Under the terms of the four-year deal, Alexion will gain access to Verge’s artificial intelligence (AI)-guided drug discovery technology Converge, which trawls human tissue data for potential drug targets. The big pharma company will then have the option to licence and commercialise the most promising drug targets for each undisclosed indication.
In return, Verge can expect $42 million upfront and in equity and near-term payments. AstraZeneca will also take an equity position in the startup. When considering potential milestone payments, the deal could be worth up to $840 million.
Verge’s technology is designed to make it cheaper and faster to develop new treatments by unpicking the vast biological complexity underpinning disease. Unlike many companies using AI and machine learning in drug discovery, Verge focuses its platform on genomic data from human brain tissue rather than cell and animal models, which it sees as poor predictors of whether a drug will work in patients.
“Our collaboration with Alexion is a tremendous opportunity to leverage the combined power of Converge’s technology-enabled approach to drug discovery with Alexion’s expertise in developing and commercializing rare disease treatments,” said Jane Rhodes, Verge chief business officer, in a public statement.
“We believe that our work with Alexion will build on our achievements in CNS drug discovery and is indicative of the sustained interest from pharma in the potential of AI to transform drug discovery and development.”
Verge’s lead program is a treatment for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) that entered phase 1 testing in June 2023. According to the company website, this process took place under four years. In contrast, the traditional process can take up to seven years.
In addition to AstraZeneca, Verge is running a big pharma collaboration with Eli Lilly and Company to co-develop novel therapies. And the firm raised $98 million in a Series B round in late 2021, with participation from BlackRock, Eli Lilly, Merck Global Health Innovation Fund and more.
There are many companies deploying AI to streamline the drug development process, with Exscientia and BenevolentAI being classic examples. Others include Readout AI, which is using AI algorithms to speed up data analysis in clinical trials, and Intellomx, which recently teamed up with Janssen to discover new drug targets in blood cancer.