UNITED KINGDOM — AstraZeneca’s subsidiary, Alexion, has partnered with Verge Genomics, tapping into the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to revolutionize drug discovery for rare neurodegenerative and neuromuscular diseases.

The alliance promises to streamline the identification and validation of therapeutic targets for these elusive conditions, ultimately offering hope to patients in need.

Seng Cheng, Alexion’s head of research and product development, revealed that this partnership will harness the capabilities of Verge’s AI-driven drug discovery platform, aiming to accelerate the quest for new treatment targets.

By combining Verge’s platform with data gleaned from patient tissue samples, researchers anticipate a more efficient and targeted approach.

Central to this collaboration is Verge’s CONVERGE platform, a cutting-edge system that merges highly predictive human tissue datasets with the precision of machine learning.

This unique blend of technology enhances the chances of uncovering novel targets with a high probability of clinical success.

Verge’s approach diverges from conventional methods, which often commence with cell or animal models. Instead, the company relies on an extensive library of genomic datasets extracted from human tissue.

Coupled with an advanced human-centered biology platform, this innovative approach swiftly translates data insights into potential clinical candidates.

Notably, Verge’s methodology has already shown promise in their lead program for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), undertaken in collaboration with Eli Lilly through a 2021 partnership valued at up to US$719 million. This endeavor remains in the early discovery stages, as indicated on Verge’s website.

A lucrative collaboration

In the initial phase of this partnership, Verge stands to receive upfront and near-term payments totaling up to US$42 million.

However, the collaboration’s true potential shines through its ability to reach up to $840 million in milestone payments, in addition to eventual downstream royalties.

Alexion assumes the role of target selection for each indication and retains the option to license and advance successful candidates through clinical development and commercialization.

As part of the collaboration, AstraZeneca will also secure an unspecified equity position in Verge Genomics.

This move reinforces Verge’s prominence in the realm of AI-driven drug discovery, a position that has garnered support from key players such as Eli Lilly and Merck Global Health Innovation Fund since its establishment in 2015.

Pioneering ALS treatment and beyond

In parallel to their collaboration with Alexion, Verge is diligently advancing another ALS candidate, VRG50635, which recently unveiled positive Phase I safety and tolerability results.

This therapeutic agent targets PIKfyve, a newfound hope in the fight against ALS, identified using the CONVERGE platform.

Verge’s pipeline extends to include assets targeting conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, progressive supranuclear palsy, schizophrenia, and various forms of dementia, offering a glimmer of optimism for patients suffering from these challenging disorders.

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