2020-09-30| FundingStartups

AI Powered Startup XtalPi Announces 300 Million Series C Funding

by Ruchi Jhonsa
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By Ruchi Jhonsa, Ph.D.

Even though the future of AI developed drugs is elusive, there has been rising interest in the technology with large investments pouring in. The funding is fueling the launch of new startups, which are finding novel ways to solve complex problems of drug discovery. With that said, by 2017, more than two hundred AI-based startups were up and running, speeding up the drug discovery research.

Of these two hundred startups is Google-backed US-China biotech firm, XtalPi that is reinventing the approach to drug research and development by combining the power of quantum physics, AI, and high-performance cloud computing algorithms. On 28th September, the company received a Series C funding of $381.8 million co-led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2, PICC Capital, and Morningside with follow on from existing investors Tencent, Sequoia China, China Life, and SIG.

XtalPi was founded in 2014 by three Chinese MIT physicists to find smarter, more effective routes for drug research and development. The trio developed an intelligent Digital Drug Discovery and Development platform, dubbed as ID4 that could accurately predict shape, size, chemical bonding, and other properties down to electron levels of small molecule drug candidates. To understand the relevance of this tool, imagine finding one molecule with the best chemical properties in a pool of hundreds. Twenty years back, this task would have taken several scientists and years of testing; with ID4, it could be done in months.

The company runs hundreds of algorithms at once on a petabyte-scale database that consists of the pharmaceutically active molecule and key drug characteristics that continue to grow as its business rapidly expands. This is made possible with a supercomputing cluster of over a million cores on the fly that the company builds routinely in a matter of a few hours. In the past few years, the company has validated its platform and attracted top pharmaceutical companies in the world for testing their approach.

While the company could make accurate predictions in a jiffy, they lacked the support of real-world data, which is necessary to understand the drug holistically. With the new funding, XtalPi would integrate its virtual R&D platform with real-world R&D data from modern laboratories to develop a digital-twin drug R&D system. This system promises to churn out more efficient drug candidates in less time to serve a large number of biotech partners, therapeutic areas, and drug discovery projects. The company is also planning to make the entire process of drug discovery more efficient by identifying the bottlenecks in the process. It plans to execute this by expanding its ID4 platform’s capabilities by combining algorithms, data, and computing power.

AI has certainly revolutionized the entire process of drug discovery, and with the combination of quantum physics, the field has become more efficient in getting the right drug in a small amount of time. Quantum mechanical methods substantially increase the accuracy of predictions and provide much more relevant models of chemical and biological objects and their interactions. This is important when considering the humongous amount of funding that goes into testing a drug that might eventually be discarded because it did not meet the criteria. With AI and quantum physics algorithms, it will be possible to predict the efficacy of this molecule virtually and compare it with thousands other, which might be a better fit. Essentially, one can discard the molecule without spending millions of dollars in its testing. While all of this is hopeful, there hasn’t been a single AI-powered drug so far approved by the regulatory authorities.

Nevertheless, it is fueling the drug discovery process and churning out more options than before, attracting huge investments from pharma giants in startups developing AI and quantum physics-based platforms. There are at least sixteen startups around the globe that are using quantum physics to solve biological problems, most of which are related to drug discovery. Pfizer is collaborating with XtalPi for solving the 3D structure of many new molecules and predicting their mechanical and chemical properties such as shape, solubility, and how it binds with a protein receptor.

Co-founder of XtalPi, Dr. Shuhao, is very optimistic about this technology and said, “We believe AI holds the answer to solving pharma’s productivity challenge. More specifically, XtalPi’s AI-powered platform can improve the industry’s research efficiency and success rate to lower costs for discovering and developing new drugs. We look forward to applying our platform to help clients bring more first-in-class and breakthrough drugs to the market and address significant unmet medical needs to benefit patients on a global scale.”

Related Article: Flagship Pioneering Unveils AI Driven Drug Discovery Start-Up




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