Artificial intelligence is poised to dramatically overhaul how pharmaceutical giants like Bayer, Pfizer, and GlaxoSmithKline pinpoint innovative — and potentially lucrative — new drugs.

The technology is under the spotlight now, as top companies and federal agencies try to use it to quickly find a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19. But the increase in partnerships between drug manufacturers and AI-powered startups could have much broader ramifications for the drug discovery process.

It currently takes upwards of a decade and billions of dollars to bring a new treatment to market — including five or more years of testing just to discover promising leads. Artificial intelligence can help cut that initial research period by as much as 50%, according to some experts.

Industry titans are rushing to link-up with promising startups that can help shave time and money off of the process. Swiss drug-giant Roche, for example, has ongoing deals with French data-science firm Owkin, among others, and bought the cancer research startup Flatiron Health in 2018.

The AI drug discovery market is expected to swell to $1.4 billion by 2024 and the number of startups vying for their piece has grown too. In 2014, there were an estimated 89 AI-driven companies focused on drug discovery. Now, there are as many as 217.

“There’s been quite good investment within this area,” Amol Jadhav, an analyst at consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, told Business Insider. “There’s a lot of innovative partnerships with big pharma. And they’re seeing the results, which is now reinforcing that you can really cut time.”

Frost & Sullivan recently selected the top 16 firms revolutionizing research into new treatments, basing its selection on a number of factors, including ongoing deals with pharmaceutical giants, fundraising to-date, and how successful each has been in helping to advance promising drugs to human testing.

While the list doesn’t include every hot AI health company — for instance, Insitro, which has raised significant funding and scored multi-million partnerships, didn’t make the cut — Jadhav says the startups chosen were the ones with the most promising drugs in clinical development.

“They have the technology, they’re generating data, but they still do not have any molecules with the partner companies or in their own pipeline,” he said of Insitro.

Business Insider compiled the firm’s choices — including fundraising estimates from PitchBook when the company declined or did not respond to requests to provide — to highlight the key players in the industry:


AcuraStem Inc.

AcuraStem Inc.

AcuraStem Inc.

Fundraising to-date: $7 million

Valuation: Declined to disclose
CEO: Kirsten Bjergarde
Headquarters: California

Notable partnerships and milestones: A study with the CMT Research Foundation indicated a drug compound under development by AcuraStem could be effective in treating nerve disorder Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.

 


AI Therapeutics

AI Therapeutics

Fundraising to-date: $77 million
Valuation: $132 million
CEO: Henri Lichenstein
Headquarters: Connecticut

Notable partnerships or milestones: Its treatment for facial angiofibroma recently cleared the non-human-testing phase, and a drug intended to treat women with a rare lung disease is currently being tested on humans.


Atomwise

Atomwise

Fundraising to-date: $57.84 million
Valuation: $171.64 million (per PitchBook)
CEO: Abraham Heifets
Headquarters: California

Notable partnerships or milestones: Atomwise teamed up with Eli Lilly to help the drug giant uncover new treatments, with a reward of $1 million per successful discovery. It’s also working with Bayer to find new ways to protect crops.


BenevolentAI

BenevolentAI

Fundraising to-date: $363.81 million
Valuation: $1 billion
CEO: Baroness Joanna Shields
Headquarters: London

Notable partnerships or milestones: Benevolent AI is working with AstraZeneca to try to find new treatments for kidney diseases. It’s also working with Novartis to pinpoint potentially new uses for its existing oncology drugs.


BERG

BERG

Fundraising to-date: Declined to disclose
Valuation: Declined to disclose
CEO: Niven Narain
Headquarters:Massachusetts

Notable partnerships or milestones: It’s partnering with the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Lab to try to find potential coronavirus treatments.


Biovista Inc.

Biovista Inc.

Fundraising to-date: $10 million
Valuation: Declined to disclose
CEO: Andreas Persidis
Headquarters: Virginia

Notable partnerships or milestones: BioVista is teaming up with Hewlett Packard Enterprise to help advance research into precision medicine, specifically for patients in community hospitals like the Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center.


