US-based biotechnology company Atomwise and French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi have entered into an exclusive research collaboration focused on AI-powered drug discovery.

Under the terms of the agreement, Sanofi will make an upfront payment of $20m, to identify, produce, and advance lead compounds for up to five targets of its choice.

The French drugmaker will make further payments of more than $1bn, subject to achieving research, development, and sales milestones, in addition to tiered royalties.

The collaboration will use the US biotech company’s AtomNet platform for computational discovery and research of the drug targets.

The platform deploys deep learning for structure-based drug design, and enables the rapid, AI-powered search of Atomwise’s exclusive library of more than 3 trillion compounds.

Atomwise co-founder and CEO Abraham Heifets said: “At Atomwise, our mission is to use our unique technology to make better medicines, faster, by unlocking targets that have been inaccessible to traditional small molecule discovery approaches.

“We are pleased to enter into this collaboration with Sanofi, which serves as continued validation of the important role that AI-powered platforms will play in accelerating the discovery of new therapies for diseases and conditions that may have gone untreated due to challenging or uncharacterized drug targets.”

In a separate development, Sanofi is terminating the global clinical development program of amcenestrant, its investigational oral selective estrogen receptor degrader (SERD).

The company said that its decision is based on results from a prespecified interim analysis of the Phase 3 AMEERA-5 trial in a total of 1068 participants.

In the study, the safety and efficacy of amcenestrant plus palbociclib was compared with letrozole plus Palbociclib in patients with ER+/HER2- advanced breast cancer.

According to the Independent Data Monitoring Committee (IDMC), amcenestrant plus palbociclib did not meet the prespecified conditions, and the trial was recommended for discontinuation.

Sanofi said that all the other studies of amcenestrant, including Phase 3 AMEERA-6 trial in early-stage breast cancer, will be discontinued.

Sanofi research and development global head John Reed said: “While we are disappointed by this outcome, our research will further the scientific understanding of endocrine therapies in people with breast cancer.

“Our sincere gratitude goes to the patients, families and healthcare professionals involved in the amcenestrant clinical development program.

“Oncology remains a priority area for Sanofi, and we will continue to pursue transformative research to develop new medicines for people living with cancer.”