AstraZeneca types up $247M, AI-enabled oncology antibody design pact, joining Absci’s list of pharma allies

The artificial intelligence (AI) deals keep coming. AstraZeneca is the latest drugmaker to open its wallet, agreeing to pay Absci up to $247 million to collaborate on the design of an anti-cancer antibody.

Absci has contributed to an uptick in dealmaking in the AI space, striking a deal worth up to $650 million last month to add Almirall to a list of collaborators that already included Merck & Co. Absci entered into a $610 million deal with Merck last year, leading it to list the drugmaker as the partner on three of the 15 active programs that it had at the end of September. An unnamed biotech accounts for seven programs.

Sunday, the Financial Times reported that AstraZeneca is joining the party. Absci will work with the drug developer to design a cancer treatment. The focus suggests the collaboration may use Absci technologies for optimizing antibodies or designing de novo antibodies.

When optimizing antibodies, Absci uses AI to support the evaluation of variants for improved target affinity, manufacturability.and other pharmacologic characteristics. De novo projects start with an envisioned drug format and target antigen. Then, the biotech generates a library of relevant sequence variants that establish the target specificity and form the basis of candidates with the desired properties.  

Absci pitches the technologies, plus other tools for target identification, as a way to accelerate the delivery of drug candidates and design better treatments. Multiple companies have bought into the idea. Absci had six active partners at the end of September. Since then, the biotech has disclosed two deals. AstraZeneca sees the technology as a good fit for its push to deploy AI. 

“AI is enabling us to not only increase the success and speed of our biologics discovery process but also enhance the diversity of the biologics we discover. We are applying AI throughout our discovery and development process, through building in-house capabilities and through collaborations such as with Absci,” Puja Sapra, a senior vice president in oncology targeted delivery at AstraZeneca, told the FT.

AstraZeneca’s peers are exploring AI too. In recent months, Boehringer Ingelheim has inked a deal with Phenomic AI, Sanofi has partnered with BioMap, Merck KGaA has unveiled a flurry of pacts and Novo Nordisk has teamed up with Valo Health.

Fierce Biotech has contacted AstraZeneca for a statement about the Absci deal.