London Hospitals Could Offer Patient Data to Google-backed AI Startup in Bid to Develop Better Drugs

Originally published in  The Telegraph

Originally published in The Telegraph

A French-American AI start-up backed by Google is in talks with a number of London hospitals to trial its AI system, which can study clinical data to help develop more effective drugs.

Owkin, which was founded in 2016 and is headquartered in New York, uses a predictive algorithm to identify biomarkers associated with cancer.

The company has already helped discover targets for drugs in mesothelioma, a cancer linked to asbestos exposure, but it says its technology can be used for much more.

The start-up has raised money from the investment arm of Alphabet, Google Ventures, as well as funds backed by financial services firm Fidelity. To date, it has raised $18.1m, according to Crunchbase.

Parker Moss, chief business officer at Owkin, confirmed that the company is “currently in advanced discussions with three large London academic medical centres” to strike a deal that would see it harness hospital data on patients.

“In those relationships, we will be revenue sharing with the hospitals,” he said.

“The important features of our relationship with all of our hospitals, including the NHS, is [that] we pay the hospitals, we don't take money from them, and we never remove or even see any patient data so we totally protect patient privacy.”

Figures from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry suggest that annual investment into R&D will climb to $181bn by 2022, with investment increasing at an average of 4pc per year.

The issue for the industry, however, is that much of the investment tends to go to waste as the success rate of drug trials is low.

“The big challenge in pharma is that only about 1 in 20 targets that they pick actually turns into a drug that goes to market,” Moss said.

“You normally spend about a minimum of $1bn trying to make a target work, so if only one in 20 works, that means they're writing off $19bn out of $20bn R&D - predictive modelling can really help improve these odds.”

There are also privacy concerns about the use of advanced technology in healthcare. In 2017, an agreement between the London-based AI firm DeepMind and the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust was ruled unlawful by the Information Commissioner's Office because it had not adequately informed patients their data would be processed during the app's testing phase.

Moss said that Owkin "never has any visibility of identifiable or non-identifiable [patient] data".

OWKINJames Stephens