Israeli biotech startup CytoReason announced on Thursday that it has partnered with Summit Pharmaceuticals International (SPI), and will enter the Japanese market have its AI technology be utilized by one of the country’s top pharmaceutical companies.
Established in 2016, CytoReason is an AI company developing computational disease models of the human immune system for discovery and clinical drug development, while SPI is a Japanese company providing services and products to the pharmaceutical industry, including research and bioresources. The partnership is said to be the first-ever announced collaboration between an Israeli company and a Japanese pharmaceutical company to bring AI to clinical drug development, according to both companies in a joint statement.
David Harel, CEO, and co-founder of CytoReason said that his company was thrilled to enter the Japanese pharmaceutical market – the third-largest in the world.
“This collaboration represents a meaningful step forward for our company and for the global pharmaceutical industry,” he added.
SPI President and CEO Katsuya Okuyama said, “We are very delighted that CytoReason initiated a project in the Japanese market. We will continue to contribute to the healthcare industry through the collaboration with CytoReason.”
In an interview with NoCamels, Harel said the move into Japan was such a big opportunity for his firm. “When we think about markets we are not thinking about patients – rather pharmaceutical companies. We’re familiar with US pharmaceuticals e.g. Pfizer or GlaxoSmithKline in Europe. However, we’re less familiar with Japanese pharmaceutical firms but their science and technology development is among the most important in the world. It is a big and strong industry.”
Harel mentions that one of the most successful and widely-used cancer drugs developed in the last 10 to 20 years is Keytruda, which has “changed the lives of many cancer patients.” The research had been done over decades but the development was partly led by a Japanese pharmaceutical company.
“Japan is well-known – and rightly so – for its technological capabilities but it is less known for its pharmaceutical developments,” Harel explains. “Entering the big commercial Japanese market is daunting for any firm from outside Japan, let alone Israelis. There are certain barriers such as cultural differences and language – and the way that it has historically been approached was with multiple stakeholders in the Japanese market,” he added.
With a focus on auto-immunology and oncology drugs, CytoReason’s principal strength is simulating the immune system, “which is highly relevant for the newest diseases,” Harel says.
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The company’s AI technology enables scientists to gather critical information on the body’s immune functioning via a computer simulation. With the correct inputs, the program can predict what is most likely to happen if a certain drug was given to a patient or group of patients, i.e. what would happen to their body.
“By predicting the response it allows us to understand which patients would have improved outcomes, while [and perhaps as importantly] for others it would not likely significantly improve quality of life,” Harel says. “Japan’s genetic make-up is slightly different from the West, however, the diseases are pretty similar across the entire species and an ability to work hard on very specific solutions that can be done worldwide is the ideal.”
Reduced healthcare costs
One of CytoReason’s claims is that its AI technology will allow a significant reduction in R&D costs because it is designed to build computational models of diseases, which can effectively produce software that shows how a particular disease looks within a human body. “Once we have all the models we can scan all different models and chose the one that is best.”
“The biggest problem of drug development is the cost,” Harel maintains. “One of our goals is to reduce costs, including the cost of the risk of failure. It becomes prohibitively expensive when a pharmaceutical company needs to reap at least $1 billion to recover the outlay into research and development. If a drug cannot produce that in annual revenues it simply will not be produced.”
By mapping the body and its likely response to different drugs, CytoReason, can, through precision medicine, which allows for the most efficient and appropriate targeting of disease with the optimal clinical treatments, CytoReason is attempting to at least take the first tentative steps to make that easier.
“Technology’s best contribution to mankind is to reduce healthcare costs, which would enable better treatments for more patients,” Harel states. Indeed, he explains that researchers in both Israel and the United States are working on next generation drugs with one of the goals being to reduce the cost, i.e. through developing and delivering the the right therapies for the right patients, at the right time.”
Whereas healing the sick may once centuries ago have been seen as an art-form, rather than a pure science, where doctors may have taken months or even years to identify the ailments of a patient, time is of the essence and our repository of medical knowledge now so much greater. Indeed, Harel suggests that perhaps it is even an issue of engineering. “It’s impossible to know what the situation will be in the next 50 or 100 years but we are standing on the shoulders of giants and it is our responsibility to take the first steps.
“We’re already working with larger pharmaceutical companies,” Harel remarks, “making sure we are covering the most critical diseases and start offering our tech to larger firms such as Pfizer and J&J. However, we are now collaborating with smaller bio-tech companies, we need to boost them and the efficiency of their R&D,” he concludes.
SPI is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sumitomo Corporation, which is itself a Fortune 500 global trading and business investment company with 113 locations in overseas countries/regions and 22 locations in Japan.