XtalPi, an American-Chinese biotech firm that focuses on AI-assisted drug discovery, has raised a $319 million round C from a slate of enthusiastic investors led by SoftBank's Vision Fund. It joins numerous others with 9-figure rounds in what is clearly a valuable and competitive space.
XtalPi works with major pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer that need to identify promising new drug-like molecules and learn as much about them as possible. It's very much a race, so companies claiming to use AI to speed up the process have attracted major funding. Though there have been no prominent breakthroughs to speak of resulting from the space, it's hard to imagine any major player can afford to ignore it.
This company, founded in 2014, purports to offer extremely low-level simulation and prediction of target molecules, both simulating the physics at atomic levels and doing the more traditional data science work that eliminates dead ends and points towards more fruitful avenues for investigation.
Although these advances are in the digital space, the companies still need a large staff of skilled scientists who can verify and advance the results — as well as the facilities to support them. It may help speed up the slow-paced pharmaceutical industry, but that doesn't mean it's cheap or easy to do so.
AI-enhanced (which is really to say using machine learning techniques) biotech firms have attracted huge funding rounds and lucrative (or potentially lucrative) partnerships as pharma's biggest companies place their bets. (Insitro founder Daphne Koller spoke on this topic just two weeks ago at Disrupt.)
XtalPi plans to use the money as you might expect: To scale its existing operations with improved algorithms, more data, and additional computing power.
"We believe AI holds the answer to solving pharma’s productivity challenge," said chairman and co-founder Shuhao Wen in a press release. "More specifically, XtalPi’s AI-powered platform can improve the industry’s research efficiency and success rate in order to lower costs for discovering and developing new drugs. We look forward to applying our platform to help clients bring more first-in-class and breakthrough drugs to the market and address significant unmet medical needs to benefit patients on a global scale."
Softbank led the round, with PICC Capital and Morningside making up the larger remaining part, as well as follow-ons from existing investors Tencent, Sequoia China, China Life, and SIG.