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Pfizer extends cooperation deal with Israeli AI drug development firm CytoReason

Tel Aviv-based startup uses machine learning to build computational models of human diseases to speed up treatment discoveries

Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Tech Israel editor and reporter.

The Pfizer building on East 42nd Street in New York City. (ChainGangPictures via iStock by Getty Images)
The Pfizer building on East 42nd Street in New York City. (ChainGangPictures via iStock by Getty Images)

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has extended an existing cooperation agreement with Israeli company CytoReason, a leading developer of computational disease models for drug discovery and development, the firm said Thursday.

Pfizer and CytoReason first launched their collaboration in 2019 to use the Israeli company’s digital models of the human immune system and diseases in Pfizer’s pursuit of developing innovative drugs.

CytoReason said its solution has “provided Pfizer with multiple insights in a number of R&D programs across over 20 diseases.”

Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer’s chief scientific officer and president of worldwide research, said the extension of the collaboration with CytoReason will “build upon our existing data science capabilities, and further enhance our ability to make data-driven decisions across our portfolio. 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.”

CytoReason’s CEO and co-founder David Harel said the company’s work with Pfizer “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,” said Harel.

CytoReason was founded in 2016 to enable drug makers to use the computational technology it has developed as a sort of a GPS to navigate the immune system. The machine-learning software collects and combines data from a variety of sources, including in-house data and published research on the immune system and other clinical studies, to discover insights into the biology of diseases. The technology then builds a digital, computational simulator of the human body that can be used to predict responses to drugs, thus providing direction as to which ones can best benefit patients.

CytoReason co-founder and CEO David Harel. (Courtesy)

Essentially, CytoReason allows pharmaceutical companies “to develop their drugs on our platform using AI to simulate the response rather than wait for animal trials and then clinical trials,” Harel told The Times of Israel in a previous phone interview. “This also helps to reduce costs.”

Costs, and time, are huge factors in drug discovery and development. On average, it takes billions of dollars and almost a decade to develop new medications, because of the lengthy trials and lab work involved in the process. According to a 2016 study that examined the average R&D amounts for developing new drugs, the costs were found to be between $1.4 billion and $2.8 billion after market approval.

With Pfizer, CytoReason has been working on “computational models of human diseases in immunology division and the oncology division,” Harel said. The joint work has so far yielded research on biological targets for a disease as well as on an experimental compound that interferes with CCR6, a protein that is elevated in certain autoimmune diseases like lupus and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

IBD is a lifelong, chronic disease that affects the digestive system, and includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Bouts can last for days, weeks or months at a time.

CytoReason has already been working with some of the leading global pharmaceutical companies out there including French drugmaker Sanofi, Swiss pharma firms Ferring and Roche, and the UK’s GSK.

CytoReason’s work with Sanofi has focused on developing a new treatment for asthma patients, and its collaboration with Ferring is centered around new treatments for patients with IBD.

CytoReason is headquartered in Tel Aviv and employs about 65 people across Israel, the US, and Europe. Its technology was initially developed at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. To date, the company has raised $10 million from investors, according to the database of Start-Up Nation Central.

Shoshanna Solomon contributed to this report.

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