Sanofi merges biology and tech with research deal for digital asthma lab

Sanofi plans to take asthma research where it has not gone before. A new partnership with Mount Sinai Health System and advanced analytics firm Sema4 will create a digital asthma laboratory where sophisticated digital technology can be applied to and used to gather new forms of real-world and clinical data for analysis and predictive action.

The five-year study will follow 1,200 people living with different types of asthma, capturing real-world information such as Bluetooth-enabled inhaler and spirometer data, daily movements via GPS and genomic data from blood and nasal brushing samples, along with patient-reported outcomes.

Sanofi and its partners plan to then analyze the data using artificial intelligence to identify commonalities such as digital biomarkers that might signal an attack, or to create personal molecular pathways of different people with asthma.

The study breaks from traditional epidemiologic studies and clinical trials in its linking of new kinds of real-world data, enabled by Bluetooth and GPS, for example, to advanced analytics with and for patients, Frank Nestle, Sanofi North America global head of immunology and inflammation research and chief scientific officer, said.

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“It’s really important to develop a drug for real-world problems of patients,” he said. “Imagine you could intercept or prevent an asthma attack. At the moment what we do is treat with steroids and initiate therapy such as inhalers and biologics, but imagine you could have a signal that someone is going to have an attack and you prevent that attack. That would completely change the paradigm of asthma treatment.”

Sanofi’s interest is twofold in fulfilling its social responsibility in creating and sharing the data with patients, and then using the data to develop new therapies. Sanofi recently nabbed an FDA asthma nod for Dupixent as add-on maintenance treatment for patients 12 and older with an eosinophilic phenotype or for those who are dependent on oral corticosteroids.

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“It’s a fundamental investment in understanding asthma better and understanding how asthma attacks develop and how patients respond or don’t respond to therapy. And ultimately also thinking about new drug approaches to help those patients,” Nestle said.

He said he expects research to begin with patients next year with insights coming in 2020. While Sanofi doesn’t have formal plans for another digital lab like this one, Nestle said he hopes the asthma work can serve as a blueprint for other conditions.