AstraZeneca signs on BenevolentAI for lung, kidney drug discovery work

AstraZeneca has tapped BenevolentAI to help bring artificial intelligence and machine learning to its drug discovery projects aimed at chronic kidney disease (CKD) and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).

The long-term collaboration plans to combine the Big Pharma’s genomics, chemistry and clinical data sets with BenevolentAI’s target identification platform—as well as its knowledge graph systems that chart links between compounds, genes, proteins and diseases.

According to AstraZeneca, scientists from both companies will work side by side to dive deeper into the complex biological mechanisms behind IPF and CKD, which they described as poorly understood. The law firm Eversheds Sutherland advised AstraZeneca on the deal. 

“Millions of people today suffer from diseases that have no effective treatment,” BenevolentAI CEO Joanna Shields said in a statement. “The future of drug discovery and development lies in bridging the gap between AI, data, and biology.”

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Before the end of this year, AstraZeneca plans to help submit the first in a new class of oral therapies to the FDA for the treatment of anemia associated with CKD. Being developed in partnership with FibroGen, the hypoxia-inducible factor stabilizer roxadustat outperformed placebo by boosting hemoglobin levels in a phase 3 trial reported last September.

Current anemia treatments include erythropoietin replacement drugs that are given either intravenously or subcutaneously, which is not ideal for patients that do not require dialysis.

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In IPF, AstraZeneca recently received an orphan drug designation from the FDA for its midphase Src kinase inhibitor saracatinib. The drug aims to slow fibroblast activity and collagen deposition, key features of the disease that sees thickening and scarring of the lung’s connective tissues as well as excessive tissue buildup in the organ that blocks airflow.

“IPF is a recent addition to our respiratory research strategy and we are interested to see whether saracatinib could be a useful approach for the treatment of this intractable disease,” said AstraZeneca’s Mene Pangalos, executive vice president of R&D for its BioPharmaceuticals division.