The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation would make a $35 million equity investment in privately owned Exscientia Ltd to fund the development of antiviral drugs including for the coronavirus, the Oxford-based drug developer said on Wednesday.
Exscientia will make a matching contribution and lead the development of up to five therapeutics, which are ready to enter human trials. The program will initially focus on agents against the SARS-CoV-2 and its variants as well as other coronaviruses.
Under the four-year pact, Exscientia could receive additional grants to help advance its drug candidates through commercialization.
The nine-year-old company uses computer algorithms to design drugs for a range of therapeutic areas from cancer to psychiatry.
The company’s lead program targets an enzyme called main protease of the coronavirus, which is conserved among different species of the coronavirus as well as its variants.
Exscientia said it is developing small molecule drugs that target proteins within cells, unlike existing drugs for COVID-19 that target proteins of the virus that are on cell surface and more likely to mutate.
“The small molecule drug that we develop will last and can potentially be stockpiled for the next pandemic and be distributed widely and easily amongst populations that are facing a new virus, or an existing new variant,” Denise Barrault, director of Exscientia’s portfolio management, said.
The partnership with the Gates Foundation will also expand to develop therapeutics for influenza and a family of viruses called Paramyxoviridae, with the potential to develop additional programs, Exscientia said.