Sanofi signs $1.2bn research alliance with AI specialist Insilico

French pharma company Sanofi

Sanofi has tapped into the artificial intelligence expertise of Chinese biotech Insilico Medicine with a six-compound drug discovery collaboration that could be worth up to $1.2 billion. The alliance is backloaded, with $21.5 million paid upfront and Insilico also in line for mid-single to up to low double-digit tiered royalties for any products developed, but it is comfortably the Chinese company’s largest deal to date. “This collaboration will leverage our complementary capabilities, as well as the co-location of our scientific teams, to boost the drug discovery efforts of the Sanofi Institute for Biomedical Research (SIBR), Sanofi’s R&D centre in China,” said Changchun Xiao, head of China research at Sanofi. For Sanofi, the agreement marks a further embracing of AI in its drug discovery operations, which has previously seen the pharma company strike a $270 million partnership deal with Owkin to find new cancer therapies, and a massive alliance with Exscientia – including $100 million upfront and spanning 15 programmes – that could be worth up to $5.2 billion. The deal with Owkin covers four types of cancer, while Exscientia is focusing on candidates in oncology, inflammatory diseases, and other therapeutic categories. Meanwhile, another smaller partnership with Atomwise included a $20 million upfront payment and covers five drug targets. Insilico is also working with Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical on an immuno-oncology target (QPCTL), pocketing $13 million in upfront fees earlier this year. A recent report from GlobalData noted that AI is being used to enhance computer-aided drug design (CADD) in a bid to reduce the time and costs involved in getting new drugs to market, and predicted that pharma spending on AI drug discovery would hit $3 billion in 2025. Currently, the time needed for a drug to reach the market ranges from 12 to 18 years, with an average cost of about $2.6 billion. Sanofi’s collaboration with Insilico will allow it to access the Chinese biotech’s Pharma.AI platform, as well as “a team of interdisciplinary drug discovery scientists to identify, synthesise, and advance high-quality lead therapeutic compounds up to development candidate stage,” according to a press statement. The Pharma.AI suite includes component platforms used to discover and prioritise novel drug targets, generate molecules that interact with them, and design clinical trials that have a better chance of success. Insilico’s in-house drug development efforts are led by a drug against an as-yet undisclosed target in phase 1 clinical testing. Its lead indication is idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.