Warburg leads $255m Series C in HK-based AI drug discovery firm Insilico Medicine

Alex Zhavoronkov, founder and CEO of Hong Kong-based Insilico Medicine

Insilico Medicine, a Hong Kong-based firm that uses artificial intelligence (AI) for drug discovery and ageing research, announced on Tuesday that it has raked in $255 million in a Series C round of financing led by US private equity (PE) giant Warburg Pincus.

As part of the investment, Min Fang, managing director at Warburg Pincus, will join Insilico’s board of directors, according to a statement.

The new financing is a leap forward for Insilico in terms of venture funding. In its last round, the firm had secured $37 million in a Series B round led by Shanghai-based investment house Qiming Venture Partners in September 2020. Prior to that, it had raised $14.5 million in its first round of funding.

Existing investors Qiming Venture Partners, Pavilion Capital, Eight Roads Ventures, Lilly Asia Ventures, Sinovation Ventures, BOLD Capital Partners, Formic Ventures, and Baidu Ventures re-upped in the new round.

The Series C round also roped in a wide range of new investors, including CPE, OrbiMed, Mirae Asset Capital, B Capital Group, Deerfield Management, Maison Capital, Lake Bleu Capital, President International Development Corporation, Sequoia Capital China, and Sage Partners.

Insilico was launched in 2014 at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, before its founder Alex Zhavoronkov moved the headquarters to Hong Kong in April 2019, relocating closer to the mainland China market where he believed was “the future of the world’s pharmaceutical industry.”

The firm develops AI systems that utilise deep generative models, reinforcement learning (RL), transformers, and other modern machine learning techniques for the generation of new molecular structures with specific properties. It also delivers software for the generation of synthetic biological data, target identification, and the prediction of clinical trial outcomes.

Insilico integrates two business models: providing AI-powered drug discovery services and software through its Pharma.AI platform, and developing its own pipeline of preclinical programmes.

It demonstrated the first case of AI identifying a novel target for a major pulmonary disease, generating novel molecules for that novel target, and completing the preclinical experiments required to nominate a pre-clinical candidate in under 18 months.

“AI and Machine Learning is a powerful tool to revolutionise drug discovery and bring life-changing therapies to patients faster than ever before,” said Fred Hassan, managing director at Warburg Pincus, in the statement. He said that Insilico has demonstrated “strong value proof of its AI technologies” both through partnerships with pharmaceutical and biotech companies and the development of an internal pipeline.

Proceeds from the Series C round will be used to progress the firm’s current therapeutic programmes into human clinical trials, initiate multiple new programmes for novel and difficult targets, and further develop its AI and drug discovery capabilities.

Since the previous Series B round, Insilico has made its technologies available for licensing for the pharmaceutical and biotech companies looking to gain a head start in AI and accelerate their drug discovery programmes. It has collaborated with drug makers such as Pfizer, Astellas, Johnson & Johnson, Taisho, as well as sustainable agriculture firm Syngenta on the discovery of novel molecules for sustainable regenerative farming.

The firm has published over 130 peer-reviewed papers and has applied for over 30 patents to date.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.