Life Sciences Insight

Pfizer re-ups CytoReason collab applying AI disease models to drug development

Three years down, many more to go.

Following the first stretch of what has so far been a successful partnership between Pfizer and CytoReason, the duo has opted to extend their collaboration and continue their work to apply CytoReason’s artificial intelligence technology to Pfizer’s drug development efforts.

The companies didn’t disclose the financial terms of their extended deal, but when they first joined forces in early 2019, CytoReason said it would be eligible to rack up technology access fees, research support and milestone-based payments from Pfizer adding up to a total in the low tens of millions.

“The extension of our collaboration with CytoReason will build upon our existing data science capabilities and further enhance our ability to make data-driven decisions across our portfolio,” said Mikael Dolsten, M.D., Ph.D., chief scientific officer and president of worldwide research, development and medical at Pfizer. “We are excited to continue this successful partnership, which has helped us investigate challenging biological questions to potentially inform the development of new therapies for the benefit of patients.”

Since announcing the original collaboration in January 2019, Pfizer has been using CytoReason’s AI-powered technology to guide its drug development efforts, with a focus on improving the Big Pharma’s understanding of the immune system.

The Israeli company’s machine learning algorithms comb through massive repositories of clinical data to build models of human disease, which can then be used by biotech and pharmaceutical partners like Pfizer to identify targets, develop novel drug candidates and understand which patients will benefit most from those new treatments.

With Pfizer, the AI has so far aided in R&D efforts across more than 20 diseases. In a May 2021 blog post, Pfizer scientists explained how they’re using CytoReason’s tech as a “GPS” to guide researchers through the “traffic jam” caused by the massive amount of available sequencing data and decades of clinical trial findings regarding the immune system.

In one case, for example, the software helped Pfizer’s scientists dig through data to better understand the biology of CCR6 proteins—which become more prevalent when certain autoimmune diseases are present—allowing them to determine the best way to target the CCR6 protein and the diseases that would be most affected by a CCR6 inhibitor. As a result, Pfizer was able to develop a drug specifically geared toward treating inflammatory bowel disease, which entered phase 1 clinical trials in July 2020.

“Our work with the Pfizer team has demonstrated how our computational models can potentially match the right treatment to the right patient groups, across multiple therapeutic areas. Through this collaboration and our growing customer base worldwide, we aim to establish our platform as the gold standard for drug discovery, development and portfolio management,” CytoReason CEO David Harel said in a statement about the extended partnership.

According to CytoReason, its technology is currently used by six of the 10 biggest pharma companies in the world.

Meanwhile Merck KGaA recently forged its own partnership with the data miner. In October, the German company tapped CytoReason to help profile one of its immuno-oncology drugs, sorting through data collected during the drug’s phase 1 and 2 trials to help Merck determine the patient populations and tumor types in which it will be most effective.

The partnership will go both ways: In return, Merck will add its wealth of clinical trial data and immuno-oncology expertise to sharpen CytoReason’s AI, boosting the depth and accuracy of its disease models.

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