Merck KGaA signs two deals with BenevolentAI and Exscientia to boost AI-driven drug discovery in oncology and immunology

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Merck KGaA is making strategic moves in the field of AI-enabled drug discovery by entering into three-target partnerships with BenevolentAI and Exscientia, investing over $30 million upfront and potentially up to $1 billion in milestones. These collaborations align with Merck’s vision of leveraging the convergence of science, data, and artificial intelligence (AI) to achieve previously unimaginable medical breakthroughs.

Merck’s approach involves partnering with two leading companies, spreading its bets in the AI-enabled drug discovery landscape. The agreements share a common structure, focusing on three targets spanning cancer, neurology, neuroinflammation, and immunology. Both BenevolentAI and Exscientia will work on developing small molecules against these targets, utilising their AI platforms to generate candidate compounds for preclinical development and clinical evaluation.

β€œWith the convergence of science, data, and AI, we’re determined to fast-track the development of new and truly innovative candidates, forging a path to previously unimaginable medical breakthroughs. The partnerships with industry-leading AI technology firms BenevolentAI and Exscientia will complement our internal research capabilities and expertise, aligning with our broader strategy to enhance R&D productivity and the output of our pipeline in a sustainable manner.”

– Danny Bar-Zohar, Global Head of Research & Development and Chief Medical Officer for the Healthcare business sector of Merck

Exscientia, based in Oxford, U.K., is set to receive a $20 million upfront payment from Merck, with the potential for additional milestone payments reaching up to $674 million, including $113 million tied to the discovery phase. This collaboration offers a significant boost to Exscientia, which has faced challenges in the public markets since going public two years ago.

BenevolentAI, headquartered in London, will also receive a low-double-digit million-dollar upfront payment, forming part of a comprehensive package valued at up to $594 million. The partnership with Merck signifies a strategic move for BenevolentAI, which has undergone restructuring efforts following setbacks, including the failure of a mid-phase eczema trial and subsequent staff layoffs. The company has prioritised cash generation and established a tech division to commercialise AI products.

These partnerships highlight Merck’s commitment to advancing AI-driven drug discovery and exploring innovative avenues to unlock the potential of AI in delivering groundbreaking medical solutions. The convergence of AI, data, and scientific expertise holds the promise of transforming the pharmaceutical industry and driving significant advancements in healthcare.

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