Insilico gases up with $60M series D as the race to be the 'Formula One for Big Pharma' continues

Insilico has wrapped up a $60 million series D, adding additional fuel to its AI-driven drug discovery hot rod as the race to become the industry leader in predictive medicine heats up. 

The latest fundraising round, which follows a $255 million series C last year, was led by Warburg Pincus, B Capital Group and Qiming Venture Partners, among others. It comes at a critical juncture for Insilico: Its first AI-discovered med is now in the clinic, a major milestone as company leaders look to vet the quality of its technology. And the company is looking to rinse and repeat this process for the more than two dozen wholly owned assets in its pipeline. 

Insilico founder and CEO Alex Zhavoronkov, Ph.D., compared Insilico’s ambitions with Formula One, the car racing sport that's captivated a global audience by blending precision, speed and glamour.

“We’re learning from Formula One, I’m serious,” he said in an interview with Fierce Biotech. “If you look at how the automotive industry innovates, that’s where they do it, they do it in Formula One. And we want to be that Formula One for Big Pharma.” 

This drive has led the company to develop its own pipeline in the first place. According to Zhavoronkov, the best way the company could vet the quality of its automated drug discovery technology was to, well, discover a drug. So Insilico did just that, sprinting from the discovery starting line to phase 1 in 30 months. The asset is now in the clinic to treat idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Zhavaronkov said the company’s own modeling estimates a 93% chance of success in the clinic, though he downplays that closer to 50% to 60%. 

One critical aspect of F1 that’s not lost on Zhavoronkov: partnerships. To legitimize yourself in the sport, you need to be signed on by one of the big sponsors, like Mercedes or Red Bull. Insilicio wants to do the same, with Zhavoronkov expecting to ultimately ink deals on most of the 29 assets in the company’s possession. 

So far, the company has signed deals with China-based Fosun Pharma and EQRx, with Insilico nominating a preclinical candidate for the former partnership less than 40 days after the deal was official.  

But how those partnerships form—or, more specifically, how developed the asset under consideration is—has become critical to Insilico’s current business model. For Zhavoronkov, he wants to “precook the cookies” instead of signing deals on less developed assets. It’s a deliberate business strategy that he believes will maximize upfront cash and value while limiting the costliness of late-stage drug development. 

“For us, only the few lead programs are the programs that we want to take forward ourselves,” he said. “Because those are the real demo programs, that demonstrate very specific capabilities.” 

Efforts to rein in spending are even more critical now as Insilico’s clinical ambitions have been added to the company’s existing core predictive products spanning drug discovery, drug design and clinical trials. The company also has nine regional sites, including New York City, Montreal and the Middle East. Insilico is slated to launch later this year what it touts as the first fully automated robotics lab. 

As for its lead asset, Zhavoronkov says it's progressing “unexpectedly nicely” and should be ready for phase 2 by early 2023. 

“It’s so exciting that if I could, I would take the drug myself,” he said, lamenting that, ultimately, his guinea pig aspirations were deemed unfeasible.