Editors' (re)View: Boehringer’s AI push; Busy week for Phenomic

Dec. 1, 2023
Pharma Manufacturing editors Karen Langhauser and Andrea Corona comment on the notable happenings in the pharma industry from the week of November 27

Boehringer’s drug discovery AI push

The world’s explosive fascination with AI tools has trickled into almost every industry, and pharma is no exception. But the stakes in the pharma industry are high — regulatory oversight is tight and patient safety and privacy are paramount — so drugmakers are cautiously working out the best use for these evolving technologies.

Back in June, Sanofi made headlines when it went “all in” and pledged to become the first pharma company “powered by artificial intelligence,” announcing the rollout of a new AI app. The app, developed with AI platform company Aily Labs, has broad applications in drug discovery, clinical trial design, and manufacturing and supply.

This week, it was Boehringer Ingelheim’s’ turn to stir up some attention. The German drugmaker announced two AI-based drug discovery collaborations in a span of three days. On Monday, Boehringer announced a partnership with IBM, focused on making the vision of in silico biologic drug discovery a reality (but can it win Jeopardy?). Boehringer Ingelheim will use an IBM-developed, pre-trained AI model that will be further fine-tuned on additional Boehringer proprietary data.

The next day, Boehringer unveiled a potential $500+ million deal with Phenomic AI to discover targets important in stroma-rich cancers. The partners plan to leverage Phenomic’s proprietary scTx single-cell transcriptomics platform to identify targets to potentially overcome the barrier the tumor stroma creates.

Boehringer has not been shy about its search for tech partners to accelerate R&D activities, sharing its specific partnering interests on its website. Not surprisingly, many of the company’s queries have to do with the use of AI to speed drug discovery and development. With their ability to analyze vast amounts of data, modern AI techniques are well-suited to drug development. For example, AI can be used to identify patterns hidden in large, complex volumes of data. Using these, scientists can analyze and weigh up thousands of possible outcomes from the drug testing process.

Without a doubt, the pharma industry is paying attention to the ways its competitors are harnessing AI and the more use cases that emerge, the more refined and useful the tools will be. —Karen Langhauser

Busy week for Phenomic AI

It’s been a busy week for Toronto-based biotech Phenomic AI, sharing news of partnerships with Boehringer Ingelheim and Astellas less than a day apart.

Phenomic was established in 2020 with the objective of employing AI/ML to uncover drug targets arising from cell-cell interactions, with hopes to advance antibody drug discovery for complex diseases.

The scTx platform, which integrates a vast single-cell RNA dataset from human tissues, incorporates robust analysis and validation tools. Utilizing advanced AI and machine learning algorithms, it facilitates the examination of a diverse database encompassing imaging, RNA sequencing, and spatial transcriptomics data.

On Wednesday, the company revealed it wold be partnering with Boehringer Ingelheim, receiving upfront and near-term payments of approximately $9 million with eligibility to receive more than $500 million in licensing fees and milestones in exchange for rights to targets discovered using its scTx platform.

Then today, the biotech announced that it would be working with Astellas’ subsidary, Xyphos Biosciences, to discover antibodies targeting tumor stroma identified by scTx. These antibodies will be explored for their potential to enhance cell therapy approaches for treating solid tumors.

Phenomic’s mission is driven by the treatment complexity of  stroma-rich cancers, such as colorectal and pancreatic cancers, which are amongst the hardest to treat in part because of their tumor stroma: a complex tissue that protects cancerous cells from therapies and supports cancer growth. Phenomic’s platform aims to address this challenge by identifying targets to potentially overcome the barrier the tumor stroma creates.

This week marks an exciting kickoff for the up-and-coming biotech as it embarks on two promising partnerships. For stoma-rich cancers, trouble may be on the horizon.