UK-based Exscientia has closed a Series C financing round of €54M ($60M) to develop its artificial intelligence (AI) technology to guide drug discovery.
The Danish investor Novo Holdings led the round with its first investment in the company. Additional funding also came from existing investors including drug development company Evotec and Chinese VC firm GT Healthcare Capital.
“With our new funding, we intend to explore opportunities where our AI techniques can uniquely bring new insights to the creation of new medicines,” Andrew Hopkins, CEO of Exscientia, told me. “We plan to bring projects where there is an unmet need to the clinic faster than before.”
This funding news follows one of the first-ever phase I entries of an AI-designed drug in January, developed by Exscientia and Japanese partner Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma. Using Exscientia’s technology, the drug’s preclinical development lasted less than 12 months – a fraction of the 4.5 year industry average.
Another big event for Exscientia was starting a partnership with the academic research institutes Diamond Light Source and the Scripps Institute in April. The aim of the partnership was to screen thousands of clinical-stage drug candidates with its proprietary AI platform for use against Covid-19.
The flexibility of Exscientia’s platform has also led to many corporate partnerships with a focus on rare disease and immuno-oncology both collaboratively and in house. One major partnership launched this year was a deal worth up to €240M with the German big pharma Bayer with the aim of discovering new candidates for treating cardiovascular disease and cancer. Another partnership launched with the US drug developer last year is focused on developing a treatment for an undisclosed rare metabolic disease.
“The opportunities the platform gives us are broad, hence such joint ventures enable us to scale the pipeline by combining our drug discovery platform with disease-focused drug developers,” said Hopkins.
This latest Series C will allow Exscientia to expand its portfolio and pipeline, as well as grow the company internationally. The key to this is developing its AI platform to incorporate knowledge from multiple scientific disciplines in the drug discovery process.
“We believe that AI has strengths across chemistry, biology and disease,” explained Hopkins. He added that the company is building up its technology with the aim of developing “innovations across all these three disciplines, to have all of the necessary skills from ideation to proof-of-concept in the creation of a new medicine.”
Lead investor Novo Holdings is an active investor in the European biopharma space with several different investment arms. Novo Growth was the arm that invested in Exscientia’s Series C and it has invested in expanding companies such as UK-based Oxford Biomedica, which specializes in developing lentiviral vectors for cell and gene therapy. Another arm of Novo Holdings called Novo Seeds, focusing on companies seeking seed funding, also invested in French antimicrobial company Mutabilis and Danish immune-oncology company STipe Therapeutics in the last quarter of 2019.
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