AI drug hunter Exscientia chops down 'rapidly emerging pipeline' to focus on 2 main oncology programs

AI drug discovery technology can churn out a lot of promising candidates, but, at some point, the reality of the biotech world hits all companies: Only the best of the best should be advanced. Exscientia is paring back its “rapidly emerging pipeline” to focus on the highest value possibilities.

The new focus for the AI-driven precision medicine company will be the CDK7 and LSD1 oncology programs, while several other programs are discontinued or prepped for partnering, according to a Tuesday press release. A spokesperson for the company confirmed to Fierce Biotech that there will be no layoffs associated with the new prioritization strategy.

“Our oncology programs like LSD1 and CDK7 focus on well-understood development challenges where our platform can have a clear impact that, if successful, would lead to significant therapeutic benefit," said CEO Andrew Hopkins in a statement. "Beyond a focused number of high-value internal programs in areas where we have deep expertise and strong differentiation, we believe the best way Exscientia can create an abundance of novel medicines for patients is by pairing our platform with strong partners in existing and future collaborations.”

Starting with what’s in, Exscientia will hang on to CDK7 asset GTAEXS617, which is being tested in a phase 1/2 trial called ELUCIDATE for advanced solid tumors including head and neck, breast, non-small cell lung and other cancers. The LSD1 inhibitor EXS74539 will also continue on with an investigational new drug submission planned for the first quarter of 2024. Exscientia plans to test the therapy in small cell lung cancer and acute myeloid leukemia. A phase 1 study in healthy volunteers is expected to initiate in the first half of 2024.

Meanwhile, A2A candidate EXS21546 will be discontinued after data from an unnamed peer clouded the candidate’s future.

“In addition to a validated patient selection strategy, the company believes a prolonged, high level of target coverage is necessary for therapeutic effect, which has been supported by recently announced peer data,” Exscientia said in the release. “Based on modelling of the clinical and preclinical data, it will be challenging for ‘546 to reach a suitable therapeutic index.”

A phase 1/2 trial that had been testing EXS21546 in solid tumors will be wound down and internal research on the A2A target discontinued.

“Exscientia believes in the A2A mechanism and its value for a potential partner with an existing immunotherapy pipeline. Exscientia will evaluate potential partnerships for its next-generation compounds and precision medicine capabilities,” the company said.

Work will continue on the MALT1 inhibitor EXS73565, which is working through IND-enabling studies now. Additional updates on the program are expected in the first half of 2024, and data are expected to be presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology meeting later this month.

Exscientia also has no plans to slow down its discovery engines, with target identification ongoing for novel compounds internally and for partners. The company “intends to advance a small number of new candidates for internal clinical development that demonstrate clear differentiation and market need while also utilizing Exscientia’s existing infrastructure.” But most of the new candidates will move forward “through high-value partnerships or out licensing.”

The U.K.-based AI drug hunter has already churned out eight clinical development candidates "at a pace that is substantially faster than current industry standards." This is expected to pick up as more automation technology is added.

Finally, clinical programs for Bristol Myers Squibb- and Sumitomo Pharma-partnered assets EXS4318, DSP-0038 and DSP-2342 are continuing in phase 1 studies.

Exscientia just signed a drug discovery pact with Merck KGaA in September for $20 million upfront to develop small-molecule drug candidates. 

The pipeline prioritization strategy is all in an effort to lengthen Exscientia’s cash runway into 2026. The company ended the second quarter of this year with $508.6 million in cash on hand.