Culmination Bio enters into R&D collaboration with Merck

Steven Loeb · January 25, 2024 · Short URL:

Merck will first collaborate with Culmination Bio on autoimmune disease

Culmination Bio is a company on a mission to accelerate the R&D timeline for pharmaceutical and biotech companies, which it does by offering a search engine for patient data that can pull information from its database to support researchers' unique queries.

"A big challenge that they face is aggregating datasets that they need to inform on their own internal R&D and to inform on their pipelines, to accelerate their efforts, validate their technologies, et cetera," said Lincoln Nadauld, MD, Ph.D., president and CEO of Culmination Bio, told VatorNews.

"Historically, they've had to collect data from disparate sources and so we have, we believe, the multimodal data, I'll call it, all in one spot, to accelerate them. We have been continuing to work with our partners to get them the data that they need and, in many cases, the accompanying biospecimens that they need."

Now the company will be supplying that data to Merck, as it announced a new R&D collaboration on Thursday in which Merck will have access to both clinical data, such as Electronic Health Records, labs, and medications), as well as paired biospecimen data, meaning tissue and blood, from several cohorts of various sizes and qualifications. 

The partnership came about after Culmination Bio became acquainted with some of Merck's scientists and became aware of their interests of those scientists and started talking to them about our capabilities, Nadauld explained.

"They had learned about us and inquired about whether we could fill their needs. As we explained our capabilities and our focus, it became clear that what we do in aggregating data sets perfectly fit what their need was, and to our delight, they had had a hard time finding this elsewhere. We formed this agreement, and we have begun the work to aggregate the data that they needed," he said. 

Merck Global Health Innovation Fund (Merck GHI) was also an investor in Culmination's funding round in November, though Nadauld says the conversations about funding were independent of the conversation about collaborating.

"We're excited about what this represents, and that that really was independent, that the whole R&D relationship was independent of the funding that you heard. Those happened in separate conversations, so that's been nice."

A spinoff from Intermountain Health, Culmination Bio maintains exclusive rights to a physical library and cloud-based data lake covering over 40 years of de-identified patient electronic health records and biospecimen data, enabling biopharmaceutical companies to gain insights to help with diagnostic and therapeutic development. 

The company typically partners with pharmaceutical and life sciences companies across clinical R&D, drug discovery, hypothesis validation, and label expansion post-FDA approval. Customers submit specific queries on the patient cohorts they are studying, and Culmination Bio pulls only the data specific to their search, maintaining patient privacy and regulatory compliance.  It also accelerates patient recruitment by tapping into Intermountain Health’s network of patients across 33 healthcare facilities.

What Culmination specifically provides for Merck is clinical data that’s deidentified and HIPAA compliant with accompanying biospecimens, specifically those that are being interrogated for omics data.

With Culmination's technology, Merck can define a group of patients that have a certain condition or diagnosis, and even define additional features; for example, if they have certain laboratory abnormalities or they've had certain kinds of tests done or certain treatments previously. What they need is to understand the path and the journey for that specific group of patients, and so Culmination can go and identify that group of patients, and can see their clinical journey, how they were diagnosed, and the kinds of tests that were performed to diagnose them.

In addition, the company can also see the kinds of therapies that patients are prescribed, or the kinds of interventions that are taken for those patients, and  can understand what their entire journey looks like. Then, with the biospecimens, Culmination can add omics data, which will often identify variables that can explain why their journey went the way that it did. 

"What Merck is finding interesting about Culmination Bio is the vastness of the data. Historically, in this space, companies might have access to a limited disease state. There might be a company that has data in oncology or data in inflammatory bowel disease, or maybe one specific disease state. Where Culmination is really distinct and we believe Merck has signed this agreement for this reason is that we span the spectrum of human disease," said Nadauld.

The initial focus of the collaboration will be in the area of autoimmune disease, a space that's growing because scientists are understanding the biology better, leading to more sophisticated therapeutics, as well as a better understanding that it's a more widely spread problem than physicians have previously known. As such, pharma and biotech companies are now looking to address the problem.

"What has been absent in the autoimmune space is the data and omics data that Culmination thankfully has. That's why this partnership works well. The other good news is that we're working with Merck across their spectrum, so we'll be working with them in autoimmunity and you can imagine that they're going to need this data in other parts of their efforts as well," said Nadauld.

Ultimately, Culmination Bio's mission statement is to discover better health and the company was founded with the goal of accelerating discoveries that can then come back to help patients. That means helping to discover the next generation of diagnostic tests and therapies and medicines, that can really improve outcomes for patients and help people be as healthy as possible.

"We anticipate more of what you're seeing in this agreement with Merck: partnering with sophisticated, smart, capable technology driven biotech and pharma companies who need access to data in order to find those medicines and find those interventions that can help patients. If we can be the catalyst for those kinds of discoveries, then we'll be fulfilling our mission to discover better health," Nadauld said. 

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