Precision flu vaccines? Sanofi inks AI pact to find potential biomarkers

Sanofi Pasteur has tapped Berg's artificial intelligence capabilities to understand why some people respond better to flu shots than others.

Precision medicine has been applied in cancer, but what about prophylactic vaccines against infectious diseases? Sanofi Pasteur has tapped Berg's artificial intelligence capabilities to discover biomarkers that could help scientists learn more about individual flu vaccine responses.

Under the collaboration, Sanofi Pasteur is running a longitudinal study on its licensed flu vaccines, while Berg will analyze the biological materials from individuals participating in that study using its bAIcis artificial intelligence tool. The goal is to identify “molecular signatures and biomarkers indicative of breadth and durability of the influenza vaccine immunological response,” Niven Narain, Berg co-founder and CEO, said in a statement.

In short, the team aims to learn about molecular features behind varying responses to flu shots out of data sets that are "unmanageably large" by traditional standards, according to the release. 

Berg’s Interrogative Biology platform combines "multi-omic" molecular data—such as genomics—with patient clinical information, looking for drivers behind a particular clinical outcome with the help of artificial intelligence, Slava Akmaev, Ph.D., Berg’s SVP and chief analytics officer, told FiercePharma in an interview.

In oncology, where Berg has used its AI tech to date, precision medicine has made significant progress in recent years, improving patient outcomes along the way. To Akmaev, the new project with Sanofi Pasteur in infectious disease prevention “showcases the versatility and ability” of the company’s technology.

Sanofi Pasteur is the world’s largest flu vaccine maker, reeling in €1.52 billion last year with its flu offerings.

The CDC previously estimated that flu vaccines were 48% effective during the 2016-2017 season. Health officials often attribute lower efficacy rates to the flu virus’ unpredictable mutations, but knowing more about biomarkers could help scientists develop shots that are targeted to make them more effective in particular groups of people. Akmaev said the deal could help Sanofi “inform future development" of more accurately targeted vaccines.

Editor's Note: The story has been updated to substitute the term "precision medicine" for "personalized," to reflect that the potential for targeted flu vaccines might not be on the individual level.