Sanofi strikes $20m AI drug discovery deal with Atomwise

By Nick Taylor

- Last updated on GMT

(ThinkNeo/iStock via Getty Images Plus)
(ThinkNeo/iStock via Getty Images Plus)

Related tags Sanofi Artificial intelligence AI Drug discovery Drug development

The pharma company’s collaboration with the drug discovery specialist involves using artificial intelligence to discover and develop up to five drug targets.

Sanofi has struck a deal to work with Atomwise on the computational discovery and research of up to five drug targets, paying $20m USD upfront and committing to up to $1b USD in milestones.

Atomwise is one of a clutch of companies working to improve drug discovery using artificial intelligence. Specifically, the startup is deploying its AtomNet platform to move small molecule discovery away from serendipity and toward a potentially more efficient and effective algorithmic search based on the structure process.

While multiple companies are now operating in the AI-enabled drug discovery space, Atomwise thinks its platform is differentiated, as CEO and co-founder Abe Heifets explained.

Abe Heifets, CEO and cofounder, Atomwise

The Atomwise global machine learning models can identify bioactive molecules for proteins without known ligands and proteins without high-quality x-ray structures. Atomwise models can also identify novel molecular scaffolds for targets with known ligands​,” said Heifets. “In contrast, most AI approaches need per-protein and per-scaffold training data and identify minor variations of these known molecules.  We extrapolate because we use global machine learning models rather than local models​.”

Sanofi is paying Atomwise $20m upfront to identify, synthesize and advance lead compounds for up to five targets. Sanofi (which will have exclusive rights to the compounds) will then pay milestones tied to R&D and sales events, as well as tiered royalties.

The French drug developer has identified the platform as a good fit for its plans to use AI to bring higher quality medicines to patients faster, including in situations when very limited information is available to support drug design.

We can go after targets that other companies have deemed impossible because there are no known bioactive molecules or no known protein structure. We have extensively validated our discovery engine, having demonstrated the ability to find compounds with therapeutic potential for biological targets in 90% of internal programs and more than 70% of our 270 academic collaborations, including across a wide variety of protein types and multiple ‘hard to drug’ targets​,” said Heifets.

The Atomwise deal comes months after Sanofi expanded its relationship with Exscientia, another AI-enabled drug discovery startup. Sanofi paid $100m upfront and committed up to $5.2b to work with the company on up to 15 small molecules.  

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