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September 13, 2019

BioXcel Therapeutics unveils new AI lab

BioXcel Therapeutics Inc. CEO Vimal Mehta, center, cuts the ribbon on the company's new 11,000-square-foot artificial intelligence lab in New Haven.

It’s been full speed ahead for New Haven’s BioXcel Therapeutics Inc. since it spun off from its Branford parent company BioXcel Corp. in 2017.

In two years, the fledgling biotech has raised $60 million in an initial public offering, expanded from four to 25 employees, brought two drugs into clinical trials and is eyeing 2021 as a target date for launching its first commercial product — a drug to treat agitation in patients suffering from neurological and psychological disorders.

On Thursday, the company celebrated yet another milestone: cutting the ribbon on its new 11,000-square-foot artificial intelligence lab on the 12th floor of the Long Wharf Maritime Center at 555 Long Wharf Drive.

That aggressive growth trajectory is unusual in the biotech industry, where the regulatory path to bringing a new drug to market can often take a decade or longer. 

CEO Vimal Mehta thinks BioXcel Therapeutics can cut that timetable in half thanks to a unique business model that uses artificial intelligence to find and repurpose existing drugs to treat new diseases. 

“We are the first public company using artificial intelligence to develop drugs,” said Mehta, a former CuraGen executive who co-founded BioXcel Therapeutic’s parent company with fellow CuraGen alum Krishnan Nandabalan in 2005.

The company uses proprietary machine learning algorithms to comb through a curated database of nearly 2.5 million research publications to hunt for existing drugs that can be re-invented to treat new diseases in the fields of neuroscience and oncology. It then employs virtual reality technology to visualize the data in 3D. 

By focusing on drugs that have already gone through (Phase 1) human safety testing, the company is able to save time and money, allowing it to bring a drug from clinic to market in four to five years instead of the more typical 10-to-12-year timeline, Mehta explained. 

Mehta said there are some 3,000 drug compounds that have progressed to Phase 2 testing that could potentially be repurposed.

The biotech’s most advanced compound so far is BXCL501, a reformulated version of 20-year-old Pfizer drug dexmedetomidine, sold under the brand name Precedex and originally used in surgical units as an intravenous anesthetic. 

BioXcel developed a thin-film version of the drug that dissolves under the tongue and has a minty taste, similar to a mouthwash strip. The company plans to market it as a faster, less invasive way to calm patients suffering from mild to moderate agitation.

The company expects to initiate a Phase 3 trial, the last stage of human testing, by the end of this year before applying for U.S. Food & Drug Administration approval in late 2020. If approved, it could be available for patients suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder as early as 2021, Mehta said.

The company is also studying the drug to treat agitation in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and is exploring its use to treat symptoms of opioid withdrawal.  

BioXcel’s second compound, BXCL701, an oral immuno-oncology drug, is being tested in combination with other therapies to treat pancreatic cancer and a rare form of prostate cancer.

Before cutting the ribbon on the company’s new facility Thursday, Mehta said others had urged him to consider moving his company to larger biotech hubs such as Cambridge, Mass. But he said he was adamant about growing the company in the Elm City.

“Connecticut is truly, we believe, a growing hub for the biotech industry and an epicenter for innovation and cutting-edge technology,” he said. “There is plenty of talent and I think we can grow a very strong biotech company [in New Haven].”

Chief Financial Officer Richard I. Steinhart said the company is planning additional hires and that Long Wharf was an easy choice when it outgrew office space in Branford. 

He cited the Maritime Center’s proximity to I-95 and Union Station as major assets, and said BioXcel was able to lease the space at an affordable price. 

“The biotech market is clustered in California and Cambridge [Mass.] and New York. And they all tried to woo us,” Steinhart said. “But if you look at the cost of doing business in those places compared to here, there’s just no comparison.”

Contact Natalie Missakian at

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