Merck has revealed two strategic collaborations in drug discovery that leverage the capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI) for design and discovery.

These partnerships involve BenevolentAI based in London, UK, and Exscientia based in Oxford, UK. The primary aim of these collaborations is to advance Merck’s research endeavours and generate a range of innovative drug candidates with the potential to be first-in-class or best-in-class in critical therapeutic areas such as oncology, neurology, and immunology.

Merck global head of research & development and chief medical officer for the healthcare business sector Danny Bar-Zohar said: “With the convergence of science, data, and AI, we’re determined to fast-track the development of new and truly innovative candidates, forging a path to previously unimaginable medical breakthroughs.

“The partnerships with industry-leading AI technology firms BenevolentAI and Exscientia will complement our internal research capabilities and expertise, aligning with our broader strategy to enhance R&D productivity and the output of our pipeline in a sustainable manner.”

Under the terms of these agreements, each partnership has selected three potential targets that could lead to first-in-class or best-in-class drug candidates. There’s also room for the identification and nomination of additional targets in the future.

The primary focus of these collaborations is to advance the development of small molecules. Merck will choose which candidates to take forward for further pre-clinical and clinical development.

Both BenevolentAI and Exscientia will receive upfront payments in the low double-digit million US dollar range. Additionally, they are eligible for milestone payments related to discovery, development, regulatory approvals, and commercialisation. Furthermore, they will receive tiered royalties based on net sales.

Merck is actively incorporating data science and AI techniques throughout its research and development processes. This comprehensive approach, spanning from target identification to clinical trials and product lifecycle management, is aimed at revolutionising drug discovery and development. The goal is to bring new medicines to patients more quickly and with a higher likelihood of success.

As AI and advanced analytics continue to evolve, Merck intends to deepen its expertise in these areas while expanding its partnerships and collaborations, ensuring the company remains at the forefront of innovation in the field.