Exscientia scores $50M upfront from Bristol Myers—and up to $1.2B total—in AI drug discovery deal

Where there’s smoke there’s fire, and hot on the heels of closing more than a half-billion dollars in venture capital funding, Exscientia announced a drug discovery deal with Bristol Myers Squibb that could pay out up to $1.2 billion or more.

The U.K.-based artificial intelligence company has expanded its work with the Big Pharma to help uncover new small molecule drugs, including for a variety of diseases such as cancer and autoimmune conditions.

The contract starts with $50 million upfront, plus $125 million for near-term successes, before escalating—if everything goes well clinically, and with the FDA’s blessing—to a total potential payout in the 10-figure range. Exscientia will also receive tiered royalties on any products’ net sales.

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The company’s work has impressed BMS since it came under the drugmaker’s purview with the mega-acquisition of Exscientia’s previous corporate partner, Celgene, for $74 billion in 2019. Going forward, Exscientia will continue to be responsible for AI-powered drug mining and the necessary preclinical experiments.

“Exscientia’s application of AI technologies is proving capable of generating best-in-class molecules while also reducing discovery times,” said BMS’ president of research and early development, Rupert Vessey, who described the previous agreement as touching on a “number of distinct projects.” 

Exscientia also lists collaborations with pharma companies such as Bayer, Sanofi and Dainippon Sumitomo, as well as work with the Gates Foundation in COVID-19, and other emerging biotechs—with more than a dozen potential drugs currently in development across its partnerships.

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That résumé recently helped the company secure a series D round worth up to $525 million—with the lion’s share brought by Softbank, and including BMS among other backers—just weeks after closing a long-running, $100 million series C headed by BlackRock. Those proceeds will also help carry Exscientia’s wholly-owned pipeline of potential drugs into the clinic.

Meanwhile, those amounts of cash aren’t unheard of. Exscientia’s contemporaries in the AI drug discovery space have raised massive rounds, such as Recursion with a $239 million series D last year and a $436 million IPO, while Insitro netted $400 million for its efforts earlier this year.