Atomwise and Jiangsu Hansoh Pharmaceutical Group—the Chinese company behind this year’s largest biopharma initial public offering (IPO)—said today they have launched an up-to-$1.5 billion collaboration to design and discover potential drug candidates for up to 11 undisclosed target proteins in cancer and “multiple” other therapeutic areas.

The collaboration is intended to combine Atomwise’s AI technology, medicinal chemistry, and protein structure expertise with Hansoh Pharma’s fully integrated R&D, manufacturing, and commercial capabilities, with the aim of accelerating and improving drug discovery and clinical development, Atomwise said.

Atomwise uses AI for its structure-based, drug design technology, which is based on convolutional neural networks along the lines of those that recognize faces in a crowd or enable self-driving cars. Atomwise’s AI technology is designed to enable scientists to predict how well a small molecule will bind to a target protein of interest, as well as remove sole reliance on empirical screening. The company says its AtomNet platform is designed to screen billions of compounds, and has demonstrated success using homology-modeled proteins.

“We have been very impressed by Atomwise’s AI platform, capabilities, and team, and by working together we believe there are exceptional opportunities to develop first-in-class and best-in-class therapies,” Hansoh Pharma president Aifeng Lyu, PhD, said in a statement. “Atomwise is the right partner for Hansoh Pharma to innovate using AI technology and generate a diverse pipeline of small molecules for oncology and other therapeutic areas.”

Oncology is one of six therapeutic areas of focus for Hansoh Pharma; the other five are CNS, anti-infectives, diabetes, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular. Founded in 1995, Hansoh Pharma is based in Jiangsu with two R&D centers in Lianyungang and Shanghai, and an R&D staff of more than 1,200 employees.

On June 14, Hansoh launched the year’s largest biopharma IPO to date when it sold 551.28 million shares at HK$14.26 ($1.82). The IPO generated HK$7.86 billion (approximately $1 billion) in net proceeds, topping GEN’s A-List of the Top 10 Biopharma IPOs of January-June 2019.

Hansoh Pharma has committed to launching nearly 30 drug candidates by 2020, according to its website, of which 15 would have what the company considers “high growth potential.” The 15 include four “Category 1.1” innovative drugs with new molecular entities, and eight potential first-to-market generic drugs.

“Enormous potential”

“Hansoh Pharma is committed to innovation and shares our mission for global impact on patient health,” Atomwise CEO Abraham Heifets, PhD, stated. “There is exciting science happening throughout Asia, and enormous potential for leadership in innovative drug discovery.”

Hansoh agreed to pay Atomwise an undisclosed sum toward technology access fees, option exercise fees, royalties, and income based on sublicensing or sale of assets created under the collaboration. Atomwise estimated that the total value of the partnership could reach $1.5 billion, a projection the company said was based on historical average revenues for small molecule drugs.

Hansoh Pharma is Atomwise’s first collaboration partner based in Asia, but not its first biopharma partner. In June, Atomwise agreed to apply its technology toward developing up to 10 drug targets selected by Eli Lilly through an up-to-$560 million partnership.

Atomwise could generate more than $2.4 billion in royalties through a strategic alliance with Charles River Laboratories signed in January. Charles River has agreed to use Atomwise’s technology in preclinical research, in return for paying Atomwise a technology access fee for each project; payments tied to milestones in hit discovery, hit-to-lead, and lead optimization; plus royalties from clients.

In September 2018, Pfizer agreed to use Atomwise’s platform to identify potential drug candidates for up to three target proteins selected by Pfizer, in return for paying Atomwise a technology access fee and additional milestone payments for each target protein of interest; the amounts were not disclosed. AbbVie and Merck & Co. have also signed collaboration deals with Atomwise.

Atomwise said it now supports discovery projects in more than 100 universities and hospitals in 19 countries.

Established in 2012, Atomwise has raised over $50 million from venture capital firms to support the development and application of its AI technology. Most of that consists of a $45 million Series A financing completed in March 2018, led by Monsanto Growth Ventures, DCVC (Data Collective), and B Capital Group.

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