The $225m series D round for University of Dundee’s drug discovery spinout Exscientia is the Global University Venturing Deal of the Year Award winner for 2021. The round, which was led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2, an investment vehicle for telecoms conglomerate SoftBank, also featured pharmaceutical firms Novo and Bristol Myers Squibb as well as funds run by BlackRock, GT Healthcare Capital and the Abu Dhabi state-owned Mubadala Investment Company, among other organisations.

Exscientia was spun out in 2012 and lays claim to being the first company to use artificial intelligence in drug design: the firm’s artificial intelligence (AI)-based platform manages the whole drug-discovery process, from target identification through design and patient selection.

In January 2020, Exscientia announced what it described as a “huge milestone” in AI drug discovery when it began a phase 1 clinical study in Japan of DSP-1181 – an AI-designed treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder, developed in partnership with pharmaceutical firm Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma. Exscientia CEO Andrew Hopkins said: “This was a huge milestone for not only us, but for the industry, as the first time a drug designed using AI has entered into testing on humans.”

Speaking as the series D round was announced in April, Hopkins added: “All of our investors share Exscientia’s vision to discover better drugs, faster, through AI and automation. Our patient-first AI platform has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to precision design drugs that address patients’ needs.

“With the series D completed, the quality and depth of our shareholder base allows us the freedom to continue to scale both our platform and pipeline.”

The D round followed rapidly on the heels of a $100m series C raise in March. And the excitement that the company has created among investors has been further evidenced by the news that the firm had filed for an initial public offering in the US on the Nasdaq Global Select Market in September. The IPO, which was completed at the start of October, raised more than $350m.

Exscientia has also benefited from a commitment from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to raise $35m in a concurrent private placement. The collaboration with the philanthropic organisation will run initially for four years and is expected to focus Exscientia’s expertise on developing drugs to tackle coronavirus agents and improve the world’s preparedness for future pandemics.

“We need to fight today’s pandemic but also ensure we are prepared with new drugs to combat viruses with future pandemic potential,” said Hopkins. “We are honoured to work alongside the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to advance this mission by ensuring accessibility and affordability of these therapeutics globally.”

Other nominees in this category were:

  • Form Energy, $240m series D (MIT)
  • Graphcore, $222m series E (University of Bristol)
  • Centessa Pharmaceuticals (University of Cambridge, University of Toronto Mississauga, University of Cologne, University of Dortmund)
  • Paige, $100m series C (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center)