtrada, an MS agent) as part of its lymphodepletion regimen — used to sideline host immune cells and improve CAR-T cell expansion and persistence.

The Sanofi drug is already used in some clinical trials, and now the pharma giant is on the hook for clinical studies as they engage in negotiations over a commercial pact. — John Carroll