Exscientia. Pic supplied

AI firm Exscientia takes central role in Europe’s largest Covid-19 therapy development initiative

 3 mins | By Karen David
 |  | Aug 18th 2020

Oxford-based Exscientia is to be a central part of CARE (Corona Accelerated R&D in Europe), a major European initiative to rapidly develop treatment options for Covid-19. The consortium announced at its launch today that Exscientia will be leading the programme’s drug design activities by applying its artificial intelligence (AI) platform to generate and optimise the design of new medicines.

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CARE is a coalition of European scientific expertise from 37 academic institutions, research organisations and pharmaceutical companies, supported by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI). It aims to accelerate Covid-19 R&D by bringing together expertise from across these leading organisations into a comprehensive drug discovery engine. With grant funding of € 77.7 million, it is the largest undertaking of its kind.

Exscientia CEO Professor Andrew Hopkins, said: “The CARE consortium has ambitious goals to deliver pan-coronoviral therapeutics that can be useful in the current and future viral pandemics. We are taking a comprehensive approach to developing agents against multiple coronavirus drug targets. Exscientia is proud to be at the heart of this joint research effort, as the primary drug design center. We intend to bring the demonstrated speed and power of our cutting-edge AI-platform to CARE to accelerate the delivery of anti-coronavirus drug candidates to the clinic to meet the urgent needs of patients.”

Andrew Hopkins, Founder, Exscientia. Pic: Exscientia

Exscientia is the first company to successfully apply AI technologies to design small molecule compounds that have reached the clinic. The company will lead the small molecule drug design activities in the CARE consortium, using AI to accelerate the pre-clinical phase of drug discovery. It will apply its AI-platform to generate and optimise the design of new medicines and the CARE chemical starting points from phenotypic, target-based and in silico screens to deliver candidates into clinical trials. The company will also provide its own chemical starting points to CARE, discovered from its ongoing Covid-19 screening and research.

CARE aims to create effective therapies with a positive safety profile for the COVID-19 pandemic (drug repositioning), and develop new drugs and antibodies specially designed to tackle the SARS-CoV-2 virus.  It builds on three precepts:

Drug repositioning, by screening and profiling compound libraries contributed by partners with the aim of rapidly progressing molecules to advanced stages of clinical testing.

Small-molecule drug discovery, which Exscientia will lead,  based on in silico screening and profiling of candidate compounds directed against SARS-CoV-2 and future coronavirus targets.

Virus neutralising antibody discovery using fully human phage and yeast display, immunisation of humanised animal models, patient B cells and in silico design.

Closely integrated with these precepts are work streams focusing on the refinement of candidate compounds through a comprehensive medicinal chemistry campaign, systems biology research and pre-clinical and clinical evaluation of molecules from each. The systems biology work package aims to increase understanding of the interplay between virus infection stages and human immune responses. It will also identify disease markers to inform therapy development and improve clinical trial design.

CARE is funded by contributions from the European Union (EU), eleven European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) companies and 3 IMI-Associated Partners. CARE is a 5-year project with partners in Belgium, China, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, the UK and the US.

About the Author

Karen David

Karen has a long career in writing and communications in technology, finance and creative sectors in Oxfordshire, the UK and internationally.

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