Janssen inks nference AI research pact

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This builds on recent artificial intelligence deals Janssen has penned with Iktos and BenevolentAI. (iStockPhoto/D3Damon)

Looking to broaden its use of artificial intelligence to help lock down its R&D work, Johnson & Johnson’s biotech unit Janssen has penned a new deal with AI specialist nference.

The multiyear deal, financial details of which were not disclosed, will see the Big Pharma “leverage the nference artificial intelligence (AI) platform to create a unified data science-powered connective fabric across the Janssen R&D organization.”

In practical terms, this will see nference uncovering and prioritizing new targets and disease subsets as well as boosting effectiveness by matching the right patients to the right drugs. Further, nference will encourage efficiencies by identifying the optimal sites and investigators for pushing on with clinical trials across hospitals.


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To do this, nference said it has developed a “holistic data science kernel” that will synthesize some of the Janssen R&D databases with “real-time insights gleaned by the core nference AI platform from the world’s public biomedical knowledge bases.”

It added: “This will include synthesis of unstructured, semi-structured and structured data sets that evolves and learns continuously as expert- and machine-curated insights are fed into the platform by nference and Janssen R&D scientists.”

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This comes a month after Janssen tied up with French AI firm Iktos—which describes its work as being borne of “deep generative models”—to work on new tech for in silico drug design that aims to boost drug discovery based on “its unique capacity to explore chemical space with speed and efficiency, thus enabling identification of molecules that meet the desired criteria in a given research project.” This deal also builds on the 2016 drug discovery collaboration with BenevolentAI.

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“We are thrilled to be advancing this strategic alliance with Janssen R&D for connecting biological information to disease condition and therapeutic mechanisms,” said Venky Soundararajan, Ph.D., founder and chief scientific officer of nference.

“By pairing the unique data science technologies enabled by the nference platform with the renowned institutional expertise of Janssen R&D, we seek to unearth answers to complex research questions and solve urgent business needs. This is enabled via an agile data science-enabled business platform and a living software kernel that continually synthesize public as well as proprietary knowledge across therapeutic areas and global support functions.”

On top of this, life science veteran, genome sequencing father and MIT professor George Church, Ph.D., has become the new chair of nference’s scientific board.

He adds: “This alliance heralds the coming together of breakthrough machine intelligence, profound biomedical insights and iterative software application development to power drug discovery, disease stratification and clinical development for one of the largest pharmaceutical companies.”

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