GSK adds to COPD pipeline as Exscientia deal bears fruit

AI drug research firm Exscientia has delivered the first candidate molecule to its partner GlaxoSmithKline following an R&D tie-up signed in 2017.

Under the deal Exscientia will develop small molecule drugs for up to 10 disease targets nominated by GSK, and is worth up to £33 million if all these milestones are met.

The Oxford biotech gave no details about how much it got paid for submitting this first active lead molecule for development by GSK, but said it is a highly potent in vivo molecule targeting a novel pathway for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Developing new respiratory disease drugs is a priority for GSK, which is under pressure after generics of its ageing blockbuster COPD and asthma inhaler Advair have finally been launched in the US market.

Mylan in February launched its Advair generic at a 70% discount to Advair, and although GSK has a new generation of respiratory drugs on the market, none of them have gained as much traction as Advair.

The company saw sales peak at more than $8 billion in 2013 and still managed to bring in around $3 billion in 2018 despite competition from newly approved competitors.

The molecule delivered by Exscientia is light years away from the market, but demonstrates that GSK is focused on trying to get ahead of its competitors in this tough market by finding new ways to treat COPD.

The molecule was developed through the application of Exscientia’s Centaur Chemist AI-driven automated drug discovery platform.

Exscientia said the approach has delivered a lead molecule with fewer compounds synthesised in comparison to conventional industry benchmarks. The in vivo lead was identified de novo from 85 project compounds and was synthesised and tested within five iterative design and screening cycles.

The company uses AI algorithms that learn from a bank of biological and chemistry data resources to design novel molecules, when given exacting criteria by clients.

Exscientia last month signed a $25m cancer drug development deal with Celgene, and is also working with clients such as Roche, Sanofi, and Evotec.

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