Israeli researchers wield machine learning to streamline clinical trials

Ben-Gurion University licenses tech to startup Panacea for further development; several biopharma firms seeking to use platform to improve how clinical trials are run

Prof. Boaz Lerner of Ben-Gurion University and the software being developed by Panacea (Dani Machlis)
Prof. Boaz Lerner of Ben-Gurion University and the software being developed by Panacea (Dani Machlis)

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) have developed a machine learning platform that they hope will increase the efficiency and success of developing drugs and medical devices.

The software aims to help streamline the process of clinical trials and lower costs. The machine learning software is able to analyze the recruitment process of the patient population and the dropout rate, and can identify and prioritize biomarkers that need to be monitored. Biomarkers are biological parameters that are measured and evaluated as indicators of normal biological, pathogenic, or pharmacologic responses to therapies.

The technology is able to provide pre-trial recommendations, in-trial interim analysis, and post-trial insights, BGN Technologies, the technology transfer company of BGU, said in a statement. This offers a comprehensive investigation into the entirety of a trial, helps researchers prepare for the next trial and, in case of failure, suggests lessons to be learned.

The software has been used in clinical studies of a number of neurodegenerative diseases — including for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. In these studies, the technology was able to arrange patients into statistically distinct and homogeneous subgroups; identify factors and their interrelations with the state of the disease; and provide a predictive analysis of pattern and progression rate, the statement said.

The university has licensed the product for further development and commercialization to Panacea, a new startup founded by BGN Technologies.  Panacea is a portfolio company of the Oazis accelerator, formed by the Yazamut360 entrepreneurship center of BGU.

Clinical trials haven’t fundamentally changed in the past two decades and “are extremely costly,” said Boaz Lerner, Panacea’s scientific founder and an associate professor in the BGU department of industrial engineering and management, in the statement. The probability of success for new drugs is in the “single digit,” he said.

The technology can thus be “highly beneficial” for pharma and biotech companies, enabling them to increase efficiency and the chances of success of their trials by streamlining the process and selecting the optimal participants and markers.

“Conversely, we can also help in understanding when to terminate a trial and what lessons can be derived from a failed trial,” he said.

Josh Peleg, the CEO of BGN Technologies, said in the statement that Panacea has already seen interest from “several biopharma companies” to collaborate with the startup to improve their clinical trial process.

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