The AI Meets Life Sci podcast with Kayleen Brown and Brian Buntz explores AI's role in healthcare, pharmaceuticals, biotech, medtech and more.In episode 4 of Ai Meets Life SciKayleen Brown, managing editor at DeviceTalks and Brian Buntz, pharma and biotech editor, chat with Helen Merianos, Ph.D., head of R+D portfolio strategy at Sanofi and Michelle Longmire, MD, CEO of Medable. The focus? The two-fold application of AI in their respective companies’ technologies, both for scientific advancement and business productivity, were central themes. Sanofi is applying AI across the company, encouraging an inquisitive culture around product development. AI also aids in making more data-driven investments across various domains. Medable is tapping AI to build a culture of invention as decentralized clinical trials become more operationalized and scalable.

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Sanofi embraces AI for improved decision-making

In a June 2023 press release, Sanofi announced their partnership with Aily Labs to develop the Plai app. The industry-leading AI app delivers real-time, reactive data interactions to give a 360° view across all Sanofi activities. The app aggregates available company internal data across functions and harnesses the power of AI to provide timely insights and personalized “what if” scenarios to support thousands of Sanofi teams decision makers to make informed decisions in a simple and modern digital user experience.

Merianos explains Sanofi’s two-pronged approach to AI adoption: expert AI and stackable AI. The former is the deep technical expertise aggregated from brilliant scientific minds while the latter is data-driven across business functions to predict and forecast future pipeline and events. Her career, which began with a Ph.D. in biophysical chemistry, evolved into management consulting with McKinsey, and eventually led to an executive role at Sanofi.

Will drug developers ultimately become tech companies that happen to create drugs?

Dr. Merianos explains how Sanofi is using expert AI to discover new molecules and methodically address clinical study components, novel endpoints, protocol development, and even technical writing. Sanofi reports that over 20,000 employees engage with the app, with 9,000 regularly using it to make better decisions.

Part of her vantage point asks whether healthcare companies will become tech companies with medical applications, much like Tesla is a data company that makes cars. She brings up interesting points about the plai app enabling everyone to have the same data foundation during a meeting to then approach challenges differently. This information accessibility is game-changing as all team members can look up key product launch information, plan for hiring, and facilitate communication.

AI driving transformation at Sanofi

Paul Hudson, Sanofi’s CEO, is very much involved in the company’s adoption of AI, resulting in employee training as they march towards their vision to be the first large pharmaceutical company to adopt AI at scale. This includes the human component with reminders that the technology is subject to the flaws and assumptions of its inputs. At the leadership level, the tool is often used to understand portfolio trade-offs and opportunity costs while again, level setting those around the table with the same current information.

The rise of AI-enabled decentralized clinical trials

Shifting gears now to the clinical trials side of healthcare, Dr. Longmire, CEO of Medable, shares a compelling thought. Let’s say that there are  10,000 poorly managed human diseases. At today’s innovation and regulatory approval rate, it would take 200 years for us to develop therapies for them all. Undoubtedly, some of this is due to basic challenges of effectively measuring intervention sensitivity and specificity and overcoming regulatory hurdles amongst others. the barriers to entry for drug approvals, in terms of time, energy, and resources, have not decreased in the last 15 years. Either that means little has been learned, or technology has not “meaningfully been applied to this problem.”

Dr. Longmire’s idea to start Medable was born out of her fascination with both disease and data, doing rare disease research at Stanford with identical twins. The challenge of finding patients and collecting actionable data led to the global decentralized clinical trials platform the company runs today. In essence, a clinical trial protocol is translated into a mobile app running on the patient’s phone to gather responses and measure intervention compliance and efficacy. Their AI platform is now able to adapt for studies and account for electronic clinical outcome assessments (eCOA), language translations, clinical workflows, etc. The company recognizes partnerships with regulators, biopharma organizations, and academics all contribute significantly to the village building AI.

Expanding horizons in clinical trials

Decentralized clinical trials represent a tremendous opportunity to expand across geographic areas, including underrepresented populations, and addressing more diseases. There is an element of social responsibility and deeply tapping into patients’ needs with human connection amidst Dr. Longmire’s technical discussion and deeper dive into electronic medical records (EMRs).

This is one of the best deep dives we’ve heard on the Ai Meets Life Sci podcast so far – give it a listen!

Haley Schwartz is a passionate commercialization expert with over 10 years of sales and marketing experience in medtech. She started Catalyze Healthcare to work with medical device companies struggling to commercialize in the U.S. by focusing on developing marketing plans, launch plans, go-to-market strategies, competitive analysis, pricing models and more. Contact her at [email protected] or via LinkedIn for advice on your next product launch.