AI specialist Exscientia forms rare disease JV with RallyBio

UK artificial intelligence (AI) drug discovery company Exscientia has formed another R&D alliance, this time in the area of rare diseases with US biotech RallyBio.

The collaboration will set up a joint venture – called RE Ventures – that will use AI to accelerate discovery of small molecule drug candidates for undisclosed rare disease indications, according to the two partners. It will be equally owned by both parties. There’s no word on the finances behind the agreement.

The JV structure makes the deal something of a departure from Exscientia’s usual approach to partnering, which mainly involves applying its AI platform to develop drugs against other companies’ drug targets.

It’s a strategy that has already netted the UK firm big name clients including Celgene, GlaxoSmithKline, Roche, Sanofi and Evotec, and it could receive more than $1 billion in milestones payments and royalties from these projects.  The RallyBio deal however potentially gives it a larger stake in the partnered drug discovery projects.

“AI can fast track, simplify and lower the price of research and we are thrilled to be partnering with Rallybio to achieve this, said Andrew Hopkins, Exscientia’s chief executive.

“The future of drug discovery in rare diseases is to be able to address the need for precision engineered drugs at scale and our collaboration with Rallybio is the first step in this direction,” he added.

RallyBio was co-founded last year by Martin Mackay, Stephen Uden and Jeffrey Fryer, all formerly employed by another Connecticut-based rare disease company – Alexion – which developed blockbuster rare disease therapy Soliris.

The startup launched with $37 million in Series A cash and a remit to seek out new drugs across a broad range of rare diseases, and this is its first major play since being set up.

It is estimated that there are between 7,000 and 8,000 rare diseases, which affect 25 to 30 million Americans and 30 to 40 million people in the EU, and which in the main don’t have approved therapies.

At the start of this year, Exscientia – which spun out of the University of Dundee – raised $26m in a financing round to help it develop its platform and build a proprietary drug pipeline.

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