AstraZeneca, Absci sign $247M agreement to uncover AI-driven cancer drug candidates

The companies will leverage Absci's AI-enabled Integrated Drug Creation platform and the pharma giant's oncology research and development expertise.
By Nathan Eddy
02:57 pm

Photo: Zero Creatives GmbH/Getty Images

Absci, a startup focused on developing generative AI antibody discovery technology, announced a potential $247 million partnership with pharma giant AstraZeneca to focus on expediting the discovery of novel cancer treatments with the help of genAI technology.

The project will leverage Absci's Integrated Drug Creation platform – which combines scalable wet lab technologies with AI, and facilitates optimization of multiple drug features pivotal for therapeutic advantages  and AstraZeneca's oncology research and development knowledge.

The collaboration aims to utilize Absci's de novo "zero-shot" AI models that result in new, improved antibody therapies against cancer.

The "zero-shot" generative AI technique developed by Absci creates antibodies tailored to bind with targets without relying on existing data on antibodies that target those specific markers.

With the capability to screen billions of cells weekly, Absci claims it can progress from AI-designed antibodies to validated candidates within six weeks.

By leveraging this technology, the company hopes to broaden drug target options to encompass previously considered "undruggable" targets, like GPCRs membrane proteins mediating the cellular response to hormones and ion channels and boost the potential for successful biologic drug development.

The deal includes an upfront commitment, R&D money, milestone payments and royalties on product sales totaling up to $247 million. 

"AstraZeneca is a leader in developing novel treatments in oncology, and we are excited to collaborate with them to design a therapeutic candidate antibody with the potential to improve the lives of cancer patients,” Sean McClain, Absci founder and CEO, said in a statement. "This agreement advances Absci’s goal of creating a new generation of life-changing and transformative therapeutics using its AI platform."


Absci recently published a study detailing its zero shot model, and the research results, it says, could "disrupt the shortcomings of the current drug discovery process."

Last month, AstraZeneca announced it formed a new spinoff company, Evinova, which will offer various digital solutions, including an AI-based study design and planning module, to help enhance clinical trials.

The AstraZeneca and Absci partnership follows a November announcement made by German pharma company Boehringer Ingelheim and tech giant IBM to develop AI-based foundational models for antibody treatments to make the process more scalable and efficient. 

Attend Jeremy Petch's sessions at the HIMSS AI in Healthcare Forum taking place on December 14-15, 2023, in San Diego, California. Learn more and register.