Microsoft partners with Boston biotech to build 'drug discovery on steroids'

  • 3 min read
  • 29th April, 2024
  • Media Highlights
  • External Writer

A Boston biotech is teaming up with tech giant Microsoft to bring AI drug discovery services to pharmaceutical, biotechnology, government, academic, and research institutions across the globe.

1910 Genetics announced Thursday that it was combining its strengths — including its AI drug discovery models, computational and wet lab biological data and robotics-driven laboratory automation — with Microsoft’s high-performance computing platform, Azure Quantum Elements. 

The goal of this five-year commercial agreement and go-to-market collaboration is to create an AI-driven drug discovery and development platform that helps R&D teams generate drugs faster and cheaper than has previously been possible.

“Microsoft is one of the best companies in the world at building enterprise and global-scale software. We are really good at doing drug discovery and when the both of us come together, it’s almost like drug discovery on steroids,” Jen Nwankwo, co-founder and CEO of 1910 Genetics, told the Business Journal.

Nwankwo did not share financial details of the deal.

"With 1910, Microsoft is charting a course for a billion-dollar business in AI-driven drug discovery and development,” Zulfi Alam, corporate vice president of Quantum at Microsoft, said in a statement.

1910 is all-in on drug discovery

Drug discovery has become a hallmark of 1910’s work. 

1910 Genetics was founded in 2018, but the company was named after the year in which James Herrick published a report describing, for the first time, sickle-shaped red blood cells in a patient. Scientists later identified the hemoglobin mutation that causes sickle cell disease, making it the first known genetic disease.

Nwankwo said 1910’s AI-driven drug discovery platform works best when going after targets that are unquestionably driving a certain disease. 

“Then you bring the platform to bear on designing molecules to drug those targets,” Nwankwo said.

The company is now developing treatments in disease areas like neuroscience, infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases and cancer. Nwankwo said about half of 1910’s work is for its internal pipeline of drugs and the other half is for its partners. In the coming years, she expects those numbers to shift, with 1910 focusing more like 80% of its work on drug development for partners.

Teaming up with a tech giant

1910’s relationship with Microsoft began in 2021, Nwankwo said, when the company’s venture fund co-led its $22 million Series A.

Nwankwo said that relationship created opportunities for partnership with the “mothership.” While she wouldn’t have predicted how that partnership would evolve in three years, Nwankwo said she had a vision for a big collaboration.

“I always knew that it could be really interesting to take a step back and evaluate our respective competencies and think about ways that we can bring them together in such a way that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” Nwankwo said.

Back in June 2023, Microsoft named 1910 as one of six Azure Quantum Elements launch customers, and its only collaborator in the biotech and pharmaceutical industry. Now the companies are expanding on this pilot.

Nwankwo said at launch, the platform will have three different services

For the co-discovery offering, 1910 will use its platform to design, manufacture, test, and deliver a small or large molecule drug candidate for customers. In co-engineering, customers will collaborate with 1910 to create small or large molecule discovery modules. 1910 will also offer “platform-as-a-service” so customers can directly access one or more of the software modules that are part of its small and large molecule drug discovery platform.

For now, Nwankwo said they’re focused on building out and testing this new AI-driven drug discovery and development platform. But again, she has an even bigger vision for the future. 

“What we see is the opportunity for this union between 1910 and Microsoft to enable both of us to build a platform that doesn’t exist today, which is end-to-end discovery, development platform upon which pharma companies can build all the tooling and can access all the tooling they need to solve all kinds of problems, from the discovery stage to the development stage to the post-marketing stage, the real-world evidence stage and so on,” Nwankwo said.

View the article here.