Swiss pharma firm Ferring, Israel’s CytoReason join to battle bowel disease

Tel Aviv-based startup uses AI to build digital models of the human immune system and diseases to speed up treatments; two firms will test out new drugs

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Illustrative image: researcher examining a bacterial culture plate (iStock)
Illustrative image: researcher examining a bacterial culture plate (iStock)

CytoReason, an Israeli startup that uses artificial intelligence to build digital models of the human immune system and diseases to speed up drug development, said Wednesday it will collaborate with Ferring Pharmaceuticals, a Swiss multinational biopharmaceutical company, to find new treatments for patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

This is the first collaboration between the two companies, and it will match Ferring’s medical expertise with CytoReason’s software to jointly build models of diseased cells on which drugs and therapies will be tried.

The startup enables 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, providing thus direction as to which ones can best benefit patients.

Some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies including Pfizer, GSK, Roche, and now Ferring, have teamed up with the startup to use its technology to develop new drugs. On average its takes billions of dollars and almost a decade to develop new medications, because of the lengthy trials and lab work involved in the process.

CytoReason’s computational models of the human body can help Ferring and other drug makers accelerate the drug discovery process by minimizing the need for animal trials and making human trials more focused, thus reducing costs, the startup said.

The global computer-aided drug discovery market could reach over $4.9 billion by 2026, according to Research Dive.

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.

At the end of the collaboration with Ferring, CytoReason hopes to be able to present the firm with its insights on what drugs the Swiss company should develop to provide new therapeutic options for IBD patients.

Ferring’s expertise in gastroenterology, immunology and translational medicine will allow CytoReason “to better understand the complex nature of IBD, and in turn, to create more accurate models of the disease with our AI technology,” said David Harel, the CEO and co-founder of CytoReason.

“Our platform will enable Ferring to significantly shorten drug discovery time for IBD medication, dramatically reduce the costs involved, and ultimately help more patients who suffer from the chronic disease,” he said.

CytoReason, whose technology was initially developed at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, was founded in 2016 and has to date raised $10 million from investors, according to the database of Start-Up Nation Central.

In February, Ferring said it had entered into a cooperation agreement with Israeli life sciences firm MyBiotics Pharma Ltd. to treat a common vaginal infection using drugs based on the microbiome.

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