AstraZeneca doubles down on BenevolentAI drug hunting partnership, adding heart failure, lupus targets

After working together since 2019, AstraZeneca and BenevolentAI have doubled down on their artificial intelligence-powered drug discovery efforts, extending their collaboration for another three years with the goal of tackling twice as many disease areas.

The next phase will add on heart failure and systemic lupus erythematosus alongside the companies’ ongoing projects in chronic kidney disease and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis—after the latter two met major milestones last year and delivered novel targets to AstraZeneca’s portfolio.

Re-upping the partnership also carries a new upfront payment of an undisclosed amount, plus additional research funding and an agreement for future milestone payments and royalties.

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“Our work to date with BenevolentAI has been truly collaborative,” Mene Pangalos, AstraZeneca’s executive vice president of biopharmaceuticals R&D, said in a statement.

The companies project that one in three people over the age of 55 will develop heart failure during their lives. AstraZeneca has been exploring a variety of ways to tackle the disease—including the use of mRNA-powered therapies with Moderna, in a pre-pandemic project that dates back to 2017, and more recently through a $2.9 billion deal with Ionis launched last month.

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Lupus, meanwhile, is estimated to affect at least 5 million people worldwide in some form. BenevolentAI’s platform is designed to be applied to any disease and searches for unexplored cellular targets by merging AstraZeneca’s own data with public and licensed information from databases of scientific literature, patents, genetics, chemistry and clinical trials, before performing experiments in its own wet-lab facilities.

The 2020 Fierce 15 winner announced plans to take its drug discovery tech public last December, through what has been pegged as one of Europe’s largest SPAC deals to date. BenevolentAI aims to trade on the Euronext Amsterdam stock exchange, with a valuation of €1.5 billion, or about $1.7 billion U.S.