BMS signs $674M biobucks pact with Roivant-backed VantAI for molecular glues

Bristol Myers Squibb is offering Roivant-backed VantAI up to $674 million biobucks in a new partnership aimed at designing molecular glues as small-molecule therapeutics.

The Big Pharma wants in on New York-based VantAI’s artificial intelligence platform in hopes of developing molecular glues, which are small molecules used to stabilize interaction between two proteins that don’t typically interact. The deal involves undisclosed targets of interest, but VantAI could receive up to $674 million in milestone payments plus royalties, and BMS also has the option to tack on additional therapeutic programs, according to a Feb. 13 news release.

The independent generative AI company is a former Roivant Sciences that now receives financially backing from the Big Biotech after breaking off last spring.

The AI company uses geometric learning to gain information about naturally occurring, evolved interfaces to mimic those interfaces during the design process. VantAI then applies a “protein-contact-first” approach to simplify chemical design challenges involved when bringing proteins together in the cell. The approach is designed to help optimize parameters for potency, selectivity and molecule size.

"Molecular glues have proven extremely difficult to find but hold great promise as a treatment modality across a vast array of diseases,” VantAI CEO and founder Zachary Carpenter, Ph.D., said in the company release. “At VantAI, we view glue discovery as a challenging ‘geometric puzzle,’ and we believe that artificial intelligence is the best tool to find the missing piece.” 

In 2022, the AI company inked a multiyear molecular glue and protein degrader partnership with Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen. Financial details for the deal were not disclosed.

As for BMS, the pact is designed to accelerate the pharma’s discovery engine and address key unmet patient needs, Neil Bence, Ph.D., BMS vice president and head of oncology discovery, said in the release.

It’s not BMS' first rodeo with molecular glues. The pharma partnered with San Francisco biotech SyntheX in October 2022 to develop and commercialize new small-molecule degraders. The $550 million biobucks deal takes aim at multiple unnamed targets using pre-specified E3 ligases and neosubstrates of interest.

The molecular glue space has exploded in the past few years, with Big Pharma Roche inking several related collaborations last year, including a Monte Rosa Therapeutics deal centering around hard-to-drug targets and a deal with Orionis Biosciences through its Genentech unit.  

Meanwhile, Merck & Co. has also gotten in on the action through a partnership with Proxygen—an Austrian biotech that already had molecular glue deals with Boehringer Ingelheim and Germany's Merck KGaA.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 1:15 p.m. ET to clarify Roivant's involvement in VantAI.