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In an era when biopharma research in drug R&D continues to be costly and slow, and artificial intelligence (AI)-based drug discovery platforms are rapidly growing, Paris-based pharmaceutical leader Sanofi announced its latest massive AI drug discovery deal, this time with startup Insilico Medicine, worth up to $1.2 billion. 

The research collaboration comes on the heels of several other high-value AI drug discovery partnership announcements from Sanofi, including with Atomwise in August; a partnership expansion with Exscientia last January; and an equity investment in Owkin a year ago. 

In June, Sanofi’s global head of research platforms, Matt Truppo, said that the goal of these AI collaborations is to reduce drug development timelines by “a few years,” which in turn brings down costs.

Sanofi deal is focused on end-to-end AI platform

According to an Insilico press release, pharmaceutical companies are moving in one of two directions: “Either they are cutting their AI software projects and firing departments, or, like Sanofi, they are doubling down on innovative technology – partnering with leading biotechs to develop new therapeutics using AI.”

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The announcement said that the Sanofi deal is a multiyear, multi-target strategic research collaboration that leverages Insilico Medicine’s AI platform, Pharma.AI, to advance drug development candidates for up to six new targets. 

Sanofi will pay Insilico Medicine a total of up to $21.5 million to benefit from Pharma.AI and access a team of interdisciplinary drug discovery scientists to identify, synthesize and advance high-quality lead therapeutic compounds up to development candidate stage. Additional payments could total more than $1.2 billion.

Sanofi says it is ‘committed’ to AI-enabled drug discovery

In a statement to VentureBeat, Dr. Frank Nestle, Sanofi global head of research and chief scientific officer, said that Sanofi is “committed to AI-enabled drug discovery.”

Insilico Medicine, he said, is one of the key leaders in the space. “By working closely together, we expect to achieve synergy and accelerate drug discovery to advance our emerging pipeline at the Sanofi Institute for Biomedical Research (SIBR) in China,” he said.

According to Alex Zhavoronkov, founder and CEO of Insilico, the collaboration’s main objective is to “get as many effective therapeutics as possible to patients worldwide as fast as possible.”

The Sanofi partnership, he said in an email to VentureBeat, “helps achieve this objective.”

AI capabilities can be used as a seamless workflow

The Hong Kong-based Insilico Medicine’s AI platforms use deep generative models, reinforcement learning, transformers and other modern machine learning techniques to “discover novel targets and to design novel molecular structures with desired properties.” According to the press release, its solutions have helped discover and develop innovative drugs for cancer, fibrosis, immunity, central nervous system (CNS) diseases and aging-related diseases.

The AI capabilities central to Insilico Medicine’s Pharma.AI platform are PandaOmics, a platform for target research; Chemistry42, a generative chemistry platform that allows for the generation of molecules with the desired properties; and Inclinico, which allows for prediction of the clinical trial outcomes.

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