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BioNTech signs £560m acquisition of UK AI firm InstaDeep to turbocharge drugs research

The pharmaceutical giant hopes to apply InstaDeep's models to its research and supply chains, to improve medicine development across the board

Biotechnology giant BioNTech SE has agreed to acquire InstaDepp, a UK-based technology startup specialising in the field of artificial intelligence (AI).

BioNTech aims to improve its research with the use of AI models, such as those developed by InstaDeep, to enhance the testing of novel drug samples and improve the efficiency of lab work.

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InstaDeep has a track record in analysing samples for BioNTech, and in addition to the medical use cases for its models has demonstrated an ability to improve operations such as vaccine supply chains.

The deal, worth £562 million, is divided into a £362 million payment in cash and BioNTech shares, along with £200 million in future milestone payments to InstaDeep shareholders.

“Since the inception of BioNTech, we have focused on leveraging computational solutions to create personalised immunotherapies that can reach a wide patient population,” said Prof. Ugur Sahin, M.D., CEO and co-founder of BioNTech. 

“The acquisition of InstaDeep allows us to incorporate the rapidly evolving AI capabilities of the digital world into our technologies, research, drug discovery, manufacturing, and deployment processes. Our aim is to make BioNTech a technology company where AI is seamlessly integrated into all aspects of our work.”

BioNTech has previously invested in InstaDeep, and in 2020 announced a multi-year research partnership with the firm. This was realised through the formation of AI innovation labs in London and Mainz to combine the expertise of the two companies to improve pharmaceutical design, analytics, and supply chains with AI and ML

What is InstaDeep?

InstaDeep is headquartered in London, and was founded in 2014 in Tunisia. At the time of writing the company has approximately 240 employees and has twice been included in CB Insight’s ‘most promising artificial intelligence startups’ report.

It is the creator of DeepChain AI, a product that analyses protein sequences using an AI model trained on amino acids. It can be used to generate mutation probabilities of a sequence, or to predict stable variants of a given protein sequence, which is particularly useful for biotechnology research.

Previous work by the company includes collaborations with Nvidia using its Cambridge-1 supercomputer to accelerate biological research and perform complex tasks like genome sequencing.

InstaDeep is one of a select few organisations with access to the supercomputer, alongside founding partners AstraZeneca, GSK, Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, King's College London, and Oxford Nanopore.

It's also a certified 'Service and Build' partner in Google Cloud’s Partner Advantage programme. The firm also partnered with Google Cloud in 2022 to train an AI model that could predict the traits of specific plants based on genomic sequence analysis. 

It was hoped that this model could be used to assess the viability of crops necessary for world food supply, and to recognise genes that make cropper hardier, more nutritious and easier to grow. Together, Google Cloud and InstaDeep trained models of up to 20 billion parameters on available crop genomes

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