Eli Lilly to pay Atomwise $1M for each AI-discovered drug

What's the going rate for an artificial-intelligence-developed drug lead these days? For Eli Lilly & Co. and the discovery firm Atomwise, a new multiyear collaboration agrees to a price of up to $1 million a pop for as many as 10 of the Big Pharma's disease targets.

Atomwise could reap up to $550 million total down the line through a combination of development and commercialization milestones, if every molecule were to go their way. In addition, Atomwise would have the option to develop any compounds that Lilly decides not to move into clinical testing.

“Lilly has made it clear that they are focused on developing drugs for novel target proteins, which are often challenging and less well-studied,” Atomwise CEO Abraham Heifets said in a statement, pointing to the success of AI in the field.

Lilly hopes to employ San Francisco-based Atomwise’s drug-prospecting AI technology on its virtual molecule libraries and to join them both with the automated synthesis capabilities of its robotic laboratory.

RELATED: AI-driven drug discovery startup Atomwise raises $45M series A

Earlier this year, Atomwise teamed up with Charles River Laboratories to use AI to help predict how well certain small molecules would bind to target proteins of interest—a partnership they described as potentially worth up to $2.4 billion in technology access fees, milestone-based payments and sales royalties from successful drugs.

Elsewhere, the Y Combinator alum reported finding promising hits of druglike compounds that could form a new class of treatments for Chagas disease after screening millions of potential molecules in silico. Working with the not-for-profit Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, three protein targets were identified that would inhibit the action of the parasite that causes the tropical disease.

Chagas was recently in the news amid reports that “kissing bugs” carrying the parasite have been tracked spreading into the U.S. from Latin America, being found as far north as Delaware.