Sanofi Taps Millions Into AI Platform for Cancer Drug Discovery

Sanofi_Michel Stoupak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Michel Stoupak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Sanofi is investing in French American startup Owkin to support drug discovery and development initiatives in four types of cancer. 

The strategic collaboration entails a $180 million equity investment into Owkin and a total payment of $90 million over the next three years, in addition to milestone-based fees to be determined later. 

"Owkin's unique methodology, which applies AI on patient data from partnerships with multiple academic medical centers, supports our ambition to leverage data in innovative ways in R&D," said Arnaud Robert, executive vice president and chief digital officer at Sanofi, in a statement. 

Owkin, a precision medicine and artificial intelligence company, is known for its ability to process large data sets through predictive biomedical AI models. Its global research network is powered by federated learning, which enables data scientists to securely connect to vast data sets and train AI models without the need to pool information. 

With this partnership, Sanofi can optimize its clinical trials and identify predictive biomarkers for diseases and treatment outcomes, specifically in four exclusive types of cancer: triple-negative breast cancer, non-small cell lung cancer, multiple myeloma, and mesothelioma. Conversely, Sanofi's investment will help leverage the Owkin Platform, which endeavors to grow the largest histology and genomic cancer database by collecting information from top oncology centers worldwide. 

"Owkin's mission is to improve patients' lives by using our platform to discover and develop the right treatment for every patient. This landmark partnership with Sanofi will see federated learning used to create research collaborations at a truly unprecedented scale. The future of AI to transform how we develop treatments is incredibly bright, and we are proud to partner with Sanofi on this mission," commented Thomas Clozel, M.D., the co-founder and chief executive of Owkin. 

Owkin works with leading cancer centers and pharmaceutical firms in the U.S. and Europe. Its most notable projects include Healthchain, an AI-focused consortium funded by France's Banque Publique d'Investissement, and MELLODDY (Machine Learning Ledger Orchestration for Drug Discovery), a machine learning program platform that stores data from different pharmaceutical firms to help companies' drug discovery efforts without compromising privacy.

This is not the first time the French biopharmaceutical company has partnered with artificial intelligence specialists to support its research. In June this year, Sanofi entered into a similar agreement with another AI firm CytoReason to tap into the latter's cell-centered models and deconvolution techniques to discover new treatments for asthma in both children and adults. CytoReason's computational model of the human body can simulate disease on a cellular level, allowing for more accurate human trials and reducing the need to use animal models.


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