AI pharmatech firm Exscientia has agreed a deal with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop small molecule therapeutics that tackle COVID-19 and help prepare for future pandemics.
The collaboration will initially focus on developing broad-spectrum coronavirus agents, including by accelerating Exscientia’s work in targeting the main protease (Mpro) of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19.
It will later expand to develop therapeutics for influenza and Paramyxoviridae, with the potential to develop additional programmes as identified by the joint team.
Exscientia’s AI-driven platform enables concepts to be quickly translated into precision-designed therapeutic candidates, with th goal of increasing probability of success and an accelerated path to the patient.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a non-profit focused on fighting global poverty, disease, and inequity. The two parties have signed a four-year collaboration.
Exscentia CEO Andrew Hopkins 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.”
Denise Barrault, director of portfolio management at Exscientia, added: “Small molecule therapeutics could provide a superior approach to guard global health.
“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 programme-related investment in Exscientia was made through its Strategic Investment Fund (SIF).
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 programmes.
Exscientia will receive a US$35m equity investment from the SIF, with the potential for additional grant funding to help advance development candidates through commercialisation.
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 US$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 antiviral products affordable and accessible to people in developing countries.
In July, Exscientia received a grant from the Gates Foundation to expedite the optimisation 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 US$4.2 million grant to Exscientia to identify new innovative treatments for malaria and tuberculosis.