Sanofi has tapped into the artificial intelligence expertise of Chinese biotech Insilico Medicine with a six-compound drug discovery collaboration that could be worth up to $1.2 billion.
The alliance is backloaded, with $21.5 million paid upfront and Insilico also in line for mid-single to up to low double-digit tiered royalties for any products developed, but is comfortably the Chinese company’s largest deal to date.
“This collaboration will leverage our complementary capabilities, as well as the co-location of our scientific teams, to boost the drug discovery efforts of the Sanofi Institute for Biomedical Research (SIBR), Sanofi’s R&D centre in China,” said Changchun Xiao, head of China research at Sanofi.
For Sanofi, the agreement marks a further embracing of AI in its drug discovery operations, which has previously seen the pharma strike a $270 million partnership deals with Owkin to find new cancer therapies, and a massive $5.2 billion alliance with Exscientia – including $100 million upfront and spanning 15 programmes – that could be worth up to $5.2 billion.
The deal with Owkin covers four types of cancer, while Exscientia is focusing on candidates in oncology, inflammatory diseases and other therapeutic categories. Meanwhile, another smaller partnership with Atomwise that included a $20 million upfront payment covers five drug targets.
Insilico is also working with Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical on an immuno-oncology target (QPCTL), pocketing $13 million in upfront fees earlier this year.
A recent report from GlobalData noted that AI is being used to enhance computer-aided drug design (CADD) in a bid to reduce the time and costs involved in getting new drugs to market, and predicted that pharma spending on AI drug discovery would hit $3 billion in 2025. Currently, the time needed for a drug to reach the market ranges from 12 to 18 years, with an average cost of about $2.6 billion.
Sanofi’s collaboration with Insilico will allow it to access the Chinese biotech’s Pharma.AI platform as well as “a team of interdisciplinary drug discovery scientists to identify, synthesise, and advance high-quality lead therapeutic compounds up to development candidate stage,” according to a press statement.
The Pharma.AI suite includes component platforms used to discover and prioritise novel drug targets, generate molecules that interact with them, and design clinical trials that have a better chance of success.
Insilico’s in-house drug development efforts are led by a drug against an as-yet undisclosed target in phase 1 clinical testing. Its lead indication is idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
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