Pfizer supports CytoReason in Israel and signs new research agreement for the development of AI drugs

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer is investing $20 million in Israeli company CytoReason, a developer of computational disease models for drug discovery and development, as part of a broader deal worth up to $110 million over the next five years, the companies announced on Tuesday.

The agreement builds on an existing multi-year cooperation agreement dating from 2019 that allows Pfizer to use CytoReason’s digital models of the human immune system and disease in its pursuit of innovative drug development.

Under the terms of the renewed partnership agreement, Pfizer will make a capital investment of $20 million, have options to license CytoReason’s platform and disease models under a multi-year commercial agreement worth $90 million, and will fund additional research projects, bringing the total deal value to $110 million by 2027.

CytoReason says its technologies have provided Pfizer with insight into a number of R&D programs on more than 20 diseases, including autoimmune diseases such as lupus and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD is a chronic, lifelong disease that affects the digestive system, and includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

The new research agreement will support the development of additional disease models in new therapeutic areas, the parties said.

“Pfizer has been a strategic partner of CytoReason since 2019, and we are excited to expand our collaboration as one of Pfizer’s trusted AI partners to accelerate drug development,” said the co-founder and CytoReason CEO David Harel in a company statement.

CytoReason co-founders from right to left: David Harel, CEO, Professor Shai Shen-Orr, Chief Scientist, Elina Starosvetsky, VP Biology, and Renaud Gaujoux, Principal Scientist and Data Science Architect. (Fabian Koldorff)

The partnership will advance “meaningful change in the biotech industry” and help “energize future R&D for pharmaceutical companies as they continue to use machine learning to develop treatments more efficiently,” Harel said.

Founded in 2016, CytoReason has developed computer technology that serves as a GPS-like mechanism that navigates the immune system. The machine learning software collects and combines data from a variety of sources, including internal data and published research on the immune system and other clinical studies, to uncover insights into disease biology.

The technology then builds a digital computer simulator of the human body that can be used to predict drug responses, providing guidance as to which ones can best benefit patients.

Essentially, CytoReason allows pharmaceutical companies “to develop their drugs on our platform using AI to simulate the response rather than waiting for animal trials and then clinical trials,” Harel told The Times of Israel the year last. “It also saves costs.

Cost and time are huge factors in drug discovery and development. On average, it takes billions of dollars and nearly a decade to develop new drugs, due to the lengthy trials and lab work involved in the process. According to a 2016 study that looked at average R&D amounts for new drug development, costs were between $1.4 billion and $2.8 billion after market approval.

Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer’s Chief Scientific Officer and President of Global Research, said the company looks forward to continuing its work with CytoReason’s team of some 80 biologists, bioinformatics and data engineers, and “building on its state-of-the-art platform”.

This May 2022 photo provided by Pfizer shows the production of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children under 5 in Puurs, Belgium. (Pfizer via AP)

“CytoReason’s biodata allows us to better understand the best drug development pathways for patients, which translates into more informed, timely and cost-effective decisions,” Dolsten said.

CytoReason has also worked with other leading global pharmaceutical companies, including French drugmaker Sanofi, Swiss pharmaceutical companies Ferring and Roche, and Britain’s GSK.

The Israeli company’s work with Sanofi has focused on developing a new treatment for asthma patients, and its collaboration with Ferring centers on new treatments for patients with IBD.

CytoReason is headquartered in Tel Aviv and employs around 80 people in Israel, the United States and Europe. Its technology was originally developed at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.

To date, the company has raised around $20 million in private capital from investors including PICO Venture Partners and OurCrowd, according to the Start-Up Nation Finder database.

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