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Designing Better Drugs: Atomwise Lands $123M To Advance AI Drug Discovery

Illustration of piggy bank with stethoscope insides.

Atomwise, which is using artificial intelligence for small molecule drug discovery, received a cash infusion of $123 million in an oversubscribed Series B financing.

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San Francisco-based Atomwise touts being the creator of the first convolutional neural networks, or visual imagery, using AI technology for drug discovery, a market estimated to reach $40 billion in value by 2027, according to Fior Markets research.

Abe Heifets, Atomwise

To date, Atomwise has provided AI technology to more than 750 academic research collaborations addressing over 600 disease targets, Abraham Heifets, co-founder and CEO told Crunchbase News.

B Capital Group and Sanabil Investments led the investment that also included existing investors DCVC, BV, Tencent, Y Combinator, Dolby Family Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures, as well as two undisclosed insurance companies.

This brings the total amount of capital raised, since Atomwise’s inception in 2012, to almost $175 million. This includes a $45 million Series A closed in 2018, according to Crunchbase data.

‘A lot of ways to grow’

With the new investment, Atomwise will continue to scale its AI technology platform and team, build its own internal pipeline and work with large partners, Heifets said. To date, Atomwise has signed joint-venture investments for small molecule drug programs valued at $5.5 billion with corporate partners that include Eli Lilly, Bayer, Hansoh Pharmaceuticals and Bridge Biotherapeutics.

“There are a lot of ways to grow,” he added. “We are also going to focus on what is unique about us: drugging the undruggable. We have an opportunity here that is four times bigger than the pharmaceutical industry is today.”

What he means by “undruggable” is creating drugs for diseases that don’t have one yet. Just 4 percent of genetic diseases have a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drug, while there are 16 percent without any drugs designed, Heifets said.

Atomwise is focusing finding drugs that target the intended molecule and also only shuts down that one process, he added.

The company has 55 employees and is currently hiring for all positions from engineers to machine-learning experts, from medical chemists and toxicologists to business development.

In the past 12 months, Atomwise has received more than 1,000 inbound applications from institutions wanting to work with the company.

“I think it means that we have challenged the AI brain with more targets, diversity of targets, more proteins and different kinds of properties,” Heifets said. “Now we are leveraging all that work to take those assets and drive them toward patients.”

What investors are saying

As part of the investment, Raj Ganguly of B Capital Group joined the company’s board, while Hani Enaya of Sanabil was appointed a board observer.

Ganguly said in a written statement that Atomwise’s platform is cutting months or even years off of the often lengthy research and development lifecycle of a drug.

“More importantly, however, they are solving biology problems previously believed to be unsolvable by researchers and delivering that capability to everyone from academics to big pharma,” he added.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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