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2023-06-18| Technology

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

by Richard Chau
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In a press release issued on June 13, Sanofi declared its ambition to lead the charge in embracing artificial intelligence (AI) and data science on an unprecedented scale with the aim of becoming the first pharmaceutical company powered by AI across all its operations. 

Through its innovative AI app plai, the French pharma giant will be able to make real-time, reactive data interactions possible and have a comprehensive view of the company’s activities. It also allows Sanofi’s employees to get timely insights and personalized “what if” scenarios based on available company data across functions in a simple and modern digital user experience, helping them to make informed decisions.

Related article: The Emergence of General AI for Medicine: Medical Applications of ChatGPT

Commitment to AI Drug Discovery Demonstrated Through Multiple Blockbuster Partnerships

Eric Genevois-Marlin, Head of R&D Data and Data Science at Sanofi, once described AI as “the gateway leading to the next-generation of therapies”. He pointed out that with suitable data and AI models, the drug discovery process could be accelerated dramatically, saving valuable time and resources and eliminating the bias that comes with human trial and error. “We’re embracing the integration of AI in drug development at Sanofi and aim to develop innovative new ways to better understand biology, accelerate our pharmaceutical research, and ultimately deliver the right molecule to the right patient,” said Genevois-Marlin. With such a commitment in mind, Sanofi has made several major moves to expand its footprint in the field of AI drug discovery over the past two years through signing multiple large-scale partnership agreements with various AI-related biotech companies. 

Sanofi kick-started 2022 by signing a collaboration agreement with Exscientia, a British pharmatech company using patient-first AI to discover new drugs, involving a cash payment of $100 million with $5.2 billion in total milestones plus tiered royalties. The partnership focuses on 15 novel small-molecule drug candidates across oncology and immunology, leveraging Exscientia’s AI-driven personalized medicine platform that contains actual patient samples. Then in February, Sanofi completed the $1.2 billion acquisition of Amunix Pharmaceuticals, an immuno-oncology company which uses AI to tailor-deliver medicines that become active only in tumor tissues. In mid-August, the French pharma signed a strategic pact with San Francisco-based Atomwise, using the company’s AI platform and a proprietary library of over 3 trillion synthesizable compounds for computational discovery and research of up to five drug targets. The combined upfront payment and subsequent payments of milestones and tiered royalties under the agreement could exceed $1 billion.

Later in 2022 Q4, Sanofi struck two partnership deals for AI-powered drug discovery and development within a month. First, in late October, an agreement was reached with BioMed X, a German independent research institute, to power drug development efforts in chronic immune-mediated diseases such as atopic dermatitis (AD) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) through AI. This was followed about two weeks later by a collaboration agreement worth up to $1.2 billion with Insilico Medicine, a Hong Kong-based AI drug discovery company. Sanofi will use Pharma.AI, Insilico’s end-to-end AI platform, to identify disease targets, generate new molecular data and predict clinical trial results to advance drug candidates for up to six new targets.

Sanofi Aims to Revolutionize Biopharma Industry by Integrating AI into Various Operations

According to Paul Hudson, CEO of Sanofi, the use of AI data science has been supporting the company in accelerating drug discovery, enhancing clinical trial design, and improving manufacturing and supply of drugs and vaccines. He emphasizes the company’s ambition is to “become the first pharma company powered by artificial intelligence at scale, giving our people tools and technologies that focus on insights and allow them to make better everyday decisions.” 

With Sanofi’s continuing focus on integrating artificial intelligence throughout its research and development efforts, it has launched plai, an AI application developed in partnership with Aily Labs. By utilizing AI-powered tools, Sanofi teams can make faster, data-driven decisions, boosting productivity across the entire value chain—from research to clinical operations, manufacturing, and business analysis.

Apart from its latest industry-leading AI app, Sanofi has implemented multiple AI programs that have significantly reduced research times through improved predictive modeling and automated activities. By leveraging AI, R&D teams can accelerate their research processes, transforming months of work into matter of hours. Furthermore, AI has enhanced target identification in therapeutic areas such as immunology, oncology, and neurology by 20 to 30%. AI has also made a significant impact on mRNA research at Sanofi. Through the use of digital models and AI predictions, R&D teams have expedited the lipid nanoparticle selection process from months to days. This advancement plays a critical role in ensuring the effective delivery of mRNA vaccines to their intended cells.

In clinical operations, the digitization and insights derived from plai have enabled Sanofi teams to reimagine how clinical trials are conducted. For instance, R&D teams can now identify and establish more convenient trial sites for target groups, broadening opportunities for underrepresented communities to participate in research. This commitment to diversity ensures that clinical trials reflect the diverse populations most affected by the diseases under study.

Manufacturing and supply efforts at Sanofi are focused on digitizing quality assessment processes and leveraging data to maximize asset utilization and increase productivity. New manufacturing 4.0 capabilities, in combination with an artificial intelligence-enabled yield optimization solution, have consistently resulted in a higher yield level. Besides optimizing raw material utilization and contributing to the company’s environmental goals, this also enhances the operational efficiency of the company. As an additional benefit, adoption of plai within Sanofi’s biopharma supply chain has provided teams with the ability to predict low inventory positions in advance, enabling them to take swift mitigation measures in order to ensure supply.

“We have just scratched the surface as to how we embrace these disruptive technologies to achieve our ambition of transforming the practice of medicine,” said Hudson.

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