BioNTech to acquire British AI startup InstaDeep for £562M to speed up drug discovery and bolster its drug development
Over the years, AI and machine learning have been getting better and smarter in speeding up drug discovery. That’s why BioNTech, a German biotech company known for the development of covid vaccines with Pfizer, has decided to scoop up British artificial intelligence startup InstaDeep.
Today, the German vaccine maker BioNTech announced it has agreed to buy InstaDeep to speed up its drug discovery and bolster its drug development. In a statement Tuesday, BioNTech said it will make an upfront payment of roughly 362 million pounds in cash and BioNTech shares to acquire 100% of the remaining InstaDeep shares.
In addition, InstaDeep shareholders will also be eligible to receive additional performance-based future milestone payments of up to about £200 million. The deal follows BioNTech’s initial equity investment as part of InstaDeep’s Series B financing round in January 2022.
BioNTech said the acquisition will support its strategy to build world-leading capabilities in AI-driven drug discovery and development of next-generation immunotherapies and vaccines to address diseases with high unmet medical needs. With the acquisition, Instadeep will become part of BioNTech and is expected to add approximately 240 highly skilled professionals to BioNTech’s workforce, including teams in AI, ML, bioengineering, data science, and software development.
Through the acquisition, BioNTech will grow its network of global research collaborators in the field and expand its footprint in key talent hubs across the United States, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
Founded in October 2015 by Karim Beguir and Zohra Slim, InstaDeep delivers AI-powered decision-making systems for Enterprises, to solve some of the world’s most complex industrial problems.
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. 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 acquisition also builds on a successful track record of increasing collaboration between the two companies since 2019: In November 2020, the companies announced a multi-year strategic collaboration and joint AI Innovation Lab to apply the latest advances in AI and ML technology to develop novel medicines for a range of cancers and infectious diseases.
The two 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, defined as fitness, which was announced in January 2022.
“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. Ugur Sahin, M.D., CEO and Co-founder of BioNTech. “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.”
BioNTech recognized the growing importance of AI and ML capabilities early on. For example, the fully individualized neoantigen-specific immunotherapy approach (“iNeST”1) 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.
“AI is progressing exponentially and our mission at InstaDeep has always been to make sure it benefits everyone. We are very excited to join forces and become one team with BioNTech, with whom we share the same culture of deep tech innovation and focus on positive human impact,” said Karim Beguir, CEO and Co-Founder of InstaDeep. “Together, we envision building a world leader that combines biopharmaceutical research and AI with the aim to design next-generation immunotherapies that enhance medical care – thus, helping fight cancer and other diseases.”