CytoReason, a company using artificial intelligence to create a computational disease model of the human body for drug development, has announced a partnership with Sanofi. The initiative will focus on cell-centered models and deconvolution methods to discover mechanistic insights for individual asthma endotypes.
According to the collaborators, the purpose of the project is to obtain clarity on the common factors of asthma patients, to identify stable, reproducible endotypes and diagnostic features. David Harel, CEO and co-founder of CytoReason, spoke with Outsourcing-Pharma about the project and what it might mean for the estimated 340m asthma patients around the world.
OSP: Could you please tell us a bit about CytoReason—who you are, what you do, the history of the company, and what sets you apart from others in your field?
DH: What makes CytoReason unique is that it is building computational disease models. Chief scientific officer Shai Shen-Orr and I established CytoReason in 2016 with the goal of helping pharma and biotech companies speed up drug discovery, and dramatically cut the cost of developing new medicines.
Drug development is an extremely expensive and risky proposition today. The average cost of developing a new drug is over $2B and growing, while the probability of success is very low and shrinking. In fact, only one out of 5,000 new drugs is approved (and only 8% of drugs that start clinical trials make it to the market).
In the future, drugs will be developed and tested by simulating drug responses using data and computational models instead of human clinical trials. Just like many other industries, the drug industry will be transformed by the data revolution.
CytoReason is leading this transformation to computer simulation by modeling, tissue by tissue, the entire human body, and human diseases. CytoReason’s models are already accurate enough to predict the response of the human body to drug treatments and are continuously advancing as more data flows through the model. To date, six of the world’s top ten pharma companies use CytoReason’s technology in drug R&D.
OSP: Could you please tell us how you came to partner with Sanofi—have you joined with them on other projects/conditions?
DH: This is the first time we are collaborating with Sanofi. We have been exploring a collaboration for some time and were looking for the right opportunity to leverage our disease models.
OSP: What are some of the challenges to date the pharma field has experienced in developing and producing asthma treatments and diagnosing the disease—and how will your tech improve upon what’s out there?
DH: Asthma is a very heterogeneous disease, which affects hundreds of millions of people globally. While symptoms might seem similar, when you dive into the molecular makeup of patients’ tissues, you see many different subtypes of the disease. Our computational model of Asthma helps to identify commonalities in patient subgroups, which will allow pharma companies to identify appropriate drugs, as well as bring them closer to precision medicine.
Our models allow the categorization of patients, based on patient subpopulations that are useful for pharma R&D. Only a model can provide the combination of flexibility and speed needed to bring the right treatment to the right patient.
OSP: What about asthma makes CytoReason’s unique technology fitting for this type of research?
DH: Asthma manifests itself in multiple tissues, and CytoReason’s disease model allows you to identify commonalities among different tissues in the same disease. Also, the molecular level analysis is more focused than analysis of clinical endotypes.
OSP: Please share what you can about the things asthma patients may have in common that you’re hoping to pinpoint, and how you expect that info might be used in diagnosis and other areas.
DH: We’re looking for pathways and distinct combinations of biological entities that work together in groups of patients. CytoReason’s technology enables us to learn these pathways across patients, data types, tissues, and diseases.
OSP: Asthma is an insidious condition that, depending on the patient, ranges anywhere from annoying to deadly—do you or any family members suffer?
DH: Growing up in an industrial city (Haifa, Israel), many of the kids around me suffered from asthma, which in my childhood, was considered incurable. It’s exciting for me to be able to contribute to the battle against this insidious disease, which in turn, might alleviate at least some of the suffering that’s out there.