Artificial Intelligence-driven drug discovery firm Exscientia has formed a strategic research collaboration with Sanofi by signing a licence option agreement in the high-interest area of metabolic disease.

Delivery of new therapies for metabolic diseases such as diabetes often faces the challenges of unavailability of single targets that are amenable to drug discovery.

Exscientia will work to identify and validate combinations of drug targets that can work synergistically and complies with its bispecific, small-molecule design strategy, which designs small molecules to become compatible with two distinct drug targets.

The company will start with more than 1,000 disease-relevant target combinations and prioritise them according to the bispecific binding potential.

Target pairs that satisfy the criteria will pass through to Exscientia's lead-finding platform to generate bispecific small-molecule compounds able to further validate the biological hypothesis.

These molecules that pass all quality gates may progress to full candidate delivery projects for Sanofi.

Under the agreement, Exscientia will carry out all compound design, while Sanofi will be responsible for chemistry synthesis.

"This agreement highlights Exscientia's ability to apply bispecific drug design in a comprehensive and highly productive manner."

Sanofi will also conduct further assays, preclinical experiments and subsequent trials for qualified compounds where it exercises the licence option.

Exscientia CEO Andrew Hopkins said: “We are delighted that Sanofi is engaging with Exscientia in a comprehensive, end-to-end drug discovery project.

“This agreement highlights Exscientia's ability to apply bispecific drug design in a comprehensive and highly productive manner.

“Sanofi has put together an excellent experimental backbone for this collaboration and we look forward to delivering high-value projects for the company.”

The commercial terms of the agreement comprise the payment of research funding, along with further funding for prioritised candidate delivery opportunities.

Sanofi may be required to pay milestone payments for compounds reaching agreed delivery criteria.

Any licensed products that reach the market will qualify for recurrent sales milestones.

Under the deal, Exscientia can receive up to €250m from Sanofi on achieving these milestones.