Sanofi has assembled a stable of partnerships to carry out its goal of using artificial intelligence to bolster drug discovery, but those pacts mainly cover small molecule drugs. The pharmaceutical giant also wants to use AI to develop large molecule biologics, and for that, it’s striking up a new alliance with BioMap, a startup whose technology offers new insights into proteins.
BioMap has built what it describes as a biological map of proteins. That map could point the way to new drugs. In what’s called modular AI, complex tasks are broken down into smaller modules, each one responsible for some aspect of the overall task. The new alliance announced Tuesday calls for Sanofi and BioMap to co-develop AI modules for discovering new biologic drugs.
BioMap, which maintains operations in Silicon Valley, China, and Singapore, says its technology allows scientists to model life more accurately, from individual proteins all the way up to the bigger picture view of systems biology. The startup’s approach makes the most of limited data. In traditional AI research, predictions come by crunching vast amounts of labeled data—raw data that have been assigned labels to add context or meaning. But labeled data are sparse in the life sciences. BioMap says its large language model technology platform, xTrimo, enables one large model, trained on ubiquitous unlabeled data, to inform multiple downstream task models.
The therapeutic areas Sanofi is interested in researching with BioMap were not disclosed. BioMap contends its approach enables it to make better predictions from limited data in therapeutic areas such as immunology, neurology, oncology, and rare diseases. The startup’s research efforts will now benefit from Sanofi data.
“By combining Sanofi’s proprietary data sets, digital infrastructure, AI and data science capabilities, and drug development expertise with BioMap’s protein large language models, high-performance computing, and deep understanding of AI, we can optimize the process of discovery and development of breakthrough biotherapeutics,” Matt Truppo, Sanofi’s global head of research platforms, said in a prepared statement. “Our collaboration with BioMap further underscores Sanofi’s commitment to becoming the first pharma company powered by artificial intelligence at scale.”
Sanofi’s list of AI partners is growing. The pharmaceutical giant committed $270 million in 2021 to start a cancer-focused R&D alliance with AI startup Owkin. Last year, Sanofi paid $100 million up front to begin a partnership with Exscientia focused on developing small molecule drugs for applications in both cancer and immunology. The disease targets of a small molecule pact with startup Atomwise remain undisclosed, as are the targets of a partnership with Insilico Medicine.
According to terms of the partnership with BioMap, Sanofi is paying its new partner $10 million up front. Additional near-term payments to BioMap are tied to achieving milestones for module development. Further progress toward commercialized products could bring milestone payments totaling more than $1 billion.
BioMap was founded in 2020 by Robin Li, the founder and CEO of the Chinese internet and technology company Baidu. Li is chairman of BioMap, which is led by co-founder and CEO Wei Liu, whose experience includes 25 years as a technology investor.
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