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AstraZeneca is the latest big pharma to partner with a company using artificial intelligence (AI) to help design drugs in a collaboration with U.S.-based Absci to design a cancer fighting antibody drug.

According to the Financial Times, who announced the deal over the weekend, the partnership is worth up to $247 million including an upfront payment and later milestone and research payments during development although the exact target and amount of the upfront payment were not disclosed.

Absci are based in Vancouver, Washington and have a focus on developing biologic drugs using a combination of generative AI and lab-based research with a focus on cytokine driven disorders. Their pipeline is at the preclinical stage with their most advanced candidate designed to target inflammatory bowel disease.

The company already has a deal with Almirall to develop dermatology focused drugs and is collaborating with Merck & Co. on a number of different drug development programs.

Absci’s Integrate Drug Creation platform measures millions of protein-protein interactions and uses this information to train the AI system and validate potential candidates. It claims that its technology allows data collection, design and laboratory validation of possible targets within six weeks. Absci published a preprint in March describing its approach to AI-guided antibody design.

Oncology is one of AstraZeneca’s focus areas and has had recent success with its antibody-conjugate Trastuzumab deruxtecan (Enhertu) licensed to treat breast and gastric cancers. This new deal could help expand its oncology pipeline.

Despite some doubts about how effective AI can be at accelerating drug development, and some recent trial failures, the space is rapidly hotting up and AstraZeneca are only the latest big pharma to announce they will harness AI in this way.

A number of other big pharma have recently made similar deals in the AI-based drug development space. For example, last month Boehringer Ingelheim announced it would be partnering with IBM to development therapeutic antibodies using generative AI and Amgen said it would partner PostEra to develop new small molecule drugs. Similarly, Novo Nordisk announced it would partner with Valo Health in September to develop new cardiovascular drugs using AI.

It remains to be seen whether the industry’s investment in this area of drug development will pay off in the long run.

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