Merck selects Saama to add machine learning tech to drug development process

When it comes to developing new drugs, one of the most time-consuming and complex pieces of the puzzle is the task of compiling all of the data collected throughout the clinical development process to determine how and for whom a potential new drug works best.

The solution? Data analytics software, which has become increasingly more advanced in recent years—in turn, increasingly speeding up and streamlining the drug development process for biopharma companies.

Hoping to add yet another boost to its data analytics work is Merck & Co., which is now looking to add in an element of artificial intelligence to further compress the time it takes to comb through its mountains of clinical data and improve the accuracy of that analysis.

Merck has tapped Saama Technologies for the job. The California-based data analytics company will work with Merck to build a new clinical data management system for the Big Pharma, using its own Life Science Analytics Cloud (LSAC) as a jumping-off point.

Saama’s LSAC is powered by cloud computing and machine learning artificial intelligence technologies, the latter of which was trained using more than 100 million clinical data points. The platform is designed to help clinical researchers aggregate all collected data in one place, where it can be quickly and easily monitored, analyzed and shared with collaborators. Saama’s system is also technology-agnostic, meant to be easily slotted into its partners’ existing infrastructure and workflows.

Together, Merck and Saama will integrate the AI-powered LSAC technology into Merck’s clinical development systems. The software will aim to improve both speed and efficiency in the pharma’s efforts to ingest and analyze data from a variety of internal and external data sources.

It’ll do so by helping the drugmaker “optimize and automate processes, accelerate cycle times and reduce costs in the quest to bring new treatments to patients sooner,” according to Saama founder Suresh Katta.

This isn’t Merck’s first introduction to Saama’s technology. Late last year, its venture capital arm, the Merck Global Health Innovation Fund, joined a cadre of other investors in acquiring a majority stake in the analytics startup.

Other backers in the buyout plan included Amgen Ventures, McKesson Ventures and Pfizer Ventures, among others. In total, they offered up $430 million in return for the majority stake, with a goal of further expanding Saama’s AI research and development and other technological offerings.