'AI is the industry standard in drug discovery': Atomwise signs multi-year agreement with Eli Lilly

By Melissa Fassbender

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/monsitj)
(Image: Getty/monsitj)

Related tags Eli lilly and company Atomwise Artificial intelligence AI

Atomwise signs a multi-year agreement with Eli Lilly and Company through which it will apply its patented artificial intelligence technology to support Lilly’s preclinical drug discovery efforts.

As per its agreement with Eli Lilly, announced yesterday, the companies will collaborate on up to ten Lilly-selected drug targets.

Atomwise could receive up to $1m per target in discovery milestones and will be eligible for up to $550m in potential development and commercialization milestones inclusive of all targets, per the agreement. It also will have the option to develop compounds that Lilly chooses to not advance into clinical testing.

The company's artificial intelligence (AI) technology for structure-based small molecule drug discovery, AtomNet, is currently being used in 19 countries. The technology – based on convolutional neural networks –  is the same AI approach used in facial recognition and driverless cars, explained Dr. Abe Heifets, CEO of Atomwise. 

Heifets said the company is able to screen billions of compounds thousands of times faster than traditional high-throughput screening (HTS) approaches. The typical hit rate also is 10,000 times more accurate, he explained.

"We're especially excited to share this news because it strengthens our belief that AI is the industry standard in drug discovery. The adoption of AI had been waiting for the repeated delivery of real results," ​Heifets told us. 

"We've demonstrated success across a broad range of prospective discovery projects, with over 60% of our academic projects resulting in hits. We believe this is a driving factor in why companies such as Eli Lilly are choosing to partner with us on drug discovery projects."

Among its collaborations include an evaluation agreement with Pfizer announced in September 2018 and a strategic alliance with the contract research organization (CRO) Charles River formed earlier this year.

Based in San Francisco, CA, Atomwise has raised more than $50m from venture capital firms to support the development of its technology.

Investment in AI for drug discovery startups increased from $200m in 2015 to more than $700m in 2018 – and the number of companies in this space increased by 20, according to a report​ published by Deep Knowledge Analytics​, the analytical arm and subsidiary of Deep Knowledge Ventures.

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