Eli Lilly, XtalPi ink $250M deal for AI-powered drug discovery

XtalPi’s artificial intelligence- and robotics-powered technologies have helped its pharmaceutical partners pinpoint dozens of small-molecule compounds that could potentially be further developed into novel therapeutics—and Eli Lilly wants a piece of the AI drug development pie.

The Big Pharma has struck a deal with XtalPi to use its technology to identify potential drug candidates that Lilly will then usher through the clinical and commercial development processes.

Under the terms of their agreement, which was announced Tuesday, XtalPi stands to rake in up to $250 million in combined upfront and milestone payments from Lilly, based on the success of the team-up. The duo declined to specify the exact condition they’ll be targeting with the to-be-discovered drug candidates.

XtalPi’s drug discovery abilities stem from its Inclusive Digital Drug Discovery and Development, or ID4, platform, which is equipped with hundreds of AI algorithms—encompassing machine learning, deep learning and natural language processing approaches—and biochemical, cellular, pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic testing tech.

The platform scans through XtalPi’s massive library of molecules looking for those that it predicts may be strong drug candidates for a particular condition. Once selected, the algorithms put the molecules through a series of simulations to evaluate their condition-targeting abilities, and the most promising of those are then sent to XtalPi’s fleet of autonomous robotic workstations for further testing, this time of the chemical synthesis and assay variety.

XtalPi’s hundreds of automated and robot-run workstations are currently housed in facilities located in Shenzhen and Shanghai, and the company is now in the process of building two more of these “autonomous labs”: another in Shanghai and its first outside of China, set to be built in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

“With a closed loop of AI and quantum physics algorithms working in sync with the data factory of large-scale robotics experiments, XtalPi is uniquely equipped to tackle challenging novel targets,” CEO Jian Ma, Ph.D., said in Tuesday’s announcement. “We are honored that Lilly has chosen XtalPi’s AI + robotics drug R&D platform as a partner in achieving more fruitful pharmaceutical innovation and bringing much-needed treatments to patients worldwide.”

Lilly joins a handful of other Big Pharmas that have already teamed up with XtalPi, which boasts more than 200 pharmaceutical and research partners around the world.

Pfizer, for one, tapped XtalPi for drug-mining assistance back in 2018—a partnership that ultimately helped accelerate the development and manufacturing of Pfizer’s Paxlovid antiviral treatment for COVID-19.

More recently, XtalPi announced last month that Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen pharmaceutical arm has also turned to its automated tech to identify potential therapeutic candidates for a target that’ll be decided by Janssen. The financial details of their collaboration weren’t disclosed.