Sanofi and Exscientia signed a potentially €250 million (approximately $273 million) collaboration and license option deal to discover bispecific small-molecule drugs against metabolic diseases. Scotland-based Exscientia will use its artificial intelligence (AI)-driven platform and automated design capabilities to identify combinations of synergistic drug targets, and then apply its lead-finding platform to identify bispecific small molecules against those targets.

Exscientia will be responsible for all compound design, with Sanofi providing chemistry synthesis. Sanofi retains an option to license resulting compounds and will shoulder future preclinical and clinical development. Exscientia will receive research funding to identify target pairs and for identifying prioritized drug candidates, and is eligible for future nonclinical, clinical, and sales-related milestones.

Andrew Hopkins, FRSE FRSC, Exscientia CEO, commented, “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.”

Exscientia’s drug discovery engine is founded on an AI platform that the firm claims can learn best practice from huge repositories of existing drug discovery data. The platform allows the design and evaluation of novel compounds for predicted criteria, including potency, selectivity, and ADME, against specified targets.

The firm is leveraging the platform through partnerships with industry to discover both small molecules against single targets and bispecific small-molecule candidates against tractable target combinations.  Exscientia has an ongoing collaboration with Evotec in the field of immuno-oncology, initiated in April 2016. Last month at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting, the firms presented details of a selective adenosine 2A receptor antagonist, and a bispecific small molecule targeting A2AR and CD73.

Exscientia also has an ongoing collaboration with Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma focused on psychiatric diseases. During September 2015 the firm reached its first milestone in the collaboration, with the delivery to Sumitomo of a bispecific, dual-agonist compound targeting two G protein–coupled receptors from different families. Exscientia is, in addition, working with Sunovion Pharmaceuticals in the field of central nervous system disorders.

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