Exscientia has entered a four-year partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to create anti-viral treatments to manage the existing Covid-19 situation and aid in preparing for future pandemics.

In the initial stage, the alliance will focus on creating broad-spectrum coronavirus agents and expedite the development of Exscientia’s lead programme that targets the main protease (Mpro) of SARS-CoV-2.

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The partnership will also extend to develop treatments for influenza and Paramyxoviridae such as Nipah, with the potential to create further programmes as recognised by the collaborative team.

Exscientia’s AI-powered platform facilitates scientific concepts to be quickly transformed into precision-designed treatment candidates to boost chances of success and an augmented path to the patient.

According to the deal, the company is entitled to an equity investment of $35m from the strategic investment fund (SIF) of the Gates Foundation.

Exscientia will also potentially receive an additional grant to aid in progressing the development candidates through marketing.

In addition, the Gates Foundation will provide its wide-ranging capabilities in funding the design, development and supply of antiviral therapies.

The preliminary antiviral projects will be led by Exscientia, which will leverage its platform technology to research, discover and create up to five Phase I-ready small molecule therapies for future pandemic readiness.

The company will make a matching contribution of $35m through operations and third-party activity funding.

Under the agreement, Exscientia will hold the global rights to all products developed through the alliance with a commitment to offering anti-viral treatments in affordable and accessible ways to people in developing nations.

Exscientia CEO Andrew 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 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.”

In July this year, Exscientia obtained a grant from the Gates Foundation to accelerate the optimisation of a novel class of covid-19 treatments developed using its AI drug design platform.

This development will progress under the latest collaboration, the company noted.

Exscientia announced in May that its third clinical molecule, DSP-0038, created using AI is set to enter Phase I clinical trials.