Putting the words “artificial intelligence” near drug development these days is a sure way to generate buzz. But can it support a $77 million (£60 million) IPO haul in the UK? Former government minister and biotech entrepreneur Paul Drayson is set to find out.
At his firm, which has recently been renamed Sensyne Health, Drayson is combining his experience running a vaccine company and the science unit for the UK’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to build a business that promises to be useful for both clinicians and pharmaceutical partners.
Here’s how that works: With the endorsement from the National Health Service, Sensyne’s software products, developed at the University of Oxford, collect data from patients in a real world setting like monitoring patient vital signs in hospital and managing gestational diabetes or COPD at home. Their AI programs then analyze the large datasets of anonymised patient records to generate hypotheses about discovery and clinical development that they think will appeal to drugmakers.
The key here, Drayson said at an event in 2017, is to get insights into subsets.
“The future of medicine is to be able to make medicine personalized to the individual and to be able to separate the signal from the noise in the datasets by being able to not just be able to do clinical trials to answer one particular question,” he said, “but to look back and say, ‘What was the reality of how 24 million patients were treated over the last 10 years?’”
One undisclosed drug company is already on board, he told Reuters, and Sensyne is in talks with half a dozen more. Aside from their government and academic partners, one of Britain’s most well-known investment managers — Neil Woodford —has thrown his weight behind the model.
“Effectively, we aim to be a docking station between the pharmaceutical industry and the NHS, making the analysis of anonymized NHS data available under proper Chinese walls and controls,” Drayson said.
Sensyne joins several other AI companies in the spotlight.
BenevolentAI, a London-based biotech unicorn helmed by GSK vet Jackie Hunter, reaped a $115 million mega-round from private investors touting an AI “brain” that J&J has enlisted to guide development of a few clinical assets. And on the other side of the Atlantic, Alex Zhavoronkov has lined up some of Asia’s top biotech investors to back his own AI shop, Insilico Medicine.
The emergent field is not without its critics and skeptics, with veteran drug developers often doubting how much AI can actually shave off in the painfully lengthy drug development process and increase success rates. But Big Pharma, already burdened by huge R&D costs, has shown a continued enthusiasm for the potential.
We will see what that all means for Sensyne on August 17, when it is expected to list on the AIM at a valuation of $291 million (£225 million).
Image: Paul Drayson. AIRBUS
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