Molecule-in-21-days AI startup Insilico adds Boehringer to list of Big Pharma partners
Seven months after their headline-grabbing Nature Biotechnology study and in the throes of a Covid-19 research effort, Hong Kong-based AI startup Insilico Medicine has nabbed a new Big Pharma partner: Boehringer Ingelheim.
The deal is with Boehringer’s Research Beyond Borders, an initiative devoted to finding and partnering with new technologies, particularly in Asia. It will give the German drugmaker access to a pair of Insilico platforms: their generative AI software that discovers new drug candidates and their “Pandomics” platform that provides a host of biological data for any project. Financial terms were not disclosed.
In the three years since Insilico’s Series A, founder Alex Zhavoronkov has turned it into one of the more well-connected AI biotechs around. The company’s website lists “over 150 academic and industry collaborators.” Most of those have not been disclosed, but GlaxoSmithKline was one of the first, inking a drug discovery, biomarker development and aging research deal in 2017. This past October, they signed an up-to $200 million deal with China’s Jiangsu Chia Tai Fenghai Pharmaceutical Co. And in January, Pfizer joined with a deal similar to Boehringer’s.
In September, Insilico grabbed headlines with a Nature Biotechnology paper that showed how, in 21 days, their AI platform generated a new, lab-validated potential kinase inhibitor. The paper got translated into headlines that Insilico “used AI to design a drug in 21 days,” provoking the ire of some scientists, who pointed out the paper came far short of finding a new drug. Instead, it was a proof-of-concept that showed their platform could quickly generate thousands of molecules for a well-established drug target, one of which had some effects in lab testing.
In recent months, Insilico has directed much of its internal efforts to a Covid-19 drug discovery program. Zhavoronkov told Protocol in late March they had synthesized one molecule so far.
Insilico is one of many biotech startups that use AI algorithms to screen massive libraries or generate new molecules for established drug targets. Other startups – and there are now at least 200 – use AI to find new targets or new biomarkers, among a long list of other functions.