Source: Inato.com

The Sanofi-part­nered start­up find­ing clin­i­cal tri­als for the 90%

Sanofi want­ed help find­ing new tri­al sites, so a cou­ple years ago they start­ed talk­ing with a start­up down the street – who sent them to Chi­na.

The Paris-based start­up, Ina­to, was build­ing a plat­form to ex­pand the pool of pa­tients for clin­i­cal tri­als. On­ly in­stead of ad­ver­tis­ing or match­ing pa­tients with tri­als, as oth­er young com­pa­nies have, Ina­to was try­ing to match phar­ma com­pa­nies with the vast ma­jor­i­ty of hos­pi­tals that rarely, if ever, host a tri­al, even if they have pa­tients bet­ter suit­ed to a par­tic­u­lar study than a mar­quee name hos­pi­tal. Call them a tri­al plat­form for the 99% – or, by Ina­to’s cal­cu­la­tions, the 90% of sites that are gen­er­al­ly ig­nored in clin­i­cal re­search.

That might mean con­nect­ing Eli Lil­ly to a hos­pi­tal up­state of New York City’s Mt. Sinai Hos­pi­tal with less ex­pe­ri­ence but more melanoma pa­tients. Or, in Sanofi’s case, it meant help­ing ex­pand the com­pa­ny’s foothold Chi­na, where the health­care sys­tem is grow­ing rapid­ly but is still young and where the gov­ern­ment has re­cent­ly re­formed tri­al stan­dards and in­cen­tives.

“The plat­form was so well re­ceived by the clinops in­ter­nal­ly that they de­cid­ed to ramp up very rapid­ly,” Ina­to CEO Kourosh Davarpanah told End­points News.

Kourosh Davarpanah

Davarpanah says Sanofi – the world’s sev­enth largest phar­ma by R&D spend­ing – now us­es Ina­to to se­lect sites for “vir­tu­al­ly all” of their tri­als. And the com­pa­ny hopes to soon ex­pand their rolodex. To­day, they an­nounced a $14 mil­lion Se­ries A round led by Ob­vi­ous Ven­tures and Cathay In­no­va­tion, and joined by Ser­e­na and Fly Ven­tures.

The CEO said he told in­vestors that he was tak­ing the same ad­vanced da­ta sci­ence that has re­made ther­a­peu­tics and bring­ing it to the clin­i­cal tri­al space. They did not im­me­di­ate­ly jump in­to his open arms.

“I would say we had a dif­fi­cult time ex­plain­ing the en­tire clin­i­cal tri­al space to in­vestors,” Davarpanah said.

Skep­ti­cism from ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists is to be ex­pect­ed, but Ina­to is far from alone in re­think­ing how clin­i­cal tri­als are done. DNA se­quenc­ing com­pa­nies such as Genap­sys are try­ing to use their tech to se­lect pa­tients most like­ly to be sus­cep­ti­ble to drugs. Tri­als.Ai is us­ing ma­chine learn­ing to an­a­lyze pub­lished ar­ti­cles and troves of da­ta on ge­nomics and past stud­ies to im­prove tri­al de­sign. Deep 6 AI promis­es to help you “find more pa­tients in min­utes, not months.”

Ina­to has tak­en a dif­fer­ent tack. It’s one of the few com­pa­nies work­ing on find­ing new clin­i­cal tri­al sites, which they say will then lead to phar­ma com­pa­nies and biotechs find­ing more and bet­ter pa­tients. They point to fig­ures that sug­gest 75% of clin­i­cal tri­als are held in around 10% of all hos­pi­tals. These se­lect hos­pi­tals have ex­pe­ri­ence and pres­tige, Davarpanah said, but they might lack the ide­al pa­tient pop­u­la­tion for any giv­en tri­al.

Ina­to’s plat­form shows phar­ma com­pa­nies a world map made up of lit­tle dots, like those seen in old TV news sta­tions. Dots rep­re­sent­ing po­ten­tial tri­al sites are lit up in green, yel­low or red. Click on one and it will show you that hos­pi­tal’s ac­cess to pa­tients and oth­er fac­tors, such as “ex­pe­ri­ence,” “in­ves­ti­ga­tor mo­ti­va­tion,” “com­pe­ti­tion.” There’s al­so a “qual­i­ty” rat­ing and a list of “ca­pa­bil­i­ties.”

On the oth­er end, Ina­to helps sites with lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence pre­pare for a tri­al. They al­so fa­cil­i­tate com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween sites and de­vel­op­ers, help­ing phar­ma com­pa­nies gauge in­ter­est. They claim to have tri­als on 32 in­di­ca­tions and in over 2000 sites across 75 coun­tries so far.

So far, Sanofi is the on­ly ma­jor phar­ma part­ner. But Davarpanah said there’s broad­er in­ter­est, in­clud­ing from big phar­ma com­pa­nies.

“Very few hos­pi­tals have had the op­por­tu­ni­ty to par­tic­i­pate in clin­i­cal tri­als,” Davarpanah said. “We’re com­ing at a very old prob­lem.”

Cor­rec­tion: An ear­li­er ver­sion of the ar­ti­cle in­cor­rect­ly al­lud­ed to talks with a phar­ma com­pa­ny. The ref­er­ence has been re­moved. 

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The average level of investment required for a biotech start-up to succeed is increasing every year, elevating the pressure even further on venture capital to make smart financial investments. Financial investment alone, however, does not always guarantee that exciting innovations can be transformed into real businesses that make a meaningful difference to patients.

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At Astellas Venture Management (AVM) – a wholly-owned venture capital organization within Astellas, headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area – capital is just one of the ingredients we offer to add value to our biotechnology investments and partnerships. We generally take a strategic investor approach for companies in our invested portfolio, providing access to expertise, technology and/or resources in addition to the injection of finance. An equity investment from AVM can include access to Astellas’ research and development (R&D) capabilities and expertise, and a global network of partner academic institutions and biotechnology companies, to help advance and accelerate the start-up’s innovation.

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