BioNTech acquires AI startup founded by Tunisian entrepreneurs

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  • German-based biotech company BioNTech is set to acquire InstaDeep, founded by a Tunisian-born and U.K.-based artificial intelligence (AI) startup, for up to £562 million (US$680 million) in its largest deal yet.
  • The Tunis and London-based enterprise AI startup uses advanced machine learning techniques to bring AI to applications within an enterprise environment.
  • The startup has offices in Paris, Tunis, Lagos, Dubai and Cape Town.

German pharmaceutical giant BioNTech announced it is acquiring Tunisian artificial intelligence start-up InstaDeep, in what is being hailed as a massive win for Africa’s tech ecosystem. The agreement is reportedly worth an estimated £582 million (US $682 million)

The two companies collaborated in 2020 to rapidly set up an intelligent system to detect Covid-19 variants, and this deal would accelerate BioNTech’s goal of harnessing the power of machine learning to improve the drug discovery process.

This acquisition is as a result of this long-term partnership that has seen InstaDeep become the centerpiece of a growing portfolio of initiatives around Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning at BioNTech.

BioNTech intends to use computational solutions to create personalised drugs for cancer patients.

“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.” said BioNTech CEO Uğur Şahin,

“AI is progressing exponentially and our mission at InstaDeep has always been to make sure it benefits everyone. We are very excited to join forces and become one team with BioNTech, with whom we share the same culture of deep tech innovation and focus on positive human impact,” said Instadeep founder and CEO Karim Beguir on the acquisition. “Together, we envision building a world leader that combines biopharmaceutical research and AI with the aim to design next-generation immunotherapies that enhance medical care — thus, helping fight cancer and other diseases.”

The transaction is expected to close in the first half of 2023, subject to customary closing conditions and regulatory approvals.

Founded in 2015 by Karim Beguir and Zohra Slim, and selected into Endeavor in 2018, InstaDeep is an AI company building predictive analytics solutions for enterprise clients, particularly in the biomedical, mobility and transportation spaces. It is now headquartered in the UK.

Instadeep is an impressive company for so many reasons, but I’ll highlight only two. Instadeep has developed artificial intelligence to solve complex problems. It created an AI system for Deustche Bahn (Europe’s largest rail operator) to automate the scheduling of 10,000 trains. It also developed the Early Warning System (EWS) in collaboration by BioNTech, which uses AI to predict high-risk variants of SARS-CoV-2, from the thousands of novel variant sequences discovered every week.

The team has put African AI on the map by creating solutions for Africa by Africans while serving leading global businesses. And has shown that the best Data Scientists and Tech Talent are in Africa, with 150 out of 250 team in Tech roles.

Number of African Startups (left) and Amount of Venture Capital Raised by Startups (right), 2015–2021. [Photo/ GIGA]
Africa is becoming an increasingly attractive destination for venture capitalists and startups and is quickly becoming the “promised land” for entrepreneurs and investors.

In recent years, more and more investments have been made in African startups, and valuations have been on the rise, with Flutterwave, Fawry, Interswitch Group, and Jumia Group leading the way. Flutterwave, for instance acquired UK fintech startup, Railsr.

This is a more significant trend in Africa-focused startups, which raised a record US$5.3 billion in 2022.
For example, Visa was one of the investors in Bloom —Sudan’s first YC-backed startup—US$6.5 million seed round or the Moroccan B2B e-commerce and retail startup Chari.co – YC S21 – Ecom and Fintech apps for retailers in French-speaking Africa reaching a US$100 million valuation.

Additionally, Flutterwave has processed transactions valued at more than US$16 billion in dozens of African countries and has expanded beyond payment products to an online marketplace and lending to small businesses.

Moreover, several initiatives and programs are helping to nurture and develop African startups, such as the African Innovation Summit, which is helping to foster an environment of collaboration and innovation.

Read: Artificial Intelligence boost to Africa’s infrastructural development

In recent years, artificial intelligence (AI) has revolutionized the drug delivery field. AI-powered systems have enabled the development of more precise, efficient, and cost-effective drug delivery systems that have revolutionized the healthcare industry.

AI-driven drug delivery systems can use data from a variety of sources to create personalized treatments for each patient. By analyzing the patient’s medical history, lifestyle, genetics, and other factors, AI can create targeted therapies that are more effective than traditional treatments. AI-powered drug delivery systems can also predict potential side effects, reducing the risk of adverse reactions.

AI-driven drug delivery systems are also more efficient than traditional systems. By using AI to analyze the patient’s data and the drug’s effects, drug delivery systems can optimize the delivery of the drug to maximize its efficiency. This helps reduce the overall cost of drug delivery and increases the speed of treatment.

Overall, AI has revolutionized drug delivery, enabling more precise, efficient, and cost-effective treatments. AI-driven drug delivery systems are helping to improve the quality of healthcare and making treatments more accessible to those who need them.

According to Alice Taylor, the Principal Consultant leading the Clinical and Medical Practice at The Life Science Talent Consultancy, Fraser Dove International, the new development we will see more clinical trial readouts and pre-clinical studies of AI-discovered drugs that will set the bar.

More AI traction will yield more funding – BioNTech has just agreed to buy UK artificial intelligence start-up InstaDeep for up to £562 million in its biggest-ever deal. What other deals will happen? We will also start to see organizations push theoretical use cases of AI into applied practice.

Read: AI’s potential to solve missing links in Africa’s manufacturing sector

Albert is a Chemical Technologist and Author. He is passionate about mining, stock market investing, Fintech and Edutech.

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