Exscientia appoints Oxford bioinformatics expert as first chief of biologics AI

In its continued efforts to use AI to discover potential new drug candidates, then predict whether those therapies will work in an individual patient, the U.K.-based Exscientia has found a hometown hero to lead the charge.

The company named Charlotte Deane, Ph.D., to be its chief scientist of biologics AI, as a newly established position. She’ll be tasked with spearheading Exscientia’s use of machine learning and protein structure design to pinpoint potential new drug candidates and further develop them for clinical use. Deane will report to Garry Pairaudeau, Exscientia's chief technology officer.

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Deane already has quite a bit in common with her new employer: She, too, is based in Oxford, where she’s spent nearly two decades building up a reputation as an expert in bioinformatics.

Since beginning her career as a lecturer at the University of Oxford in the early 2000s, Deane has worked her way up to leadership roles in the university’s mathematical, physical and life sciences division and its Systems Approaches to Biomedical Sciences center, of which she’s been the director since 2007.

Alongside her new post at Exscientia, Deane will hold onto her roles as a professor of structural bioinformatics and head of the protein informatics group at the school.

In recent years, she’s also been tapped by the U.K. government, through its U.K. Research and Innovation group. From 2019 through the end of last year, she was the deputy executive chair of the organization’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and she’s spent much of the coronavirus pandemic as the group’s COVID-19 response director.

“I firmly believe that AI-led strategies are vital to improving all aspects of the process, and we’ve likely only just seen the beginning of how AI can transform conventional drug discovery and development,” Deane said in a statement.

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The new addition to Exscientia’s executive team comes amid a period of fast-paced growth for the company. Already this year, it revamped a longstanding partnership with Sanofi, scoring an upfront cash payment of $100 million and the promise of up to $5.2 billion more in milestone payments and royalties. With that backing, the duo will ramp up their work to develop 15 novel small molecule candidates in oncology and immunology.

The company has also hugely scaled up its physical footprint in recent months. In addition to growing its U.S. locations with a new Boston office and the expansion of its existing Miami space, Exscientia also announced plans to build a 50,000-square-foot precision medicine center of excellence in Vienna, Austria and added another nearly 50,000 square feet to its Oxford facilities.