Exscientia, the AI-driven Oxford based pharmatech company which is aiming to radically improve how drugs are discovered has announced a four-year collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a non-profit focused on fighting global poverty, disease, and inequity.
The collaboration will aim to develop small molecule therapeutics that tackle the current Coronavirus pandemic and help prepare for future pandemics. The collaboration 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. Subsequently, 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.
Exscientia’s AI-driven platform enables scientific concepts to be rapidly translated into precision-designed therapeutic candidates, with a goal of increasing probability of success and an accelerated path to the patient.
Andrew Hopkins, Chief Executive Officer of Exscientia, said: “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.
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.”
The Gates Foundation’s program-related investment in Exscientia was made through its Strategic Investment Fund (SIF), a team that uses a suite of financial tools to address market failures and incentivise private enterprise to develop affordable and accessible products and services for low-income populations. SIF investments are intended to further the Gates Foundation’s programmatic goals, not to generate financial returns. If any profit is generated by an investment, it will be used solely for charitable purposes through Gates Foundation philanthropic programs.
Under the terms of the agreement, Exscientia will receive a $35 million equity investment from the SIF, with the potential for additional grant funding to help advance development candidates through commercialisation. The Gates Foundation’s program-related investment is subject to certain closing conditions being satisfied. As a global leader in pandemic preparedness, 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. Exscientia will provide $35 million in matching contributions, through operations and funding for third party activities. Exscientia maintains worldwide rights to all developed products with a commitment to make the anti-viral products affordable and accessible to people in developing countries.
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. Additionally, in 2020, the foundation awarded a $4.2 million grant to Exscientia to identify new innovative treatments for malaria and tuberculosis – two of the world’s leading infectious disease killers – as well as new medicines for non-hormonal contraception.