Roche, Genentech tap Flywheel to spin up AI-based drug discovery research

Roche and its Genentech division have tapped data curation developer Flywheel to help train its machine learning models aimed at discovering potential new drugs. 

Flywheel’s platform helps automate the ingestion, classification and analysis of medical images collected from radiology scans and digital pathology programs as well as data from electronic health records and diagnostic tests.

By taking the cumbersome steps out of aggregation and preprocessing, the startup’s cloud-based platform aims to deliver large batches of ready-to-use information to Roche and Genentech’s drug discovery teams working on precision medicine projects across multiple locations.

“Manual processes to curate data at the terabyte and petabyte levels are historically costly, time-consuming and prone to human error,” Flywheel CEO Jim Olson said in a statement.

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“With our platform in place, Roche and Genentech researchers can access high-quality images for complex analysis and machine learning, ultimately speeding the development of innovative therapies,” Olson added. “Before using the platform, this level of collaboration and analysis was simply not possible.”

This past July, Flywheel announced a similar partnership with Siemens Healthineers. The alliance focuses on imaging modalities and enabling cooperation between the medtech giant and its international research collaborators.

That project’s goal is to streamline the development of artificial-intelligence-powered analyses of medical scans such as X-rays, CTs and MRIs with automated quality controls and image annotation programs.

“The Business Line Magnetic Resonance at Siemens Healthineers works with hundreds of collaboration partners worldwide. That’s the reason why we initiated the project,” Siemens’ magnetic resonance head, Arthur Kaindl, said in a statement at the time. “Flywheel provides a unique solution that addresses the challenges of multi-institutional healthcare research collaboration at scale.”

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Since then, Flywheel has kept the gears turning with $22 million in series C proceeds—collected from 8VC, Argonautic Ventures, Novartis' dRx Capital and others—while also funding its acquisition of Radiologics, a provider of software for managing imaging data in clinical trials.

"Our goal is to power accelerated R&D in oncology, radiology and other therapeutic areas where innovation is paramount and increasingly data-driven," Olson said in the company’s September announcement.