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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Inks $70M Deal With AI-Powered Firm Developing Antiviral Drugs

© Yuri GripasBill and Melinda Gates attend the Presidential Medals of Freedom ceremonies in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S
Bill and Melinda Gates attend the Presidential Medals of Freedom ceremonies  in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S - Sputnik International, 1920, 11.09.2021
In July, Exscientia, a pharmatech company using an end-to-end artificial intelligence (AI) platform, received a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to work on a new class of COVID-19 therapeutics.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) has entered a collaboration with an AI start-up based in the UK developing antiviral therapeutics against COVID-19 and other viruses.
Oxford-headquartered Exscientia, which is engaged in efforts to design new drugs with artificial intelligence software, announced on Wednesday that it has signed a four-year deal worth up to $70 million with BMGF. The investment was made through the non-profit’s Strategic Investment Fund (SIF).
Part of the pledged cash from BMGF, focused on “fighting global poverty, disease, and inequity”, is to be funnelled towards working on novel antiviral pills that could be used to treat COVID-19. Amid a global coronavirus vaccination effort, there are limited treatment options for patients who test positive to the respiratory virus, such as the pharmaceutical company Gilead’s antiviral drug remdesivir, with a race underway to produce more antiviral candidates.
Under the terms of the deal, the Oxford biotech will receive a $35 million equity investment from the SIF, with the potential for additional grant funding. The non-profit has reportedly taken an equity stake in the company in exchange for the investment.

“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,” Exscientia CEO Andrew Hopkins said in a statement.

This is its second cash injection into the company. In July, the Gates Foundation offered Exscientia a grant as part of the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator.
The contribution was to speed up optimisation of a new class of AI-created therapeutics, designing a novel class of inhibitors targeting the SARS-CoV-2’s main protease enzyme, Mpro.

‘Small Molecule Therapeutics’

Initially, the UK company will focus its efforts on developing broad-spectrum coronavirus agents, such as SARS-CoV-2 and its variants, MERS. The collaboration presupposed a subsequent expansion to develop therapeutics for influenza and animal-to-human virus Nipah. The biotech’s “small molecule therapeutics” aim to fight the parts of viruses that are least likely to change. Accordingly, scientists will have a better chance of developing treatments that could tackle future viruses.
“Small molecule therapeutics could provide a superior approach to guard global health. 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,” said Denise Barrault, director of portfolio management at Exscientia, in a statement.
According to Exscientia, its AI software can reduce the amount of time needed to discover new drugs by up to 80 percent.
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