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Oxford biotech Exscientia enters £70M collaboration with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Exscientia

Exscientia is a pharmatech company that uses an end-to-end AI platform to design and discover new drugs.

In the latest development, the Oxford-based company has announced a four-year collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop small molecule therapeutics that tackle the current Coronavirus pandemic and help prepare for future pandemics. 

What’s the collaboration about?

The company will initially focus on developing broad-spectrum Coronavirus agents (e.g., SARS-CoV-2 and its variants, MERS), including accelerating Exscientia’s lead program, which targets the main protease (Mpro) of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. 

Over time, the collaboration will expand to develop therapeutics for influenza and Paramyxoviridae (e.g., Nipah), with the potential to develop additional programs as identified by the joint team. 

Investments

As a part of the agreement, the UK company will receive a $35 million equity investment from the SIF ( Strategic Investment Fund) with the potential for additional grant funding to help advance development candidates through commercialisation. 

Further, the Gates Foundation will also contribute its extensive expertise in funding the design, development, and distribution of antiviral drugs. 

Exscientia will lead the initial antiviral projects and apply its platform technology to research, discover, and develop up to five Phase 1-ready small molecule therapeutics for future pandemic preparedness. 

Notably, Exscientia will provide $35 million in matching contributions, through operations and funding for third-party activities. 

In July, Exscientia received a grant from the Gates Foundation to expedite the optimization of a new class of COVID-19 therapeutics created using its AI drug design platform, focused on a novel class of inhibitors targeting the SARS-CoV-2’s main protease enzyme, Mpro, the causative agent of COVID-19. This work will continue under the collaboration announced today. 

AI-driven pharmatech 

Exscientia is the first company to progress AI-designed small molecules into the clinical setting and repeatedly demonstrate the ability of AI to transform how drug candidates are created. 

The UK company’s AI platform has now designed three drugs that are in Phase 1 human clinical trials.

The company has built dedicated AI systems that efficiently learn from the widest range of data and consistently reapply enhanced knowledge through iterations of the design. The company has offices in Oxford, Vienna, Dundee, Miami, and Osaka.

“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic underscores the urgency to develop safe and effective broad-spectrum drugs to expand our armoury against viruses and their variants. We need to fight today’s pandemic but also ensure we are prepared with new drugs to combat viruses with future pandemic potential. We are honoured to work alongside the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to advance this mission by ensuring accessibility and affordability of these therapeutics globally,” commented Andrew Hopkins, Chief Executive Officer of Exscientia. “We believe that our AI-driven platform can accelerate the creation of better, more effective therapeutics that can address some of the world’s most critical and emerging health risks.”

“Small molecule therapeutics could provide a superior approach to guard global health,” said Denise Barrault, Director of Portfolio Management at Exscientia. “Certain targets are prevalent across families of viruses, meaning that potent therapeutics could be broadly effective across multiple virus families. Further, this collaboration will focus on evaluating protein targets that are evolutionarily conserved and are less likely to develop resistance.”