Five AI-driven Drug Discovery Companies Enabling Precision Oncology

by Irina Bilous          Biopharma insight

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is steadily making its presence felt across various sectors, including the pharmaceutical industry. Among the multiple applications of AI in this field, immunotherapy - a treatment method that utilizes the body's immune system to combat diseases, notably cancer - is seeing a significant influence. The integration of AI can potentially enhance treatments and patient care by making it more precise and personalized.

 

 

Making sense of complex biological systems

The human immune system is a densely interconnected network involving numerous immune cells, signaling molecules, and genes. The interactions within this network are intricate, dynamic, and largely unpredictable. The vast amount of biological data often surpasses the comprehension ability of humans and the scope of traditional statistical methods.

This is where AI, with its capacity to understand and predict from data, comes into play. Deep learning algorithms can handle enormous amounts of genetic, proteomic, and clinical data, discern patterns and correlations, and contribute to the identification of new immunotherapeutic targets.

 

What is immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy refers to a set of medical treatments that use the body's natural defenses – the immune system – to identify, fight, and eliminate diseases, particularly cancer. Instead of directly attacking the disease, immunotherapies equip the immune system to recognize disease cells and stimulate an immune response against them. There are several types of immunotherapies, each with a different mechanism of action - checkpoint inhibitors, Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cell (CAR-T cel)l therapy, cancer vaccines, monoclonal antibodies, Immune system modulators.

 

Enhancing personalized immunotherapies

Personalized immunotherapies, such as CAR-T cell therapy, have shown promise in cancer treatment. In this therapy, T cells are removed from a patient's body, genetically modified to produce receptors (CARs) that target specific proteins on cancer cells, and then infused back into the patient.

However, predicting which patients will respond favorably to these therapies has been a persistent challenge. AI algorithms can process data from various sources, including genomics, clinical trials, and real-world evidence. This helps to discover biomarkers and predict patients' responses to treatment. Thus, AI can assist in selecting patients who are likely to benefit most from the therapy, leading to improved treatment outcomes and cost-effectiveness.

 

Refining Combination Therapies

Immunotherapies often yield better results when combined with other treatments. Yet, determining the optimal combination can be a time-consuming process. AI can aid in identifying effective drug combinations, potentially speeding up the process and the development of more efficient treatment strategies.

 

Improving Clinical Trials 

Clinical trials play a pivotal role in the development of new immunotherapies. However, they can be expensive and lengthy. AI can potentially expedite the clinical trial process, right from patient selection to data collection and analysis. Predictive models powered by AI can identify suitable patients more accurately, reduce drop-out rates, and enable real-time data analysis.

 

Below is an alphabetically-ordered list of 5 notable AI-driven drug discovery companies pushing the boundaries of what can be done to treat cancer:  

 

Achilles Therapeutics

Achilles Therapeutics is a London-based biopharmaceutical company that focuses on the development of next-generation, patient-specific therapies to treat cancer. Achilles Therapeutics has created PELEUS platform designed to predict the immunogenicity of neoantigens. The PELEUS platform is an integral part of Achilles' “Target-to-T Cell” approach that aims to revolutionize precision therapies, including TIL-based clonal neoantigen-reactive T cells (cNeT) and personalized neoantigen methods. The platform's predictive capabilities have the potential to transform precision treatments by focusing on the most potent antigens for robust, long-lasting responses. PELEUS's predictive success is attributed to its training on high-quality proprietary data sets. Furthermore, the platform's superiority is patent-protected, further enhancing its value and potential for Achilles Therapeutics. 

A neoantigen is a type of antigen, a substance that stimulates an immune response, that is formed by a novel protein sequence generated through mutations in tumor cells. These mutations lead to changes in the protein sequences that are not present in normal cells. Because they are unique to cancer cells, they can act as ideal targets for immune-based cancer therapies.

