Eli Lilly has formed a multi-target alliance with start-up Atomwise to support preclinical drug discovery efforts.

Atomwise provides artificial intelligence (AI) technology solutions that leverage deep learning algorithms and elastic supercomputer platforms to predict potential medicines.

The technology is intended to cut the time, cost and risks associated with clinical trials, as well as provide better insights into the toxicity, side effects, mechanism of action and efficacy of a drug.

Under the multi-year deal, the partners will work on up to ten drug targets chosen by Lilly. The goal is to speed up the time taken to identify and develop viable therapeutics.

Lilly’s molecules are automatically synthesised in its robotic laboratory. Atomwise’s AI technology is intended to help identify potential drugs among these molecules for specific diseases.

Atomwise CEO Abraham Heifets said: “Lilly has made it clear that it is focused on developing drugs for novel target proteins, which are often challenging and less well studied. Our expertise and tools have been shown to succeed with these kinds of targets, and therefore could be a key to unlocking success for patients.”

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As part of the agreement, Atomwise may receive up to $1m per drug in discovery milestones. It will also be eligible for $550m if specific development and commercialisation targets are reached.

Atomwise will hold an option to develop compounds resulting from the alliance that Lilly chooses not to advance into clinical testing.

In March last year, the AI start-up raised $45m in growth funding to develop its technology. The firm supports drug discovery projects across multiple therapeutic areas in 19 countries.