Alex Zhavoronkov adds robotics lab to his AI drug discovery game as Insilico unveils $60M raise – Endpoints News

For Alex Zhavoronkov, the recent downturn in the biotech market is actually a good thing.

Insilico’s CEO – in his characteristic confident exuberance – said the crisis is weeding out “small players” from the AI ​​space that can’t stand the test of fire. Moreover, in such volatile conditions, the $60 million Series D he just raised stands as a “heroic testament” to the progress his company has made.

Although he doesn’t exactly need the cash right now, the infusion could keep Insilico running for at least three years, Zhavoronkov said, adding that he plans to move a number of assets into the clinic, in particular by moving a fibrosis program into phase II.

“You can see some of the biotech companies are being shot,” he said. Terminal News. “Every day I’m approached by an AI company because they’re running out of money. And so right now you can see the clear winners are crystallized, right?”

In fact, he is one of the investors in this new round, which comes just a year after the $255 million Series C and sports a higher valuation.

In addition to current investors Warburg Pincus, Qiming Venture Partners, BOLD Capital Partners and Pavilion Capital, a mix of new investors also jumped on board, including BHR Investment and “a large diversified asset management firm on the west coast of the United States”.

In the buzzing and thriving realm of AI-based drug discovery, Insilico sees itself as one of the few that can truly do it all – with three software programs for finding targets, generating drug candidates and designing clinical trials , respectively. Biotechnology uses them all in its own R&D work, and also licenses them to academic and biopharmaceutical partners.

“We decided to sell software anyway, because it allows us to build great software,” Zhavoronkov said. “If you want to make sure you’re true to yourself and really using AI, you have to sell software. Otherwise, you are not a real AI company; you are like any other pharma.

Feng Ren

Taking its drug discovery process as an example, he explained that once the first platform identifies a new target and it is validated in a wet lab, Insilico will use the second platform to design new molecules. , the best of which will then be synthesized and tested on a CRO network. Under the leadership of Feng Ren, a GSK veteran who joined Insilico last year as CSO and head of R&D, the company works with more than 80 CROs, often running numerous experiments in parallel.

Zhavoronkov admits this means the process is more expensive per molecule, but AI also saves on the number of compounds they need for screening.

“So typically Big Pharma does, you know, 500 to 1,000 molecules per program,” he said. “For us, the average is 70 to 80 molecules per program.”

Still, he’s eager to automate more parts of the process. In September, Insilico will launch a lab at Suzhou Biobay that is run entirely by robots – “No humans are allowed”, according to Zhavoronkov – with capabilities to perform culture, cell imaging, tissue sample preparation , sequencing and more. While Insilico sources robots from vendors, he said the team is working with those companies to improve the robots or, in the future, miniaturize them.

A team of about 20 people works in a laboratory on another floor.

“Without the robotics, you’re probably looking at maybe 100, 150 people that would be needed to make it work,” he said.

The ultimate goal and core of the business model, he added, is to produce a steady stream of strong drug candidates that Insilico can then develop in partnership with other larger companies, as part of agreements like the one it recently signed with the Chinese Fosun Pharma.

“I would really like to be a partner in the activation stage of the IND,” ​​he said. “We’ve got a bunch of really hot assets there that we want to lay off.”