Sanofi management switches to Owkin to accelerate AI biotech pharma partnership plans - Reuters

Sanofi management switches to Owkin to accelerate AI biotech pharma partnership plans – Reuters

As Sanofi’s chief commercial partnership officer, Alban de La Sabliere led the pharmaceutical giant’s collaboration discussions with numerous companies, including $30 billion in acquisitions over the past six years. Now he is moving to the other end of the negotiating table. De La Sabliere has taken on a new role at artificial intelligence biotech Owkin, which happens to be one of the partners he helped secure for Sanofi in his previous role.

As Owkin’s chief commercial officer, de La Sablière will seek to find further alliances with major pharmaceutical companies with his new employer. The move comes at a time of transition for Owkin, which operates dual headquarters in Paris and New York. The company is expanding beyond its initial work of using its AI technology to help large companies discover and develop new drugs. Its strategy now includes the development of its own pipeline of new products.

“I’m really passionate about how AI can influence the future of drug discovery and development,” said de La Sablière. “It was too good [a job] pass. People driving this revolution tend to be scale-ups or startups [companies].”

Owkin, which was founded in 2016, takes a “federated learning” approach to data analysis. The company partners with institutions and organizations that provide access to their data. The data remains in the institutions, but the company deploys its machine learning algorithms to these sites to learn more about the disease. When they are done learning from one site, they can return to a central location or be redeployed to another site to learn more. This approach allows researchers to collaborate without having to gather all the data in one place.

Owkin’s early partners were cancer treatment centers and hospitals. The company eventually expanded its reach to drugmakers. As part of the Sanofi partnership announced nearly a year ago, the pharmaceutical giant has committed $180 million to the alliance, which focuses on finding cancer biomarkers that could be potential targets for new drugs. against cancer. Since then, Owkin has signed with ADC Therapeutics under a cancer-focused agreement that aims to identify biomarkers that predict cancer treatment outcomes for patients.

De La Sablière was unable to discuss non-public information about the partnerships, but generally speaking, he said the ability to work with unique datasets and identify new biomarkers makes the difference. The approach reduces drug discovery time and allows many experiments to be conducted in parallel.

“You can move a lot faster because you’re a lot more focused,” he said. Optimizing from target to a lead candidate is much faster. »

Owkin’s focus on cancer is a reflection of the company’s co-founders, de La Sablière said. CEO Thomas Clozel brought his experience and perspective as an oncologist and professor. Chief Science Officer Gilles Wainrib’s background is in AI and machine learning. While Owkin’s business development work has been focused on using the company’s AI platform to help partners advance their drug research, de La Sablière said the vision from the beginning was to evolve beyond a fee-for-service business model.

Part of de La Sablière’s new role will be to find new pharmaceutical actives that Owkin can develop. Those assets could come to Owkin through acquisitions, licensing agreements or strategic partnerships with pharmaceutical companies, said de La Sablière, who led Morgan Stanley’s M&A practice in France before joining Sanofi in 2016. The R&D work internal company reports have already led to new diagnoses. Last month, the European Union approved two of Owkin’s AI-based cancer diagnostics, one for breast cancer and the other for colorectal cancer.

Owkin aims to grow beyond cancer. The company has already turned to other therapeutic areas through its partnerships. A multi-year collaboration with Bristol Myers Squibb announced earlier this year uses AI to deliver more accurate and efficient clinical trial designs. Cardiovascular disease is the initial focus, but the partners may expand to other indications in the future. De La Sabliere said that for Owkin’s internal drug research, immunology represents another area of ​​potential expansion.

Owkin’s latest funding was last year, a Series B funding round that valued the company at over $1 billion and propelled it into “unicorn” territory. The valuation reflects the maturation of Owkin’s technology as well as the growth of the business. With more than 200 employees, de La Sablière said Owkin is no longer a startup.

“It’s not a big business, but it’s not a small business anymore,” he said.

Photo by Owkin

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