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Germany's BioNTech buys British AI startup InstaDeep

FILE PHOTO: Test tubes are seen in front of a displayed Biontech logo in this illustration

(Reuters) -BioNTech SE has agreed to acquire British artificial intelligence (AI) startup InstaDeep for up to 562 million pounds ($682 million) to speed up its biotech research and manufacturing capabilities.

Under the German vaccine maker's largest takeover deal to date, BioNTech is to pay 362 million pounds upfront, in a mix of cash and an unspecified number of BioNTech shares, and up to 200 million pounds contingent on InstaDeep's future performance.

"Our goal with the acquisition is to integrate AI seamlessly in all aspects of our work - from target discovery, lead discovery to manufacturing and delivery of our products," BioNTech co-founder and Chief Executive Ugur Sahin said at the J.P. Morgan healthcare conference on Tuesday.

Sahin also cited BioNTech's partnership last week with the U.K. government for development of personalized cancer therapies and how AI would help in that.

The transaction adds to a slew of deals as the industry meets in San Francisco for the conference this week.

With estimated COVID-19 vaccine revenues of up to 17 billion euros ($18.2 billion) in 2022 alone, BioNTech is well funded to advance its work on new cancer immunotherapies and on other vaccines, and AI will play a growing role.

BioNTech was part of a group of investors who participated in a $100 million financing round at InstaDeep a year ago. It declined to say precisely how much it had invested then or what share of InstaDeep it held.

BioNTech said it was already involved in dozens of joint projects with InstaDeep, including efforts unveiled last year to quickly determine whether a new coronavirus variant is a cause for concern.

InstaDeep, with about 240 staff, will continue to provide its AI and machine learning services to other companies, including Google and Nvidia, the statement added.

($1 = 0.9325 euros)

($1 = 0.8244 pounds)

(Reporting by Ludwig Burger, Pratik Jain and Leroy Leo; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli, Shailesh Kuber and Maju Samuel)