Merck KGaA taps CytoReason's machine learning platform to profile immuno-oncology drug

Because of differences in their mechanisms of action, even drugs designed to treat the exact same disease or condition can fare differently from patient to patient. It’s crucial, then, that pharmaceutical companies determine early on which patient populations are best served by their specific offering.

To ensure its cancer immunotherapy drugs end up in the right hands, Merck KGaA is looking to CytoReason, which is building cell-centered computational models of the human immune system and disease. Their partnership will begin with a focus on one undisclosed immuno-oncology drug, with a goal of improving the company’s understanding of the drug’s mechanism of action and identifying the patient populations and tumor types in which it’s most effective.

To accomplish that goal, CytoReason will use its computational disease models and its machine learning artificial intelligence technology to analyze findings from Merck’s phase 1 and 2 studies of the drug. Spanning hundreds of patients, the data will help CytoReason’s AI essentially build a thorough profile of the immunotherapy.

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At the same time, Merck’s clinical trial data and immuno-oncology expertise will also add to CytoReason’s platform, enabling the Israeli startup to make its disease models even more accurate and robust.

Indeed, the company’s computational models have been largely built on clinical research findings contributed by its pharmaceutical collaborators, which CytoReason says include six of the world’s top 10 pharma companies to date. The resulting models can be used to simulate diseases on a cellular level.

“More and more pharma companies are discovering the value of AI-led platforms in drug R&D,” David Harel, CEO and co-founder of CytoReason, told Fierce Medtech. “Similar to the other pharma companies we work with, Merck will benefit from CytoReason’s platform, which relies on computational disease models that enable high-throughput analytics, integration of multiple data types, and incorporation of proprietary data.”

In return for contributing their data, these collaborators can use CytoReason’s AI-powered platform to validate existing drugs, as in the case of the new partnership with Merck, or to discover potential new targets. Either way, by improving the accuracy of the drugs’ indications from the get-go, the platform can significantly cut the time and money it takes to bring a new formulation through the development stage, clinical trials and regulatory approval.

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Among CytoReason’s other partners is Pfizer, with which it joined forces for drug discovery purposes in early 2019. Though further details of their agreement weren’t disclosed, the companies said at the time that Pfizer would contribute payments potentially reaching the “low double-digit millions” for access to CytoReason’s platform.

This year alone, CytoReason has added another trio of new partnerships to its roster, including with Summit Pharmaceuticals International and Ferring Pharmaceuticals. Most recently, in June, Sanofi hopped on the bandwagon, tapping CytoReason’s platform to gain a better understanding of asthma in children and adults.

And there are plenty more partnerships in CytoReason’s near future: “As our platform grows to become the industry standard among Big Pharma companies, we’re opening it up for specialty pharma and leading biotech companies,” Harel said.