Sanofi will apply Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing capabilities toward developing new drugs, through a collaboration whose value was not disclosed.

The companies said they have agreed to create a virtual Innovation Lab to “radically” transform how future medicines and health services are developed and delivered.

Sanofi has articulated three goals for the collaboration with Google: better understand patients and diseases, increase Sanofi’s operational efficiency, and improve the experience of Sanofi patients and customers.

“We stand on the forefront of a new age for biology and human health, with the opportunity to transform healthcare through partnerships with pioneering technology and analytics companies,” Ameet Nathwani, MD, chief digital officer, chief medical officer & executive vice president, medical at Sanofi, said in a statement. “Combining Sanofi’s biologic innovations and scientific data with Google’s industry-leading capabilities, from cloud computing to state-of-the-art artificial intelligence, we aspire to give people more control over their health and accelerate the discovery of new therapies.”

Sanofi and Google said they will seek to better understand unspecified “key” diseases and extract related patient insights through leveraging deep analytics across datasets. Sanofi said the approach will allow it to research and develop more personalized approaches to treatment and identify accompanying technologies to improve health outcomes.

The companies will apply technology and analytics on Sanofi’s large real-world database, with the aim of better understanding what treatments work for patients. Sanofi and Google hope to improve their ability to offer personalized treatment advice, thus optimizing patient care and reducing healthcare costs.

Sanofi and Google also plan to apply AI across diverse datasets to better forecast sales and inform marketing and supply chain efforts. According to the companies, the AI will take into account real-time information as well as geographic, logistic, and manufacturing constraints.

Migrating to the cloud

Sanofi also plans to migrate some existing business applications to Google Cloud Platform (GCP) in order to maximize operational cost efficiency and support the Innovation Lab and other business objectives.

The pharma giant expects to accelerate and simplify its legacy management, provide easy access to recent technologies and its integration into business plans, by leveraging GCP’s automation, scalability, and agility, along with increases in data and analytic capabilities.

My conversations with healthcare customers have made it clear that the industry is moving to a more data-centric model, one that can deliver deeper insights to physicians, help them make better-informed decisions, and provide better care for patients. This transformation goes hand in hand with Google’s mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible, secure, and useful,” Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian stated on his company’s blog.

“Life science companies are looking to significantly increase the value they can provide to patients through data-driven insights, tailored solutions, and organized information that betters the interactions between patients, physicians, and payers,” Kurian added. “We’re excited about the possibilities that Google Cloud’s secure, flexible, and connected infrastructure can provide to Sanofi.”

Years of partnering

The collaboration is the second announced in as many months involving Sanofi and an entity of Google’s parent company, Alphabet—and the third alliance between the companies to emerge in three years.

Last month, Sanofi was one of four pharmas that agreed to use the Project Baseline tech platform and tools of Alphabet’s Verily Life Sciences in a collaboration designed to improve clinical research and trials. Joining Sanofi in the Verily clinical partnership—whose value was not disclosed—were Novartis, Otsuka Pharmaceutical, and Pfizer.

Verily and its partners are exploring opportunities in cardiovascular disease, oncology, mental health, dermatology, and diabetes, Verily chief medical officer Jessica Mega, MD, MPH, told CNBC: “From the beginning, our team on Baseline has been thinking a lot about how to bridge the gap between research and care. And we know that it would involve working with health systems, pharma, and biotech companies.”

Novartis and Pfizer were among drug developers who had formed collaborations in AI-based drug discovery with IBM Watson—which in April said it would focus instead on what it called the even greater market need for clinical development.

In December 2017, Sanofi and IBM Watson announced a real-world analysis highlighting the importance of timely intensification of treatment to achieve blood sugar control in adults living with type 2 diabetes—an example, they said, of applying real-world data and evidence to understand clinical outcomes in day-to-day diabetes management.

A year earlier in September 2016, Sanofi and Verily launched an approximately $500 million joint venture to develop a diabetes management platform that combines new treatments with devices, software, and professional care.

Sanofi agreed to invest $248 million in return for a 50% stake in the venture, called Onduo, which was designed to marry Verily’s experience in miniaturized electronics, analytics, and consumer software development with Sanofi’s clinical expertise in bringing new diabetes treatments to market. Onduo offers a 12-month behavior-change program and access to its virtual clinic. Members receive an at-home A1c kit, test strips, and a blood glucose monitoring device designed to read glucose levels frequently and track the data in an app. Some members received access to a continuous glucose monitor (CGM).

Last year, Onduo offered offer virtual diabetes care for people with type 2 diabetes at no cost to the first 1,000 people who signed up and qualified in Georgia, under a special promotion recognizing National Diabetes Awareness month.

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