Bristol Myers' $1.2B discovery pact with Exscientia strikes gold as first drug candidate selected

Artificial-intelligence-powered drug miner Exscientia has already dug up a drug candidate in a $1.2 billion partnership with Bristol Myers Squibb, and the small drug discovery company will receive $20 million for the exploration work.

The U.K. AI company has found a drug candidate that modulates the immune system by targeting an enzyme that has in the past been hard to target because of potency and selectivity. The molecule was found within 11 months of beginning drug design, Exscientia CEO Andrew Hopkins said in a statement.

RELATED: Exscientia scores $50M upfront from Bristol Myers—and up to $1.2B total—in AI drug discovery deal

Now, it's up to Bristol Myers to handle clinical and commercial development of the drug hopeful. Exscientia will continue to receive biobucks and tiered royalties, pending market approval. 

The payout comes just three months after Bristol Myers dished out $50 million upfront in a deal that could reach $1.2 billion. The collaboration is focused on finding new small-molecule drugs across cancer and autoimmune conditions. The May deal was an extension to the original pact penned between Exscientia and Celgene, now part of Bristol Myers, in 2019. 

RELATED: SoftBank leads funding that could net up to $525M for Exscientia's AI drug platform

Elsewhere, the drug discoverer is catching notice of some big time investors. SoftBank led a $225 million series D in late April, and the AI company can tap another $300 million from the high-profile investor at its will. 

Exscientia is spreading its technology across Big Pharma and the life sciences industry. The company is working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on COVID-19 and has collaborations with Bayer, Sanofi and Dainippon Sumitomo.