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Mount Sinai, Sanofi, Sema4 Partner on Long-Term Asthma Study

Inspecting lung X-rays

(National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, NIH)

5 Dec. 2018. A collaboration of Mount Sinai medical center, drug maker Sanofi, and data science company Sema4 aims to track people with asthma for 5 years to help develop personalized treatments for the disease. Financial and intellectual property aspects of the partnership between Mount Sinai and the 2 companies were not disclosed.

Asthma is a chronic condition, where the airways become inflamed and narrow, causing wheezing, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and coughing for periods of time. Among asthma’s underlying causes are infections, pollutants in the air, and allergies to pollen, molds, fungi, or dust mites that trigger airway inflammation. A study calculating the global burden of respiratory diseases, estimates asthma affected some 350 million people in 2015, making it the most common chronic respiratory disorder, and responsible for about 400,000 deaths each year.

While the disease may be common, treatments have not changed substantially over the years, partly because of the varied causes of the disorder and conditions under which it occurs. “Despite advances in recent years,” says Mount Sinai’s Linda Rogers in a statement, “we still see many patients struggling with asthma, so there is still a tremendous need for innovation to reduce the burden of this disease.” Rogers heads the New York City medical center’s adult asthma program.

The project aims to learn much more about asthma and people with asthma, to better understand the nature of the disease and gain insights into the many ways it happens. Researchers from the partners will recruit and track some 1,200 people with asthma for 5 years. The team plans to take biological specimen samples for molecular profiles of the participants. In addition, the project will collect immunological data, as well as data on the participants’ environment with sensors attached to mobile devices. The goal is to identify causes of conditions that trigger asthma attacks that can lead to more precise therapy targets and individualized treatments.

Frank Nestle, chief scientist at Sanofi North America notes, “Our goal is to develop a holistic view of each patient in the study, which is why we’re excited to add digital technology to the traditional types of medical examinations conducted in this study. It’s a new way to approach this enormous problem, connecting real world clinical and scientific data, that we hope will translate into new ways to treat asthma.” Nestle also heads the company’s global research on immunology and inflammation.

Data scientists from health care analytics company Sema4 will conduct much of the data modeling and analysis to create a more comprehensive and detailed picture of asthma. The company develops analytical routines with artificial intelligence to better understand inherited diseases, connecting genomic variations to an individual’s overall health condition, taking in much more than the traditional clinical information by deeper engagement with patients.

“We believe the only way to fully understand asthma,” says Eric Schadt, CEO of Sema4, “is by using sophisticated modeling tools to mine the rich, multi-dimensional data set we aim to generate in this study. This approach could reveal entirely new avenues for alleviating and more effectively treating asthma.” Sema4 is a spin-off company from Mount Sinai medical center in Stamford, Connecticut.

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