However, not all neoantigens are equal; some are more likely to generate a strong immune response, known as being more "immunogenic". A large number of potential neoantigen can be identified foe a tumor sample, but the challenge is to determine which of these are most likely to elicit a potent immune response, thus being effective for personalized therapy.

PELEUS platform uses machine learning algorithms trained on extensive proprietary datasets to predict which identified neoantigens are most likely to be immunogenic. By predicting the most potent neoantigens, the platform supports the development of personalized cancer therapies, including TIL-based (Tumor-Infiltrating Lymphocytes) therapies and clonal neoantigen cancer vaccines. It's a critical tool for implementing precision medicine in cancer treatment, making therapy more efficient and potentially more effective.

The company's innovative work extends to various clinical trials, including the ongoing CHIRON and THETIS trials, investigating advanced non-small cell lung cancer and recurrent or metastatic melanoma respectively. Achilles Therapeutics received a U.S. patent last year for treating patients with an immunotherapy targeting clonal neoantigens identified using their Achilles Clonality Engine (ACE). This ongoing, innovative research positions Achilles Therapeutics at the forefront of personalized cancer therapy development. 

Achilles Therapeutics is a public company with total funding of $213M, with $175M raised as a result of the IPO in 2021. 

 

ImmuneAI

Immunai is a New-York-based artificial intelligence startup specializing in cutting-edge multiomics technology. They focus on enhancing the effectiveness of cell-based therapies and other immune-altering treatments, not just in oncology but also in a broad spectrum of inflammatory diseases. Their technology allows for the precise measurement of gene expression changes in individual cells, a capability that has broad-ranging applications in medicine and therapy design.

Recently, Immunai started a partnership with Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) to uncover the role of a new molecular target, BTG1. This finding, drawn from clinical samples of an ongoing BCM trial, promises to enhance the efficacy of T and natural killer T (NKT) cell-based cancer immunotherapies.

Their advanced single-cell RNA sequencing technology played a critical role in this discovery, demonstrating the potential of Immunai's platform to drive novel treatment options. With the revelation that targeting BTG1 could amplify CAR-NKT cells' anti-tumor function, Immunai has paved the way for the development of more effective cancer immunotherapies.

In 2021 ImmuneAI secured an impressive $215 million in a Series B funding round led by Koch Disruptive Technologies, taking its total funding to an impressive $295 million.

 

iBio

iBio, Inc. is an innovator in the field of biotechnology, specializing in the application of artificial intelligence to develop precision antibody immunotherapies. Based in Bryan, Texas, the company utilizes a combination of its proprietary AI-based antibody optimization and mammalian display technologies to discover and develop novel therapeutic antibodies. 

The latest news from iBio is the discovery of a panel of CD3 T-cell binding antibodies. These novel antibodies are designed to bind to both T cells and tumor cells, inducing the T cells to kill the tumor cells. Earlier research into CD3-based T-cell engagers had shown promise, but was hindered by high toxicity levels and lack of cross-reactivity with non-human primates, slowing down their clinical development.

iBio has addressed these challenges using its patented epitope steering technology, directing antibodies towards specific CD3 epitopes. By combining AI-based antibody optimization with mammalian display technology, the company has widened the range of CD3 affinities, identified antibodies with cross-reactivity to non-human primates, and improved the humanness of the antibody sequences.

iBio, Inc. first went public through an initial public offering (IPO) in 2008.

 

Evaxion Biotech

Evaxion Biotech is a public clinical-stage biotechnology company, headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark, that specializes in developing AI-powered immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, bacterial diseases, and viral infections. Evaxion's core strength lies in its proprietary and scalable AI technologies, designed to decode the human immune system and thereby innovate new immunotherapies.

Evaxion has recently announced the development of a new AI platform technology called ObsERV™. This technology is capable of identifying endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) - remnants of ancient viruses that are often overexpressed in cancer cells. By targeting these ERVs, Evaxion aims to develop personalized cancer immunotherapies for patients who are typically unresponsive to existing treatments.