Cotinga Pharmaceuticals Inc.

 

Cotinga Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Fundraising to-date: Publicly-traded
Valuation: ~584,000 CAD (via Bloomberg)CEO: Niven Narain
Headquarters: Toronta, Canada

Notable partnerships or milestones: Cotinga is supporting ongoing human testing for its treatment for gynecological cancer


Evaxion Biotech

Evaxion Biotech

Fundraising to-date: $36 million
Valuation: Declined to disclose
CEO: Lars Wegner
Headquarters: Copenhagen, Denmark

Notable partnerships or milestones: Evaxion is running ongoing human testing for its experimental cancer immunotherapy.


Exscientia Ltd.

Exscientia Ltd.

Fundraising to-date: $104 million
Valuation: $116 million (per PitchBook)
CEO: Andrew Hopkins
Headquarters: Oxford, England

Notable partnerships or milestones: Exscientia entered into a roughly $71 million deal with Roche to help find pre-clinical drug candidates. It is also worked with GlaxoSmithKline to find a potential treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.


Gritstone Oncology Inc.

 

Gritstone Oncology Inc.

Fundraising to-date: Publicly-traded
Valuation: ~$143 million market cap (via Bloomberg)
CEO: Andrew Allen
Headquarters: California

Notable partnerships or milestones: Gristone is working with Bristol-Myers Squibb to determine whether an early drug candidate is effective in treating advanced solid tumors.


Healx Ltd

 

Healx Ltd

Fundraising to-date: $67.63 million (per PitchBook)
Valuation: $32.78 million (per PitchBook)
CEO: Tim Guilliams
Headquarters: Cambridge

Notable partnerships or milestones: Healx is working with The Children’s Tumor Foundation to try to uncover treatments for neurofibromatosis, a rare disease that leads to tumors in the brain and spine. It’s also working with Boehringer Ingelheim to determine if any of the drug giant’s existing treatments could be used on rare neurological diseases.


Insilico Medicine

 

Insilico Medicine

Fundraising to-date: $52 million
Valuation: $56 million (per PitchBook)
CEO: Alex Zhavoronkov
Headquarters: Hong Kong

Notable partnerships or milestones: Insilico is working with Boehringer Ingelheim to try to uncover potential treatments for “a variety of diseases.” It has a similar partnership with Pfizer also targeted at multiple disease areas.


Lantern Pharma Inc.

Lantern Pharma Inc.

Fundraising to-date: Publicly-traded
Valuation: $75 million market cap (via Yahoo Finance)
CEO: Panna Sharma
Headquarters: Texas

Notable partnerships or milestones: Lantern Pharma is working with the National Cancer Institute to try to find indicators to suggest what specific drug therapies could work best to treat cancerous tumors in individual patients.


Pharnext

Pharnext

Fundraising to-date: Publicly-traded
Valuation: €58 million market cap (via Bloomberg)
CEO: David Horn Solomon
Headquarters: France

Notable partnerships or milestones: Chinese drug giant Tasly invested roughly $22 million into Pharnext as part of a partnership to try to uncover new treatments mainly in the areas of cardiovascular and oncology.

 


Recursion Pharmaceuticals

Recursion Pharmaceuticals

Fundraising to-date: $200 million
Valuation: $647.06 million (per PitchBook)
CEO: Chris Gibson
Headquarters: UtahNotable partnerships or milestones: Recursion entered into a $90 million deal with Takeda Pharmaceuticals to try to find potential drug candidates to treat rare diseases.


TwoXAR

TwoXAR

Fundraising to-date: $14.31 million
Valuation: $45 million (per PitchBook)
CEO: Andrew Radin
Headquarters: California

Notable partnerships or milestones: TwoXAR is working with SK Biopharmaceuticals identify and develop treatments for non-small cell lung cancer. The South Korean drug firm will retain rights to commercialize any successful drug candidates, while TwoXAR is eligible for royalties.

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