Drug development-focused artificial intelligence (AI) analytics company Phesi has signed an exclusive strategic collaboration with UK-based Sensyne Health. In addition, Sensyne Health, which works in the field of AI-driven clinical technology, has made a $10m equity investment into Phesi to accelerate its products pipeline.

“By collaborating we can deliver anonymised real-world data from Sensyne of 6.1 million patients, alongside our own data which covers 30 million clinical trial subjects today,” explains Phesi founder and President Dr Gen Li. “Clients often tell us how valuable varied real-world data is in their clinical development programs, particularly from hospital and healthcare settings, so we’re pleased to be able to offer this data alongside our own.”

“Ultimately, [by working together] we can help to reduce patient burden, accelerate clinical development and satisfy unmet medical needs, faster,” Li adds.

Sensyne CEO and founder the Right Honourable Lord Paul Drayson said: “Phesi was a natural partner for Sensyne because of its established track record in supporting leading life sciences companies.

“The collaboration creates a compelling offering aimed at accelerating the development of pharmaceutical products, fundamentally improving patient care, and enabling us to offer the global pharmaceutical industry a compelling combination of expertise and data across real-world and clinical data.”

Covid-19 and clinical trials

This partnership occurs in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has dramatically affected the global clinical trials landscape. There have been concerns about trial enrolment and retention, both because of physical lockdown restrictions and concerns about patient health. In addition, many sites are no longer available for clinical trials as they, and their staff, have been requisitioned for both Covid-19 treatment and trials.

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“While Covid-19 has hit the clinical trials infrastructure hard, it has also helped to highlight longstanding problems in the industry that urgently need to be addressed,” notes Li. Data and analytics are one solution to the challenges facing clinical research programmes.

Li adds: “By working together, Phesi and Sensyne can provide the data and analytics needed to help improve trial design and execution. Ultimately, remaining productive and innovative during this current [pandemic] period will be heavily reliant on an ability to make sense of, and be led by, data.”

Spotlight on synthetic control arms

Although the collaboration with Sensyne will support Phesi’s long-term aim to help life sciences companies broadly embrace data-driven approaches in their clinical work, the partnership will particularly focus on the appropriate use of synthetic control arms, instead of standard placebo groups, in clinical trials.

A synthetic control arm relies on data from other clinical trials and the real world in place of placebo arms, which have been criticised as ethically questionable, particularly for patients with severe diseases. Li points to “trials in late-stage cancers or progressive genetic disorders where a patient’s health would deteriorate were they to receive a placebo rather than the investigational treatment” as an example of the ethical implications of placebo arms.

In addition, “a synthetic control arm reduces the burden on sites and sponsors; fewer patients have to be recruited and all of those that are will be in the active arm of the trial,” states Li. Recruitment of patients is a major bottleneck in successful clinical trials; research suggests that more than 80% of clinical trials fail to complete enrolment on time.

“This partnership with Sensyne bolsters the amount of data available to clients to help identify opportunities where a synthetic placebo or comparator arm is feasible,” explains Li. The ultimate goal is “avoiding exposing patients to a placebo or comparator altogether”.

Li concludes that the use of synthetic control arms would be “a significant transformation in how new medicines are developed”.