Welsh scientist makes potential $539m fortune from biotech flotation in US | Pharmaceuticals industry
A Welsh scientist who dreamed up his artificial intelligence biotech company while walking home from the laboratory is sitting on a potential $539m (£400m) paper fortune after its $2.9bn stock market float.
The idea for Exscientia, an Oxford-based firm that uses artificial intelligence to develop medicines, dates back to the 1990s when Andrew Hopkins was a biophysics PhD student in Oxford. He researched potential treatments for HIV, but the process was so laborious that he thought there must a better way to design drugs.
The answer was applying artificial intelligence to drug development – using automated computer algorithms to screen large datasets to detect hidden patterns, and to perform other tasks within seconds that would take humans months to perform.
After nearly a decade working at the US drug giant Pfizer, followed by five years at the University of Dundee where he researched applying data mining and machine learning to the pharmaceutical industry, Hopkins set up Exscientia in 2012.
The company has just floated in New York with a market value of $2.9bn. It sold 13.9m shares at $22 apiece to raise $304.7m on Friday, spurning a London listing. The shares soared 32% to $29 in early trading on their Nasdaq debut, valuing the company at $3.7bn.
The share price surge has given Hopkins, 49, honorary chair of medicinal informatics at Dundee University’s School of Life Sciences, a paper fortune of $539m. He owns 18.6m shares, or 15.8% of the company but is not selling any of them.
Over the years, the business struck partnerships with large drug companies including Britain’s GSK and the US drugmaker Bristol Myers Squibb and in July, it received a $1.5m grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a Covid-19 treatment that works for new variants or other Sars viruses.
Last year, Exscientia claimed a world first when it announced that the first drug generated entirely by AI – for obsessive-compulsive disorder – was going into clinical trials. The project took less than 12 months, instead of the usual four to five years. Using AI to generate new medicines cuts nearly a third from the early-stage drug development cost, and big pharmaceutical firms are investing heavily in AI.
Exscientia has also worked with the German firm Evotec on a cancer immunotherapy for adults with advanced solid tumours, which is being tested on humans. It took just eight months to develop the treatment using AI.
All of the firm’s main investors are locked in for 180 days. They include the Japanese conglomerate Softbank, along with Evotec, the US fund manager BlackRock, Bristol Myers Squibb’s Celgene subsidiary, and the Danish life science investor Novo Holdings.
In private placements, Exscientia has sold a further 7.3m shares at $22 to Softbank and the Gates Foundation, to raise $160m.
Exscientia’s Nasdaq listing comes a day after Oxford Nanopore, a genomic sequencing company, made a stellar stock market debut in London. The shares jumped 42% on their first day of trading, giving the startup a market value of nearly £5bn, in the biggest biotech flotation in London for decades.