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Atomwise’s machine learning-based drug discovery service raises $123 million

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array of pills and tablets

With a slew of partnerships with large pharmaceutical companies under its belt and the successful spin out of at least one new company, Atomwise has already proved the value of its machine learning platform for discovering and commercializing potential small molecule therapies for a host of conditions.

Now the company has raised $123 million in new funding to accelerate its business.

“Scaling the technology and scaling the team and scaling what we’ve been doing with it,” says chief executive officer Abe Heifets when asked about what comes next for the eight-year-old business.

Atomwise has already signed contracts worth $5.5 billion with corporate partners that include Eli Lilly & Co., Bayer, Hansoh Pharmaceuticals and Bridge Biotherapeutics. Smaller, earlier-stage companies like StemoniX and SEngine Precision Medicine are also using Atomwise’s tech.

Now the company will look to capture more of the value of drug discovery for itself, looking to develop and commercialize its discoveries by taking over more of the development process and working with manufacturers at a later stage, according to Heifets.

Atomwise tipped its new strategy last year when it announced a partnership with Velocity Drug Development and a $14.5 million investment to create X-37, a spin-off that’s developing small molecule therapies for endodermal cancers, which include cancers of the liver, pancreas, colon, stomach and bladder.

“We have something like 750 projects running today around the world,” says Heifets. “These comprise more than 600 unique targets and that’s with a vast range of partnerships.”

The power of Atomwise’s drug discovery platform is its ability to harness machine learning to structure new proteins that have never existed — and ensure that they’re able to reach precise target receptors to accomplish a desired task.

Here, the X-37 spin-off is especially illustrative. One line of research the company is conducting into molecules can target the PIM3 protein receptor. If a drug can block PIM3, it can kill cancerous endodermal cells, according to Heifets. However, if the molecules bind to another, similar target, PIM1, the therapy can cause heart attacks and kill patients.

“This is a challenge and empirically was considered undruggable,” says Heifets. Atomwise’s company screened 11 billion potential molecules against the targets to come up with 500 potential therapies. They’re now working on refining the therapy to bring something to market.

And X-37 is only one of the companies that Atomwise has created to commercialize various new molecules. There’s also Atropos Therapeutics, Theia Biosciences and vAIrus.

Atomwise is far from the only company to think that the application of machine learning technologies to drug discovery is a winning combination. Menten AI is a company that’s taken the new technology developments one step further and added quantum computing to the mix to come up with new drugs.

Menten AI’s combination of buzzword bingo brings AI and quantum computing to drug discovery

“The market opportunity we’re going after is four times the value of the entire pharma industry today,” said Heifets. “Here’s what that’s about. There’s 20,000 human genes and only 4% have ever been drugs. Another 16% have been evidenced. But the opportunity of drugging the undruggable is way bigger than the entire pharma industry.”

Unlocking that opportunity is going to take lots of capital. That’s why B Capital and Sanabil Investments combined to lead Atomwise’s Series B round. It’s also why companies like DCVC, BV, Tencent, Y Combinator, Dolby Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures and two, undisclosed insurance companies have invested in the company’s latest round.

To date, Atomwise has worked with 750 academic research collaborations addressing more than 600 disease targets, to model and screen over 16 billion new molecules for virtual screening. These molecules have generated 17 pending patent applications and several peer-reviewed publications. There are 285 active drug discovery partnerships with researchers at top universities around the world, and Atomwise recently announced 15 research collaborations with global universities to explore broad-spectrum therapies for COVID-19, targeting 15 unique and novel mechanisms of action.

“New technologies are enabling better and faster R&D for the life science industry,” said Raj Ganguly, co-founder and managing partner at B Capital Group, in a statement. “The advancements Atomwise has made with its computational drug discovery platform have effectively cut months or even years off of the R&D lifecycle. More importantly, however, they are solving biology problems previously believed to be unsolvable by researchers and delivering that capability to everyone from academics to big pharma. We’re excited to continue to partner with the Atomwise team on its mission to develop new, more effective therapies.”

For lead investor, B Capital, the Atomwise investment is part of a thesis around lowering the cost of care and improving outcomes.

“Companies like Atomwise that are improving the cost curve are in the same vein of bringing therapies to market faster and cheaper. Which means you can improve access and improve costs and address things like rare diseases,” said Adam Seabrook, a principal at B Capital focused on healthcare.

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