2023-10-02| Partnerships

Merck KGaA Extends Collaboration with Quris-AI for Groundbreaking Advancements in Drug Safety

by Richard Chau
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Quris-AI, an Israeli artificial intelligence (AI) innovator in the pharmaceutical realm, has declared the extension of its collaboration with Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany (Merck KGaA). This development builds upon the triumph of their initial partnership initiated in February 2022, with an emphasis on a preclinical study evaluating Quris-AI’s BioAI Drug Safety Platform. The successful study assessed the platform’s efficacy in predicting potential drug toxicity, surpassing traditional in vitro and in vivo approaches.

Related article: Sanofi Goes “All In” to Lead the AI Revolution in the Pharmaceutical Industry

Merck KGaA’s Strategic Plan and Exclusive License Option

Upon the update of their agreement, the German pharma giant is set to deepen its engagement with Quris-AI’s platform, aiming to enhance drug development and testing programs by further identifying liver toxicity risks in a carefully selected array of drug candidates. This strategic move underscores the confidence gained from the initial collaboration and positions Merck KGaA to potentially secure an exclusive license for a specific disease domain for up to five years. Should Merck KGaA exercise this option, Quris-AI stands to receive an undisclosed amount as part of the extended collaboration.

Transforming Drug Discovery with AI-Enabled Innovation

The preclinical pilot study conducted earlier showcased the prowess of Quris-AI’s platform in accurately predicting drug-induced liver injury and assisting the search for drug candidates that will work safely in humans. This innovative safety prediction platform introduces a novel approach by integrating miniaturized human tissues on a chip, nano-sensing, and machine learning. 

With 29 granted and pending patents, the Israeli AI Trailblazer possesses the technology that stands as a unique concept in the pharmaceutical landscape. The advanced machine learning and generative AI models, trained on Quris-AI’s proprietary data derived from its AI-based “patient-on-a-chip” platform, significantly accelerate drug development timelines and reduce costs while circumventing the limitations of traditional animal testing.

A Shared Vision for Safe and Cost-effective Drug Development

Danny Bar-Zohar, MD, Global Head of Research & Development and Chief Medical Officer for the Healthcare business sector of Merck KGaA, stressed that the collaborative pursuit aims to redefine pharmaceutical research by fostering a more efficient and ethical drug development process. “We are working towards an AI-enabled IND process that reduces the reliance on animal testing.”

Dr. Isaac Bentwich, CEO of Quris-AI, anticipated that the German-Israeli partnership would bring about promising developments that may shape the future of pharmaceutical research. “Accurately predicting the safety of novel drugs will significantly increase the speed of drug innovation and time to market, while substantially reducing risks and associated costs,” said Dr. Bentwich.

Merck KGaA’s Another Significant Move in the AI Realm

In fact, apart from the latest extension of collaboration with Quris-AI, Merck KGaA has made successive big moves in the field of AI-enabled drug discovery over the past two weeks. On September 20, the German drugmaker signed partnership agreements with two British AI drug development companies, namely, BenevolentAI and Exscientia, involving a combined total of over $1.3 billion in all upfront payments and further payments for various milestones. 

Regarding the deal with BenevolentAI, Merck KGaA will be able to utilize BenevolentAI’s end-to-end AI platform capabilities to deliver novel drug candidates, initially for three targets in oncology, neurology and immunology. Agreement includes payments to the London-based company of up to $594 million, consisting of a low double-digit million dollar upfront payment on signing and then discovery, development and commercial milestones. Tiered royalties will also be payable on net sales of any commercialized products. 

The multi-year collaboration with Exscientia focuses on the discovery of novel small molecule drug candidates across oncology, neuroinflammation and immunology. Under the terms of the agreement, Exscientia will first receive an upfront cash payment of $20 million from Merck KGaA. Also, the British company is eligible to receive up to $674 million in discovery, development, regulatory and sales-based milestones for three projects, in addition to single to double digit royalty payments on net sales.

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