Insitro raises $400M for machine learning-powered drug discovery efforts

The artificial intelligence-powered drug discovery company insitro has secured a mammoth funding round of $400 million, to carry forward its development efforts and Big Pharma partnerships with the likes of Gilead and Bristol Myers Squibb.

The series C financing was led by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, also known as CPP Investments, with additional backing from Andreessen Horowitz, Casdin Capital, ARCH Venture Partners, Foresite Capital, GV, Third Rock Ventures, Two Sigma Ventures, HOF Capital and Alexandria Venture Investments, as well as accounts managed by BlackRock and T. Rowe Price Associates.

Temasek and Softbank Investment Advisors also joined the round, in addition to an undisclosed global investment group and a U.S. payer-provider health system. 

“For insitro, 2020 was a year of incredible growth and progress toward our founding vision of bringing the predictive powers of machine learning to drug discovery,” said founder and CEO Daphne Koller. 

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“We built out and demonstrated the capabilities of our target discovery platform in our Gilead collaboration in NASH, receiving the first of our operational milestone payments, and put in place an outstanding collaboration with Bristol Myers Squibb in ALS; we also took a big step forward towards moving from targets to medicines through the acquisition of Haystack Sciences, a high throughput chemistry platform that enables [machine learning]-driven molecular design; and we recruited Dr. Roger Perlmutter to our board to help guide our drug discovery efforts,” Koller said.

The new proceeds will be used to further expand the company’s efforts and development pipeline, including potentially in-licensed assets explored in insitro’s target and biomarker discovery work.

The company picked up Haystack last October, through an acquisition focused on building large chemical libraries encoded by DNA sequences, to further collect massive datasets of small molecules that could be turned into therapies.

Shortly thereafter, insitro announced a five-year collaboration project with Bristol Myers Squibb to bring machine learning programs to ALS and dementia research—collecting $50 million upfront and up to $2 billion if they’re successful.

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insitro will build induced pluripotent stem cell models of the neurodegenerative diseases and then use machine learning and genomics research to study the conditions’ progression and differences in patient populations, before digitally generating new drug candidates.

“The insitro team has developed a powerful approach to drug discovery based on the wholesale application of machine learning to every phase of the process: target identification, lead discovery, and the elaboration of highly evolved therapeutic candidates,” said Perlmutter, who joined insitro as its first independent board member after leading R&D at Merck for seven years.

“This series C financing, alongside our series B in mid-2020, provides us with tremendous resources from some of the best long-term investors in biotech, and will allow us to continue to expand our work towards bringing transformative medicines to patients faster and with fewer failures,” said Koller.