Exscientia and Sanofi get specific with €250M deal

Companies enter into collaboration aimed at developing bispecific small-molecule drugs

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DUNDEE, U.K.—Exscientia, an innovative company at the forefront of artificial intelligence (AI)-driven drug discovery, announced recently it has agreed on a strategic research collaboration and license option agreement with French pharma giant Sanofi in the high-interest area of metabolic disease.
Commenting on this relationship, Exscientia CEO Andrew Hopkins said, “We are delighted that Sanofi is engaging with Exscientia in a comprehensive, end-to-end drug discovery project. This agreement highlights Exscientia’s ability to apply bispecific drug design in a comprehensive and highly productive manner. Sanofi has put together an excellent experimental backbone for this collaboration and we look forward to delivering high-value projects for the company.”
Delivery of new therapies for metabolic disease is, as Exscientia notes, hampered by the fact diseases in this area tend not to have single targets that are easier to deal with in drug discovery. To address this challenge of attacking multiple targets, Exscientia plans to apply its proprietary platform to identify and validate combinations of drug targets that could work synergistically and be amenable to Exscientia’s bispecific-small-molecule design strategy. Many effective drugs act via modulation of multiple proteins rather than single targets, the company notes, adding that “advances in systems biology are revealing a phenotypic robustness and a network structure that strongly suggests bispecific compounds could deliver superior clinical efficacy.”
More than 1,000 disease-relevant target combinations will be “triaged” by Exscientia to start off with, and those with promising bispecific/binding potential will be prioritized.
“Target pairs fulfilling these initial tractability criteria will pass through to Exscientia’s lead-finding platform in order to generate bispecific small-molecule compounds that can further validate the biological hypothesis,” the company explained in a news release. “Bispecific small molecules passing all these quality gates may progress to full candidate delivery projects for Sanofi.”
Terms of the deal include payment for research funding to identify target pairs with the best combination of chemical compatibility and strong biological relevance, with stipulations for additional funding for prioritized candidate delivery opportunities. For compounds reaching agreed delivery criteria, a series of milestones covering both nonclinical and clinical areas may be payable by Sanofi. Finally, any licensed products reaching the market will qualify for recurrent sales milestones. The total amount potentially payable by Sanofi to Exscientia on achieving these milestones is €250 million.
As part of the agreement, Exscientia will be responsible for all compound design, while chemistry synthesis will be delivered by Sanofi. Further assays, preclinical experiments and subsequent trials for compounds progressing to the clinic will be managed by Sanofi, where the company exercises the license option.
Exscientia is developing candidate molecules through collaborations with leading biopharmaceutical companies, and current partners include Evotec (immuno-oncology), Sanofi (metabolic diseases), Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma and Sunovion Pharmaceuticals (central nervous system).
Exscientia also recently announced that Hopkins has been named Chemistry World Entrepreneur of the Year. Chief Technology Officer Jérémy Besnard also won the Rising Star in Industry award at the Chemistry Means Business 2017 Awards, hosted by the UK Royal Society of Chemistry in Manchester in June.
The Chemistry Means Business Awards are an annual flagship event for the industry, which brings together startups, small and medium-sized enterprises, multinational organizations and academic entrepreneurs from across the United Kingdom and Europe to celebrate the achievements of the industry’s most innovative key players. Award winners are chosen by a panel of senior scientists and industry executives and selected for their contribution to innovation and commercial success.
“Jérémy and I are thrilled to have been given these prestigious awards from the Royal Society of Chemistry,” Hopkins said. “This is great recognition of the world-class science we have developed at Exscientia and the exciting progress this science has enabled us to make in accelerating the drug discovery process in many disease areas. I am particularly pleased for Jérémy, a co-inventor of the original Exscientia technology; therefore, his award is richly deserved.”

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