With a presence in Hong Kong and New York, Insilico was founded in 2014 with a mission to invent and deploy artificial intelligence tech for pharma and biotech companies to streamline R&D and ‘transform the way therapeutics and materials are discovered’.
Its automated AI platform is targeted at precision medicine with the promise of ‘substantially’ cutting costs and development time. Its work focuses on key areas of cancer, fibrosis, immunity, central nervous system diseases and aging-related diseases.
The high-level tie-up is a clear sign that AI is viewed as a key tool for the future of drug discovery, according to analysts.
Identifying, synthesizing and advancing therapeutic compounds
Under the terms of the agreement, Sanofi will pay Insilico Medicine a total of up to $21.5m for upfront and target nomination fees to benefit from Insilico’s end-to-end Pharma.AI platform and gain access to a team of interdisciplinary drug discovery scientists to identify, synthesize, and advance high-quality lead therapeutic compounds up to development candidate stage.
Additional payments will follow if key research, development, and sales milestones are met: with the potential for these to reach up to $1bn.
The collaboration also includes mid-single to up to low double-digit tiered royalties for any products developed.
“We look forward to working with Insilico Medicine, a demonstrated leader in AI-powered drug discovery,” said Changchun Xiao, Head of China Research at Sanofi. “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 center in China.”
In August, Insilico closed a Series D2 financing round totaling $95m. Previously announced collaborations for the company have included those with Fosun Pharma, PAQ Therapeutics, Huadong Medicine and The University of Cambridge.
“Leveraging Sanofi’s strong drug research and development expertise and Insilico’s powerful AI platform, we believe we can accelerate novel therapeutics discovery to address diseases with unmet medical needs,” said Feng Ren, PhD, co-CEO and Chief Scientific Officer of Insilico Medicine. “Together we will use cutting-edge AI technologies to make significant breakthroughs in drug R&D.”
The 'disruptive power' of AI
In November 2021, Sanofi invested $180m equity in AI start-up Owkin to advance its oncology pipeline; followed by a $5.2bn deal with Exscience for oncology and immunology in January 2022; and a $20m deal (with potential for $1bn in milestone payments) with Atomwise in August.
A 2022 survey from industry analysts GlobalData showed that healthcare industry professionals believe that AI is the tech expected to have the most disruptive power in the next two years (67% of respondents earmarked AI compared to 45% for Big Data and 32% for RWE).
“Sanofi is among a number of companies that are quite aggressively tapping into AI-based drug development deals," said Urte Jakimaviciute, Senior Director of Market Research at GlobalData.
“One of the biggest challenges in the drug discovery and development process is that thousands of compounds are subject to early preclinical testing, but only a few viable candidates make it to Phase I–III clinical trials and move to commercialization.
“There has been an increasing number of successful AI use cases in the pharma industry: for example, the AI-generated drugs developed by the Evotec-Exscientia and Sumitomo Dainippon-Exscientia collaborations that entered human clinical trials. The next big milestone would be to see AI-discovered drugs progressing into late-stage clinical trials.
“Viewed as an emerging technology that can disrupt and reshape the pharmaceutical sector, AI can certainly expand its application and coverage far beyond drug discovery and development.”