Exscientia accelerates COVID-19 drug discovery using AI

Exscientia has received a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Gates Philanthropy Partners, as part of the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator to expedite the optimisation of a new class of COVID-19 therapeutics created using its artificial intelligence drug design platform.

Oxford, UK-based Exscientia has demonstrated proof-of-concept by using its AI platform to design a novel class of inhibitors targeting the SARS-CoV-2’s main protease enzyme, Mpro, also known as 3CLpro, the causative agent of COVID-19.

Mpro is essential for replication of coronavirus, so administering an Mpro inhibitor to patients as a standalone antiviral or alongside other concurrent treatments could provide a useful frontline therapy.

Exscientia’s AI-based platform will be used to optimise the novel small molecule inhibitors into a therapeutic development candidate, designed to be active against SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses.

The project’s goal is to identify potential pan-coronavirus therapeutics that could be effective against not only COVID-19, but also new mutations or other SARS viruses that may emerge.

The new grant provided by the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator – an initiative launched by the Gates Foundation, Wellcome, and Mastercard to speed up the response to the pandemic – comes in addition to recent backing from the Gates Foundation supporting Exscientia’s work in developing treatments for tuberculosis, malaria and non-hormonal contraceptives which began in January 2021.

Under the new grant, Exscientia will receive $1.5 million which will be used to advance a development candidate on achieving defined milestones.

The virus protease inhibitors will be designed using Exscientia’s AI-driven drug discovery platform, which delivers optimised compounds, fulfilling complex design goals faster and more effectively than with conventional drug discovery methods.

Dr. Denise Barrault, Senior Portfolio Manager at Exscientia, commented, “The danger of new emerging strains and mutations of coronavirus means there is an urgent need for new antiviral drugs in this pandemic alongside vaccines, to respond more quickly in potential future coronavirus pandemics.

“We believe that the world needs innovation to accelerate the discovery of more effective counter-measures for a range of infectious diseases, including COVID-19.”

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