AI-focused Formation secures Sanofi-backed $372M series D to license more drugs

Megarounds have been few and far between in 2024, but Formation Bio has managed to draw in an impressive $372 million series D as the AI-focused biotech seeks to expand its pipeline.

AI companies like to promise the world, but Formation’s offering is more mundane. The idea is that Formation will partner with biotechs to improve their workflow automation—such as generating tailored patient recruitment content for specific cohorts of a clinical trial or speedily producing AI-generated adverse event reports.

The ambition accelerates when the company looks ahead to the “medium term,” when it hopes to assemble a so-called “AI R&D Scientist” that can “provide drug development teams with decision support and eventually steer high-quality R&D decisions.”

“In the long term, the company's goal is to build and train AI models that can better predict toxicity, tolerability, and one day, efficacy,” Formation explained in a June 26 release.

The series D was led by a16z with “significant participation” from existing partner Sanofi—which has other AI-focused collaborations with partners including the likes of Owkin and Exscientia.

Formation, which was formerly known as TrialSpark, said it plans to deploy this capital to continue to acquire and in-license clinical-stage assets from its biotech and pharma partners.

The company currently lists three candidates in its clinical pipeline, including a SYK/JAK inhibitor called gusacitinib in phase 3 development for chronic hand eczema. There’s also a sodium channel blocker called ASN008 in phase 2 trials for notalgia paresthetica and itch associated with atopic dermatitis as well as an FGF18 drug called sprifermin in phase 2 for knee osteoarthritis.

Both gusacitinib and ASN008 were bought from Asana BioSciences in 2022, while sprifermin was licensed from Merck KGaA.

“By partnering with Formation Bio, smaller biotechs can advance more than just their lead asset, creating a pathway for other drugs in their pipeline,” the company said in the release. “For large pharma companies, Formation Bio creates an ‘off balance sheet’ pathway for development, enabling a company to take more shots on goal in a P&L efficient way.”

Sanofi already announced a drug development partnership with both Formation and OpenAI last month. CEO Paul Hudson used a statement in this morning’s release to reemphasize that the French pharma is “all in on AI.”

“We are proud to partner with and invest in Formation Bio, whose AI-driven drug development vision and capabilities will help lead our industry forward in the shared ambition to accelerate and improve how we bring more new medicines to patients,” Hudson added.