AI drug R&D company Exscientia signs deal with Celgene

UK artificial intelligence (AI) drug discovery company Exscientia has agreed a three year drug discovery deal with Celgene, focusing on finding new cancer and autoimmune drugs.

Celgene will pay $25 million up front, with Oxford-based Exscientia eligible for milestone and royalty payments based on the success of the new medicines and future sales, in what is billed as one of the largest AI drug discovery deals in the industry.

The collaboration will use AI to accelerate discovery of small molecule drug candidates for three projects in oncology and autoimmunity.

On average it takes around 13 years from the idea of a drug to its availability on the market, but the companies hope that Exscientia’s AI and drug discovery expertise will reduce the pre-clinical trial stage from five years to one year, hugely accelerating the process.

Celgene is gearing up for a mega-merger with Bristol-Myers Squibb in a $74 billion deal set to be voted on by shareholders next month.

But the deal is threatened by unrest among certain investors who are concerned about Celgene’s huge patent cliff as the blockbuster drug loses exclusivity in the coming years.

The rebel investors led by Starboard Value have cited concerns about Celgene’s pipeline in a letter to shareholders criticising the merger – and like every other drug company finding new medicines as quickly and efficiently as possible is hugely important the US pharma.

Exscientia is already working with Roche, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi and Evotec, and could receive more than $1 billion in milestones payments and royalties from these projects.

The company is also growing its proprietary pipeline to create its own portfolio of investigational drugs.

At the start of this year, Exscientia secured a $26 million Series B investment to expand its capabilities, develop its platform and build its proprietary drug pipeline.

In 2017, Exscientia signed a similar deal with GSK, to develop new drug candidates for up to 10 disease areas, based on targets nominated by GSK across several therapeutic areas.

This followed an even larger drug development deal signed with Sanofi, worth up to 250 million euros.

Professor Andrew Hopkins, CEO of Exscientia, commented: “We’re incredibly proud to collaborate with Celgene and to sign another partnership with a key industry player, reinforcing our place at the forefront of AI drug discovery.

“Today, patients can wait more than ten years from initial drug discovery to its availability as a treatment. With autoimmune diseases and cancer rates increasing, the pharmaceutical industry’s R&D productivity needs to dramatically improve – and technology is a key part of this.”

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