January 18, 2022

Technion Startup Partners with Pfizer for Drug Development

Pfizer has won accolades for developing one of the most widely used COVID-19 vaccines in record time. Now, in addition to that lifesaving work, the giant pharmaceutical company is working to speed drugs to the market for autoimmune diseases — in collaboration with a Technion scientist.

Professor Shai Shen-Orr, an expert in big data and immunology, launched CytoReason in 2016 to build a machine learning-based model of the human immune system. Three years later, Pfizer partnered with CytoReason to help fast-track drug development for autoimmune diseases. The company now has collaborations with four of the world’s 10 largest pharmaceutical companies, an amazing example of the Technion’s deep ties to industry.

“We believe that CytoReason’s platform has the potential to offer valuable insights that may be applied to our research into the human immune system,” said Michael Vincent, Chief Scientific Officer, Inflammation & Immunology at Pfizer. “Leveraging technologies such as this can help us understand disease and prioritize targets, and support our mission of bringing innovative new therapies to patients who need them.”

CytoReason’s machine-learning platform aggregates data from clinical studies and published research. Coupling the data with machine learning, CytoReason can simulate the effects of drug treatments on a multitude of diseases, identify patients who may benefit from particular medicines, and help discover new medicines. Given the estimated $2.6 billion cost of developing a new FDA-approved drug, the potential of CytoReason to speed drug development will have a tremendous real-world impact.

Prof. Shen-Orr earned his bachelor’s degree at the Technion in 2000, following in the footsteps of his parents and his grandfather. He received his master’s degree from the Weizmann Institute of Science, his Ph.D. from Harvard University, and conducted postdoctoral work at Stanford University before becoming a Technion faculty member in 2011. He heads the Systems Immunology & Precision Medicine Lab in the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine.