Novo extends R&D alliance with AI specialist e-Therapeutics

Novo Nordisk must have liked what it saw in the first few months of its R&D tie-up with UK artificial intelligence company e-Therapeutics, as it has doubled down on the deal midway through.

The original one-year agreement – signed last December – called for e-Therapeutics to deploy its AI-based drug discovery technology to find new biological targets and therapies for type 2 diabetes.

Now, the collaboration has been extended to include functional genomics studies as well, making use of e-Therapeutics’ Genome-Associated Interaction Networks (GAINs), a platform that it says can tease out previously unknown disease processes and pathways.

The new agreement also extends the duration of the contract by six months to June 2020, according to Oxford-based firm, which says the original terms of the deal remain in place with Novo Nordisk having the option to license relevant intellectual property generated under the alliance.

The Danish drugmaker is the first pharma partner to sign up to use the GAIN platform, which taps into genome-wide association study (GWAS) data to find mutations in DNA linked to disease traits and – according to the UK company – bridges the gap between genetic susceptibility and disease mechanism.

While many gene variants discovered using GWAS studies often don’t map to a plausible biological mechanism, e-Therapeutics says its “network biology” approach can improve the hit rate.

It has already applied the technology to diseases such as Parkinson’s, discovering new “mechanistic insights” into the disease pathophysiology that have underpinned a collaboration with fellow UK genomics firm C4X Discovery.

“Over the last 20 years, the pharma industry has conducted many population genomics studies to understand the genetic basis of disease, most of which have met with limited success,” said e-Therapeutics’ chief executive Dr Ray Barlow.

“Using GAINs, we are now able to interrogate genomics data from patients with complex, polygenic disease and shed new light on important and novel biological pathways for particular groups of patients,” he added.

Novo Nordisk already has close links with Oxford, having set up a research facility there where its researchers are working alongside Oxford University academics to advance development of therapies for type 2 diabetes.

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