NEC buys OncoImmunity to boost AI-based cancer research

Japanese multinational NEC has bought the Norway-based bioinformatics firm OncoImmunity, which develops proprietary machine learning software to support cancer R&D.

Following the acquisition for an undisclosed sum, OncoImmunity will become a subsidiary of NEC operating under the name of NEC OncoImmunity AS.

OncoImmunity focuses on research into the emergence of neoantigens – biomarkers that appear on tumour cells after they develop that can be used as a target for drugs.

Founded in 2014 OncoImmunity develops software that aims to select patients for immunotherapy, identifying neoantigen targets for personalised cancer vaccines and cell therapies, quickly enough to be used in the clinic.

The acquisition fits with NEC’s drug development strategy announced in May, which is based around using artificial intelligence (AI) to interrogate genomic data to discover neoantigen targets.

It is already working with France’s Transgene to create vaccine-based therapies targeting neoantigens.

Early stage clinical trials in head and neck cancer and ovarian cancer trials have already been cleared by the FDA and applications in the UK and France are under review.

NEC said that the OncoImmunity acquisition is “integral” to support this programme and develop its immunotherapy pipeline.

Under the new arrangements NEC will focus on drug discovery while NEC OncoImmunity will continue its neoantigen prediction service.

OncoImmunity’s CEO Richard Stratford said: “The OncoImmunity AS team are delighted to be joining the NEC Group and firmly believe that the union will realise great synergies, marrying the mutual strengths of OncoImmunity AS’s and NEC’s neoantigen prediction pipelines with NEC’s expertise in AI, data management and security.

“These synergies will help strengthen NEC’s individualised immunotherapy programmes, whilst simultaneously positioning NEC OncoImmunity AS as the leading neoantigen prediction service provider in the field.”

There are a whole host of companies using AI techniques in drug development: UK-based Exscientia and BenevolentAI have a series of tie-ups with various big pharma companies that hope to use the technology to reduce failure rates and discover new approaches to targeting diseases.

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