BMS signs $674m GenAI drug discovery deal with VantAI

The partnership will focus on designing molecular glues for unspecified therapeutic targets.

Robert Barrie February 14 2024

Another week and another big pharma has enlisted the services of a generative AI company to accelerate drug discovery. In the latest deal, Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) has entered a collaboration with US deep tech company VantAI.

The partnership will focus on using VantAI’s generative AI platform (GenAI)  to design and develop molecular glues – a type of small molecule that induces or stabilises interactions between two proteins that would not normally go together.

If certain milestones are met, VantAI could be in line to receive up to $674m from BMS. Tiered royalties are also included in the deal, as per a 13 February press release.

BMS and VantAI did not disclose the therapeutic areas initially being targeted and the big pharma has the option to further expand this collaboration into additional programmes.

VantAI’s technology uses geometric deep learning to mimic interfaces that have been naturally occurring for millions of years. The company produces insights from these evolved interfaces to help in the candidate design process. The AI company calls this approach “protein-contact-first”, saying it yields “glue-like solutions” that could exhibit better potency, selectivity, and molecule size.

VantAI CEO Dr Zachary Carpenter said: “Molecular glues have proven extremely difficult to find, but hold great promise as a treatment modality across a vast array of diseases.”

BMS is the second big name to tap VantAI’s platform. In 2022, Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson and Johnson (J&J) entered a multi-year collaboration with the AI company. The partnership was initially focused on two degrader programmes, as well as an E3 ligase project. J&J did not disclose the financial terms of the deal.

This will not be BMS’ first initiative into molecular glues. In the same year as J&J and VantAI’s partnership, BMS signed a $550m deal with biotech SyntheX to target small-molecule degraders, including certain E3 ligases.

GenAI is a buzzword in today’s healthcare industry, and pharma companies have been active in harnessing its potential, especially for drug discovery. MSD, Genentech, and Eli Lilly have partnered with Amazon, NVIDIA, and Genesis, respectively, for such collaborations.

The startup space for GenAI is burgeoning too. Deep learning biotech startup Evozyne, which uses AI to simulate millions of years of evolution in proteins to identify targets, raised $81m in a Series B round in September 2023. Eli-Lilly-partnered Genesis raised $200m in Series B financing in August 2023 while Aqemia, which partnered with Sanofi in a $140m deal, has a Series A funding round total of $65m.

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