Merck KGaA taps into Quris' stem cell-powered drug screening AI

Merck KGaA has tapped nascent artificial intelligence developer Quris for its digital drug safety prediction platform, which includes experiments run on miniaturized human tissues encased on small chips built from stem cells.

Quris aims to help forecast which compounds will avoid causing serious side effects or complications when given to humans—a system Merck hopes to employ to identify the potential for liver toxicity related to new drug candidates. 

To start, Merck will assess Quris’ BioAI program and compare it with traditional in vitro and preclinical animal testing. The deal includes an additional option for Merck to obtain an exclusive license covering a specific disease area in the future for up to five years tied to a payment of an undisclosed amount.

“The drug development process must be improved; drugs that are successful in mice, often still fail clinical trials in humans,” Quris CEO Isaac Bentwich said in a statement

RELATED: AI drug discovery startup Quris launches with $9M to predict drug success starting with rare diseases

Quris’ system aims to analyze the reactions to thousands of potential drugs on its automated "patients-on-a-chip" platform using tissue models built in collaboration with the New York Stem Cell Foundation.

After launching last October, Quris completed a $28 million seed funding round in January. Based in Boston and Tel Aviv, Israel, the company has set for itself a starting focus on rare genetic diseases that can't be modeled in animals, such as fragile X syndrome, an inherited cause of autism, with an in-house drug program Quris hopes to advance into clinical testing by the end of this year.