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OWKIN is an AI startup that uses machine learning to augment medical and biology research
Like many industries right now, the pharmaceutical space is dealing with a major influx of data that it isn’t able to fully leverage. On top of that, access to real-world data is prohibitively expensive. Combine those two factors and it means that pharma isn't able to be as efficient and effective as it should be.
OWKIN, an AI startup using machine learning to augment medical and biology research, is trying to solve those problem. The company provides "collective intelligence built on real-world patient-generated data," Thomas Clozel, the company's co-founder and CEO, told me, which allows doctors and researchers to learn from data and discover new solutions for patients.
On Wednesday, the company announced it closed an additional Series A investment round extension with GV. The original Series A, raised in January, was an $11 million round led by Otium Venture with participation from Cathay Innovation, Plug and Play, and NJF Capital.
While the company did not disclosed the size of the investment from GV, the original Series A brought OWKIN's total funding to $13.1 million, and it was disclosed that this round has brings it $18 million. That means the most recent round was likely $5 million.
OWKIN's platform is called Socrates, and it is designed to help researchers in academia, hospitals, and the pharmaceutical industry advance medical research. The company uses machine learning technology to integrate biomedical images, genomics and clinical data to discover biomarkers and mechanisms associated with diseases and treatment outcomes.
The company's primary clients are pharmaceutical companies, and Socrates is able to help them answer questions that will help cure diseases, without ever sharing any data from hospitals, Clozel explained.
For example, a pharma company might use OWKIN's technology, and the intelligence pre-trained on real world data, to better understand drug development opportunities using patient cohorts based on drug resistance and toxicities.
"We can help a company fine-tune patient recruitment in a clinical trial with imaging or other biomarkers. Pharma companies can also purchase predictive models built with real-world data, biomarkers or targets developed with our partners," he said.
OWKIN is currently working with pharmaceutical companies that include Amgen and Roche. The company also has research collaborations with Institut Curie and INSERM, which is the second largest cancer research organization in the world after the NCI.
While most AI startups are focused on diagnosis, or on drug discovery and chemistry, OWKIN focuses on research and making medical discoveries, Cozel explaind.
"OWKIN Socrates is innovative because it enables non-data scientists to use machine learning to continue creating monumental advancements in medical research," he said. "Our technology allows researchers to make discoveries by combining multiple data types, from genomics to radiology, and from pathology to clinical data. Our federated learning technology allows researchers from hospitals, academic institutions, consortiums and pharmaceuticals to collaborate without pooling data, even across international borders."
The new funding will be used to continue the development of OWKIN's AI platform, which means continuing to building out its research capabilities. That is why the company created OWKIN Lab which focuses on integrating biology and medical science into machine learning allows the company to create interpretable AI that will lead to medical breakthroughs.
"The interpretability of machine learning is a big problem. Getting to a point where we fully understand the medical drivers of machine learning models is a long-term goal for us: searching for and identifying meaningful biomarkers is a way to make new discoveries," said Clozel.
The funding will also toward strengthening the company’s strategic partnerships, specifically with hospitals and research institutions.
"This means maintaining our commitment to data security and privacy, demonstrating our technical and medical expertise and bringing revenue to our partners," noted Clozel. "OWKIN is pioneering federated learning in healthcare to overcome the data sharing problem, building collective intelligence from distributed and heterogeneous data at scale."
At the same time, OWKIN is also building relationships with pharmaceutical companies and CROs.
"We are enriching clinical development and medical research with the collective intelligence gathered from real world partnerships, and we’re creating technology that fits the researchers’ workflows. We must focus on building trust with our industry partners as well, so that we can discover the place of AI in pharmaceutical research together."
AI in the healthcare space
Artificial intelligence is already have a big impact on the healthcare space. The adoption of chatbots in healthcare, for example, is expected to result in cost savings of $3.6 billion globally by 2022.
"The health space is becoming more interconnected. Therapies are evolving quickly and have great potential. However, partially due to a lack of understanding of mechanisms of resistance, they are still restricted to a small percentage of the population," said Clozel.
For that reason, pharmaceutical companies are becoming more open to collaboration with AI startups, though Clozel says that most of those now focus on drug discovery and chemistry, while OWKIN focuses on patient data and medical research.
"People in medical research feel a huge need for collaboration, and, at the same time, understand the importance of respecting patient data privacy by being in full compliance with regulations such as HIPAA and GDPR. Recent scandals in data sharing in social media have contributed to fears of data breaches. Our vision is not to share or upload data in the cloud; it’s to use our technology to enable collaboration while being supremely respectful of the truly sensitive nature of patient data."
OWKIN believes the future of healthcare lies in sharing intelligence rather than data itself, so, over the next five years, OWKIN's goal is "to augment knowledge and make medical discoveries, to create the tools to understand diseases and enhance drug development and to find new cures to treat unmet medical needs such as acute leukemia, NASH disease or Alzheimer’s disease," Clozel told me.
"We are lucky to have an amazing team, with a unique culture built around optimism, curiosity and critical thinking. We have gathered the very best data scientists in France, including the top two Kaggle participants in France, both Kaggle Masters!"
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