Investors shower AI drug discovery startups with over $200M in new funding

insitro unveiled a $143 million Series B round on the same day that fellow machine learning company Exscientia highlighted its own $60 million Series C raise.
By Dave Muoio
12:21 pm

insitro and Exscientia, two platforms using artificial intelligence to drive the discovery of new drugs, announced this morning the raise of $143 million and $60 million, respectively, from investors.

insitro's oversubscribed Series B round was headed by Andreessen Horowitz, and joined by new backers Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, T. Rowe Price Associates, BlackRock, Casdin Capital, HOF Capital, WuXi AppTec's Corporate Venture Fund and other undisclosed backers. In addition, the round also saw participation from prior backers ARCH Venture Partners, Foresite Capital, GV, Third Rock Ventures, Two Sigma Ventures, and Alexandria Venture Investments.

Exscientia's Series C round, meanwhile, was led by Novo Holdings, and included investments from existing investors Evotec, Bristol Myers Squibb and GT Healthcare Capital Partners.



Headed by founder, CEO and renowned AI researcher Daphne Koller, insitro analyzes genetic, phenotypic and clinical data to find likely candidates for new treatments. The process involves in vitro cell-based disease models designed to be predictive of human outcomes, as well as in silico machine learning of the large datasets – all with the end goal of cutting down Pharma's expensive and time-consuming R&D.

Koller announced the venture roughly two years ago, and says that the company has been hard at work in the time since.

“We have spent the last two years advancing several critical components of our business," Koller wrote in a statement. "First, we have assembled a world class team of computational scientists and engineers, biologists and translational scientists, drug developers and company builders, all uniquely working in true partnership. Second, we have built a powerful platform for producing disease-relevant biological data at scale. Finally, we have made important scientific progress on the development of ML-driven disease models that can predict human clinical outcomes and on the application of these models to our first two therapeutic areas in liver and CNS disease."


The company said that the $143 million would support the continued construction of its technology, and allow it to begin pursuing genetically validated targets and therapeutics among certain patient populations. Further, the company will be aiming to strike new industry partnerships.


“In the two years since its inception, insitro has already emerged as a leader in bridging between data science and engineering to transform the landscape of drug discovery," Vijay Pande, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz who will be joining insitro's board, said in a statement. "They are developing novel approaches that combine tools from cell biology, bioengineering, and data science to generate data at the quality and scale required to apply and expand the power of machine learning. I am excited to work with this incredible team as we realize the next generation of drug discovery and development."



Founded in 2012, Exscientia has a platform that uses AI to design novel compounds for synthesis and clinical development. To do so, it applies its AI to published literature to better assess targets proposed by partners, but also to develop its own drug development pipeline.

Earlier this year the company saw its first drug, a treatment for OCD, enter a Phase 1 clinical trial. It has also entered a handful of partnerships with names such as Brostol Myers Squibb, Bayer, Scripps Research and SRI International.

“This investment highlights the increasing commitment to the potential of AI to transform drug discovery and the excitement that we have garnered around the innovative work we are doing at Exscientia," Andrew Hopkins, CEO and founder of Exscientia, said in a statement. “We have now demonstrated multiple times that our platform can accelerate the time between the start of an idea and a viable new drug candidate for patients in need of treatments, fast tracking the entire R&D process."


Exscientia said that its new $60 million will help its progress and expand the various projects in its portfolio and pipeline, and help it launch new efforts. Further, the company is aiming to build out the AI biology capabilities of its platform, and to ramp up its international presence.


“Through its impressive track record to date, Exscientia has demonstrated the value of combining deep scientific expertise with cutting-edge technology capabilities to significantly accelerate drug discovery," Novo Holdings senior partner Robert Ghenchev said in a statement. "Novo Holdings’ investment underscores our interest in supporting technology companies that enable life science research and innovation, and our commitment to this area. We see significant opportunity for the company to further grow its participation in the drug discovery ecosystem and are excited to work with the Exscientia team in realising this vision.”

The larger trend

The pharma industry has honed in on AI as a useful tool to cut down the staggering costs of failed drug candidates, whether that be through partnerships with these dedicated drug discovery platforms or deals with big tech's major players.

And although hundreds of startups are today employing AI for drug discovery, investors have been pumping money into the most promising of these platforms for some time – see a $115 million raise for BenevolentAI back in early 2018.


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