Sequoia, Google, Tencent invest $15M in China AI biotech startup XtalPi

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A new round of funding will give XtalPi, a computation-driven Chinese startup, a chance to provide applications of artificial intelligence for drug research and development. Leading the charge in the $15 million series B round of finance are high-profile technology investors Sequoia China, Google and Chinese internet giant Tencent, according to an article by Angus Liu in Fierce Biotech.

Both Tencent, which led XtalPi’s series A financing, and series B lead investor Sequoia China believe in “AI’s power in transforming the future of drug R&D and also in XtalPi’s team and technology.” Google will launch an AI lab in China, its first such center in Asia, although the search site is blocked in China’s mainland. With a total investment of $20 million, XtalPi plans to “develop new computational models with big data generated from its computing platform and will also construct a prediction-driven research lab to enhance its capabilities for the screening and design of solid drugs.”

XtalPi uses artificial intelligence, quantum physics and cloud computing to provide fast and accurate prediction of the crystal structures of drugs. Because a drug’s structure has important implications for safety, stability and efficacy, the company’s AI models also assist in the determination of other significant characteristics for hit identification and lead optimization, thus saving time and money. While AI has not yet brought a new drug from computer to market, the concept holds enough promise to give many AI-based drug R&D supporters large amounts of capital or deals with top biopharma companies.

As company spokesperson Ruyu Wang told FierceBiotech, “xtal” is an academic abbreviation for “crystal,” and Pi is π, as used in many mathematics and physics formulas. Shuhao Frank Wen, XtalPi’s co-founder and chairman, added, “At XtalPi, we believe that algorithmic power is the key to finding smarter, more effective routes for drug research and development, and we are focused on building a computational engine that empowers and expedites pharmaceutical innovation for companies worldwide.” Wang explained that XtalPi has built an elastic high-performance computing cluster across AWS, Tencent Cloud, Google Cloud, and Alibaba Cloud to deploy up to 1 million cores within seconds in order to support XtalPi’s algorithms.

XtalPi, which was founded in 2014 by a group of physicists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, now has 60 employees working in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Shenzhen and Beijing, China. It has developed strategic partnerships with several top international pharmaceutical companies. The new funding round will be used to develop new computational models built on big data generated from XtalPi's high-precision computing platform, expand its business into adjacent areas along the pharmaceutical value chain and support the construction of a prediction-driven research lab that integrates XtalPi's R&D platform with state-of-the-art wet-bench laboratory technologies to provide enhanced capabilities for the rational design of solid forms of drugs.

Wen concluded, "The financing from Sequoia China, Google, and Tencent, who are among the top investors and innovators in AI and computer science, represents a strong endorsement of our vision and technology. We look forward to working closely with them as XtalPi continues to mature and succeed."