The company's preclinical studies have shown promising results, including complete tumor eradication in animal models. CEO Per Norlén has expressed enthusiasm for this discovery, highlighting its potential to significantly expand the scope of cancer patient treatment.

Evaxion's EVX-02 Showcases the Potential of DNA-based Personalized Cancer Immunotherapy

DNA-based personalized cancer immunotherapy uses the patient's tumor DNA to create a tailored treatment. Scientists identify cancer-specific mutations and predict which mutated proteins, or neoantigens, will trigger the strongest immune response. They then encode the genetic information for these neoantigens into DNA, which is incorporated into a delivery vector. This customized DNA treatment is administered to the patient, where it triggers cells to produce these neoantigens and present them on their surface. This stimulates the immune system to recognize and destroy the cancer cells carrying these neoantigens.

Evaxion has shown impressive results with its DNA-based personalized cancer immunotherapy, EVX-02. In its Phase 1/2a study, EVX-02, in combination with the checkpoint inhibitor nivolumab, was found to be well-tolerated and all participating patients who completed the treatment were relapse-free at their last assessment. The study affirmed the ability of Evaxion's AI platform, PIONEERTM, to select appropriate neoantigens matched to each patient's specific cancer. 

These results have given Evaxion the confidence to fast-track EVX-03, its next-generation DNA-based personalized cancer immunotherapy, towards clinical trials. The company aims to transform these technological advancements into effective patient care.

 

Lantern Pharma

Lantern Pharma Inc., an innovative biopharmaceutical company, based in Dellas, USA, that is focused on transforming oncology drug discovery and development, stands out with its proprietary RADR® artificial intelligence and machine learning platform. Using over 25 billion oncology-focused data points and a collection of advanced ML algorithms, Lantern aims to solve real-world, billion-dollar challenges in the oncology field. With a number of Phase 1 and two Phase 2 clinical programs and several anticipated Phase 1 clinical trials scheduled for 2023, Lantern is pushing boundaries in the race to find effective cancer therapies. The company has established a wholly-owned subsidiary, Starlight Therapeutics Inc., dedicated to the clinical execution of promising treatments for CNS and brain cancers.

RELATED: Unveiling Lantern Pharma's Success Story in AI-powered Precision Oncology

Recently, Lantern Pharma announced an important collaboration with Bielefeld University. This partnership is set to develop next-generation antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs), which, while not classified as immunotherapy, represent a significant advancement in targeted cancer therapy. The focus will initially be on synthesizing and evaluating novel ADCs linked to cryptophycins, highly potent antitumor molecules. These cryptophycin-ADCs will be tested across multiple cancer cell lines, with initial results expected in 2023.

Beyond the initial phase, Lantern plans to leverage its RADR® AI platform and the AI ADC development module to launch multiple ADCs, utilizing cryptophycins or other promising payloads. This move underscores the company's commitment to harnessing the power of AI for more targeted and effective cancer treatments. Furthermore, Lantern has secured an exclusive worldwide option to license intellectual property (IP) from Bielefeld University related to the collaboration.

In summary, Lantern Pharma is not just at the cutting edge of oncology research and treatment development; it's shaping the future with its forward-thinking AI-driven approach and significant discoveries in ADC development.

Lantern Pharma has successfully secured $95M in investment across seven funding rounds. Their most recent capital influx occurred on January 14, 2021, stemming from a Post-IPO secondary financing round.

 

In summary, artificial intelligence offers a set of tools that can help in understanding complex biological systems, refining personalized treatments, enhancing combination therapies, and improving clinical trials. As this field continues to mature, collaborations between different sectors - academia, industry, healthcare providers, and policy makers - will be vital to responsibly navigate potential challenges and make a substantial difference in patients' lives.

AI's integration into immunotherapy marks a significant shift in pharmaceutical research and treatment. As we delve deeper into this intersection, it is apparent that it holds numerous possibilities that could shape the future of medical treatments.

Topics: Biotech Companies   

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