Mayo Clinic Cofounds AI-Driven Drug Development Startup

July 14, 2017
Mayo Clinic Cofounds AI-Driven Drug Development Startup
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The Mayo Clinic and nference (a Cambridge, MA-based software company) have joined forces to launch a drug-development company that leverages the clinical expertise and data of Mayo with nference’s artificial intelligence (AI) approach to biological discoveries. Named Qrativ (pronounced like the word "curative"), the company will initially focus on developing treatments for diseases with unmet medical need, and is backed by an $8.3 million Series A financing from Mayo, Matrix Capital Management, and Matrix Partners.

The announcement comes amid a rush of companies setting up shop in the biologic research and drug-development space looking to use AI for drug repurposing. In the case of Qrativ, however, it aims to get a jump on these companies. Instead of looking to find new uses for drugs that have either been approved or have moved deep into clinical trials, Qrativ will use its discovery platform, dubbed Watson.ai, at the earliest stages of the drug-development process.

“This is a bold step for Mayo Clinic and complements our patient-centered care approach with an innovative way to uncover new therapeutic indications for drugs in the collective industry pipeline,” Andrew Badley, M.D., cofounder and CMO of Qrativ said in a prepared statement announcing the company’s launch. “It enables us to search for all possible uses of a drug starting at the early stages of development. That’s why we call this approach ‘drug purposing’ and not ‘repurposing.’ Through these collaborations, we hope to maximize every drug’s potential for as many patients and diseases as possible.”

In its early stages, the company will focus on rare diseases with small and highly targeted patient populations. The Qrative platform leverages multidisciplinary omics data found in published medical literature and journals to take a systematic, data-driven approach to discovery. Where Qrativ looks to differentiate itself from other companies working in this area like Numerate, NuMedii, iCarbonX, and others is via the use of the rich trove of research and patient data held by Mayo Clinic.

Or as Murali Aravamudan, cofounder and CEO of both Qrativ and nference describes it: “Our core technology, based on a neural network ensemble, identifies nascent drug–disease, drug–gene and other therapeutically relevant associations from the vast biomedical literature. The spatiotemporal signals are triangulated with real-world phenotypic and molecular evidence amassed from systemic and longitudinal patient care, which we believe can significantly accelerate drug discovery and development.”

The Qrativ management teams merges clinical leaders from the Mayo Clinic with the tech entrepreneurs and molecular scientists of nference. Aravamudan and Ajit Rajasekharan, CTO of Qrativ, were cofounders of video content company Veveo, which was acquired by Vivo (now TiVo) in 2014. Venky Soundararajan, Ph.D., cofounder and CSO of both nference and Qrativ, previously preformed translational oncology modeling and simulation efforts at Vertex Pharmaceuticals and worked in Harvard Medical School lab of noted molecular biologist and geneticist George Church. Dr. Badley (Qrativ cofounder and CMO) is also the director of the office of translation to practice at Mayo Clinic.