Sanofi signs $1.2B pact with Atomwise in latest high-value AI drug discovery deal

Sanofi is continuing to push the limits of AI-powered drug discovery, inking a $1.2 billion biobucks research collaboration with San Francisco-based Atomwise.

The deal, which will see Sanofi pay $20 million upfront, centers on leveraging the U.S. company’s AtomNet platform to research small molecules aimed at up to five drug targets. The platform “incorporates deep learning for structure-based drug design, enabling the rapid, AI-powered search of Atomwise’s proprietary library of more than 3 trillion synthesizable compounds,” according to the announcement Wednesday.

If the collaboration proves fruitful, Atomwise could be in line for up to $1 billion in research, development and sales milestones as well as tiered royalties.

The company has been steadily building up a wholly owned pipeline of small-molecule drug candidates, with three programs in lead optimization and more than 30 in the discovery stage. The work has been funded by over $194 million from VC firms and a variety of collaborators including Israel's FutuRx.

Sanofi’s belief in the potential of AI to transform drug discovery is nothing new. The French pharma has secured a number of intriguing partnerships in this space in recent months, including expanding its five-year relationship with AI drug discovery shop Exscientia in January to the tune of $100 million.

The company also committed $270 million in an equity investment and payments over three years to Owkin as part of a collaboration to bring its digital clinical research platform to bear on the drugmaker’s core oncology efforts in four different cancers.

Sanofi’s global head of research platforms, Matt Truppo, told Fierce Biotech in June that the goal of these AI collaborations is to reduce drug development timelines by “a few years,” which in turn brings down costs.