First AI-designed immuno-oncology drug enters clinical trials

Exscientia, an artificial intelligence (AI)-driven pharmatech company, has announced the first AI-designed molecule for immuno-oncology to enter human clinical trials, a joint venture co-invented and developed by Exscientia and Evotec.

The A2a receptor antagonist, which is in development for adult patients with advanced solid tumours, includes the application of Exscientia’s next generation 3-D evolutionary AI-design platform as part of Centaur Chemist.

The drug candidate has potential for best-in-class characteristics, with high selectivity for the target receptor, bringing together potential benefits of reduced systemic side effects as well as minimal brain exposure to avoid undesired psychological side effects. Preclinical data related to this project will be presented at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting to be held April 9-14, 2021.

Andrew Hopkins, CEO of Exscientia said: “Immuno-oncology medicines are bringing benefit to a range of cancer patients. Our selective A2a receptor antagonist addresses a next-generation immuno-oncology strategy to empower the human immune system by reversing the effects of high adenosine concentrations. We set ambitious therapeutic objectives for this project, especially high selectivity for the A2a receptor and central nervous system (CNS) sparing properties, in order to reduce the likelihood of systemic side effects. Even with these challenging objectives, we were able to discover our candidate molecule within eight months of project initiation.”

Tumour cells produce high levels of adenosine, a molecule that helps them escape immune system detection by binding to the A2a receptor on cancer fighting T-cells, reducing T-cell ability to eliminate disease. Exscientia’s AI-designed A2a receptor antagonist is being investigated for its ability to prevent adenosine from binding to the T-cell receptor and potentially promote anti-tumour T-cell activity.

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