Exelixis links up with AI drug finder Insilico, LIB offloads China rights for PCSK9 inhibitor

Fresh off a vitriolic activist battle that spurred the ouster of three board members, Exelixis plans to hydrate its pipeline with artificial intelligence. 

The company, known for solid tumor med Cabometyx, is licensing a phase 1 small molecule from Insilico Medicine for $80 million in addition to undisclosed milestone payments, according to Tuesday announcement. The deal gives Exelixis worldwide rights to a cancer treatment targeting USP1 called ISM3091, which Insilico says may have particular value in BRCA-mutated tumors. 

It's the third clinical-stage asset born out of Insilico’s AI discovery and development engine, Chemistry42, which uses machine learning for drug discovery. Insilico has touted that platform as rapidly accelerating the entire early R&D process, reporting that it took 30 months from the starting line to a phase 1 trial for its lead asset. ISM3091 just launched in the clinic less than a month ago.

The deal also lends a bit of insight into Exelexis’ business strategy after Farallon Capital Management’s activist play earlier this year. The shareholder accused the company of wasting R&D capital with little to show for it and said more resources should have been funneled toward expanding Cabometyx. All three of the board members targeted by Farallon have been replaced. 

Elsewhere in the biotech universe, Cincinnati-based biotech LIB Therapeutics has offloaded greater China licensing rights to late-stage PCSK9 inhibitor lerodalcibep. Hasten Biopharmaceutical Company is scooping up the regional responsibilities in exchange for $20 million in upfront cash, $305 million in potential biobucks and potential royalties. 

LIB is cashing in a couple of weeks after nailing a second phase 3 victory for lerodalcibep, finding that the med reduced LDL-C levels in patients with heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia by almost 60% compared to the placebo group. The company is awaiting data from two more late-stage trials.

Hasten will assume all development and commercialization duties in the region, which covers China, Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong. The biotech is expected to submit a new drug application to Chinese regulators before the end of the year and launch a phase 3 trial in patients with hypercholesterolemia shortly thereafter.