BioNTech to acquire AI specialist InstaDeep: ‘Our aim is to be a technology company where AI is seamlessly integrated into all aspects of our work’

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags BioNTech mRNA AI machine learning Artificial intelligence

German mRNA pioneer BioNTech will acquire InstaDeep, an artificial intelligence and machine learning specialist, for around £362m ($439m): pledging to incorporate rapidly evolving AI capabilities into its research, drug discovery, manufacturing and deployment processes.

The two companies have been collaborating since 2019, and have already completed dozens of joint projects together.

The combination will now add around 240 professionals working in AI, ML, bioengineering, data science and software development to BioNTech, although InstaDeep will continue to operate from its London headquarters post acquisition (expected in the first half of this year) as a UK subsidiary of the company.

High-throughput design and testing at scale

BioNTech says the acquisition will support its strategy to build world-leading capabilities in AI-driven drug discovery and development of next-generation immunotherapies and vaccines.

It will pay around £362m ($439m) in cash and BioNTech shares, acquiring 100% of remaining InstaDeep shares following its Series B investment last year.

“With the acquisition of InstaDeep, validated and novel BioNTech-trained AI- and ML-based models are planned to be embedded across BioNTech’s discovery platforms and connected, through InstaDeep’s DeepChain platform, to an integrated automated lab infrastructure,” ​explains BioNTech.

“This has the objective to enable high-throughput design and testing of novel drug candidates at scale.

“In addition, BioNTech plans to develop novel AI and ML technology solutions which it aims to apply across key strategic and operational functions.”

The two companies have partnered up over the last few years on various projects: most notably with the creation of a joint AI Innovation Lab in 2020​ focusing on cancers and infectious diseases.

The companies have jointly developed multiple end-to-end AI-based applications trained on public and proprietary datasets across a wide variety of scientific domains. These include projects to enhance neoantigen selection, ribological sequence optimization for BioNTech’s RiboCytokine and RiboMab platforms as well as the development of an Early Warning System to detect and monitor high risk SARS-CoV-2 variants, based on their ability to escape immune defenses and transmissibility potential.

AI, ML and personalized therapies

Prof. Ugur Sahin, M.D., CEO and co-founder of BioNTech, champions BioNTech as a company with AI and ML at the heart of its business, saying it has recognized the potential of such technologies since its early days.

For example, the fully individualized neoantigen specific immunotherapy approach (iNeST) is based on mRNA encoding multiple patient-specific neoepitopes. For the first patients treated with an individualized vaccine in clinical trials starting 2014, BioNTech selected the neoepitopes manually. It invested early in developing ML-trained algorithms to improve the prediction of neoepitopes with initial results published in Nature in 2017​. These algorithms have been further enhanced in collaboration with InstaDeep.

“Since the inception of BioNTech, we have focused on leveraging computational solutions to create personalized immunotherapies that can reach a wide patient population,”​ said Prof. Sahin.

“The acquisition of InstaDeep allows us to incorporate the rapidly evolving AI capabilities of the digital world into our technologies, research, drug discovery, manufacturing, and deployment processes. Our aim is to make BioNTech a technology company where AI is seamlessly integrated into all aspects of our work.”

Upon closing, InstaDeep will operate as a UK-based global subsidiary of BioNTech: becoming the ‘centerpiece of a growing portfolio of initiatives around AI and ML’ at BioNTech.

InstaDeep will also continue to provide its services to clients around the world in diverse industries, including in the technology, transport & logistics, industrial, and financial services sectors.

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