French startup leverages AI to identify novel drug combinations

French pharmaceutical startup Pharnext is leveraging AI and pleiotropy to develop new drug combinations and repurpose existing therapies, Fortune reported March 19.

Pharnext CEO Daniel Cohen told Fortune that pleiotropy—the ability of singular genes to have multiple capabilities—is often a roadblock for researchers looking to develop solutions for complex conditions, but it’s at the center of his operation.

“Any protein in the body has many different functions, not only one,” he said. “Just as you are a person who has many functions in the population, not just one.”

Since AI has the ability to comb through and analyze information that would otherwise be difficult to visualize, Cohen and his colleagues use the technology to map the way chain reactions of diseases move through the human body. With any luck, the approach will pave the way for novel drug combinations to treat “a plethora” of medical conditions.

Cohen said his team is also using AI to look for therapies that could be repurposed, or combined with other existing drugs to treat conditions neither drug could effectively treat on its own. He said his ultimate goal is a drug pipeline more efficient than Big Pharma’s.

“You don’t need to design [new] drugs” with repurposing, Cohen said. “My feeling is that with 50 drugs, we can treat everything.”

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