Bill Gates invested $70M in UK AI startup Exscientia to develop anti-viral therapeutics against Coronavirus and other viruses to prevent future pandemics
As you may recall back in April, we wrote about Bill Gates after he turned his $55 million vaccine investment in Pfizer’s partner, BioNTech, into over $550 million in just under two years. BioNtech is not the only vaccine maker Bill Gates has invested in. Microsoft co-founder through his Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also invested in three other coronavirus vaccine stocks Pfizer, CureVac, and Vir Biotechnology.
Today, Oxford-based AI tech startup Exscientia announced that it Exscientia entered a $70 million collaboration deal with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop anti-viral therapeutics against Coronavirus and other viruses with pandemic potential.
According to the announcement, the collaboration will initially focus on developing broad-spectrum Coronavirus agents (e.g., SARS-CoV-2 and its variants, MERS), including accelerating Exscientia’s lead program, which targets the main protease (Mpro) of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. Subsequently, the collaboration will expand to develop therapeutics for influenza and Paramyxoviridae (e.g., Nipah), with the potential to develop additional programs as identified by the joint team.
Given that nine out of ten new drug candidates never make it through clinical trial and regulatory approval, Exscientia is one of the few artificial intelligence startups using AI and big data processing to accelerate drug discovery and development.
Exscientia claims that its AI software can reduce the amount of time it takes to discover new drugs by up to 80%. The startup, which signed a $1.2 billion deal with U.S. pharma firm Bristol Myers Squibb, already has several drugs involved in clinical trials.
Founded in 2012 by CEO Andrew Hopkins, Exscientia is the first company to automate drug design, surpassing conventional human endeavor. Their AI-driven systems actively learn best practices from vast repositories of discovery data and are further enhanced with knowledge acquired from seasoned drug hunters.
In a statement, Hopkins said, “The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic underscores the urgency to develop safe and effective broad-spectrum drugs to expand our armoury against viruses and their variants. We need to fight today’s pandemic but also ensure we are prepared with new drugs to combat viruses with future pandemic potential. We are honored to work alongside the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to advance this mission by ensuring accessibility and affordability of these therapeutics globally,” commented Andrew Hopkins, Chief Executive Officer of Exscientia. “We believe that our AI-driven platform can accelerate the creation of better, more effective therapeutics that can address some of the world’s most critical and emerging health risks.”
Exscientia’s “small molecule therapeutics” aim to fight the parts of viruses that are least likely to change, allowing scientists to develop treatments that could theoretically take on future viruses. “Small molecule therapeutics could provide a superior approach to guard global health,” said Denise Barrault, director of portfolio management at Exscientia, in a statement.
“Certain targets are prevalent across families of viruses, meaning that potent therapeutics could be broadly effective across multiple virus families. This collaboration will focus on evaluating protein targets that are evolutionarily conserved and are less likely to develop resistance.”
Bill and Melinda ended their 27-year marriage in May. Even after their divorce, the two continue to work together through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.