A meeting of the minds
Insilico and WuXi AppTec use AI in drug discovery
SHANGHAI & BALTIMORE—Insilico Medicine, a company using artificial intelligence (AI) in their drug discovery efforts, has completed a strategic round of funding spearheaded by WuXi AppTec. The funding is intended to further Insilico’s capacity to apply deep learning for target identification, drug discovery and aging research. The collaboration will serve to integrate the AI technology at Insilico with the laboratory infrastructure and expertise presented by WuXi AppTec.
The initial round of funding was aimed at forming a strategic collaboration between the two companies, which validated a part of Insilico’s generative pipeline—performing several experiments that would irrefutably demonstrate the performance of the generative adversarial networks and reinforcement learning in generating novel molecular entities for the difficult orphan molecular targets. The first phase of the investment required successful experimental validation of Insilico’s generative adversarial networks, or GANS, and reinforcement learning-based discovery.
WuXi AppTec is the largest global provider of R&D services, and one of its core strengths is its chemistry capacity, allowing collaboration on chemical synthesis and experimental validation of the molecules generated by Insilico AI from scratch. The companies complemented each other’s capacity, with Insilico doing the work in the digital space while WuXi provided the solid experimental base.
“Insilico has a very strong AI team, but it does not have a group of seasoned drug development or business development professionals in-house,” according to Lennart Lee, a principal venture capital investor at WuXi AppTec. “Alex Zhavoronkov is currently building out the [Insilico] team, and he will need to build the right team of people around him.”
WuXi AppTec’s investment came from its Corporate Venture Fund and was bolstered by several additional financing partners including Pavilion Capital, BOLD Capital Partners and Juvenescence. The joint project represents a significant win for both companies.
“We will significantly accelerate both the AI development and the biology and chemistry efforts and expand the teams at Insilico,” says Dr. Alex Zhavoronkov, founder and CEO of Insilico Medicine. “We will also collaborate with the WuXi’s leading scientists very closely. Currently we are also planning to open a company in China ... because an AI company without a substantial R&D presence in China will not be able to lead in the long-term.”
The companies anticipate another round of funding coming forth in the third quarter of 2018, pending the establishment of some new goals and a successful outcome in the preclinical validation exercises.
“WuXi AppTec hopes to use Insilico’s AI technology to predict pharmacological properties of drugs and supplements and identify novel biomarkers. We hope the technology would allow our researchers to generate novel therapeutic candidates, with a focus on aging and age-related diseases,” asserts Lee. “We are hopeful that our partnership will accelerate our drug discovery process.”
“Our team is very dedicated, and if something happens along the way and we fail with one of the experiments, there are always many others in parallel. And our AI pipelines are constantly improving,” says Zhavoronkov. “In the case that we fail in one experiment, we will be able to rapidly re-engineer our AI and do better.”
Adding to the current excitement and promise at Insilico, they have also just been named as a recipient of the North American Technology Innovation Award from Frost & Sullivan, for a product with innovative features and functionality that is gaining rapid market acceptance.
“Technology leadership in artificial intelligence for drug discovery and biomarker development, academic excellence, extensive collaborations with pharmaceutical and consumer companies, novel methods of attracting top talent and increasing global reach have allowed Insilico Medicine to build a credible and sustainable business model in the nascent longevity biotechnology industry,” noted Neelotpal Goswami, senior industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan. “In recognition of its pioneering research and ability to introduce novel products and solutions for age management, Frost & Sullivan is pleased to present it with the 2018 Technology Innovation Award.”