French-American biotechnology firm Owkin has signed a collaboration agreement with MSD to develop and commercialise artificial intelligence (AI)-driven cancer diagnostics.

The collaboration intends to market these digital pathology diagnostics in the European Union (EU) market.

It will aim to pre-screen patients for the presence of the Microsatellite Instability High (MSI-H) biomarker, which is highly predictive of the effectiveness of PD1/PDL-1 inhibitors in cancer.

Both firms will develop MSI-H diagnostics for four types of cancer including endometrial, gastric, small intestinal, and biliary cancers.

According to Owkin, these pre-screening procedures will enhance the rate of testing for MSI-H in these cancer types, which have a low prevalence of this biomarker, and screening is not performed regularly.

Owkin chief diagnostics officer Meriem Sefta said: “This strategic alliance with MSD is focused on improving the way patients are diagnosed and receive treatment, advancing our shared mission of supporting healthcare providers in their adoption of innovative digital diagnostics.

“It is clear that there is a need for AI diagnostics that can both ease bottlenecks and resource pressures while also ramping up biomarker testing to match patients with optimal treatments.”

The biotechnology firm will extend the development of its MSI-H AI diagnostics using multimodal patient data from several academic institutions and hospitals.

Owkin, which has raised $300m in funding from major biopharma companies, has the only MSI digital pathology diagnostic CE-marked in colorectal cancer.

In 2021, Sanofi announced a $180m equity investment in Owkin to develop new cancer therapeutics.

MSD Research Laboratories translational oncology associate vice president and head Scott Pruitt said: “The application of AI technologies holds tremendous potential in the screening of patients and the diagnosis of disease.

“We look forward to working with the Owkin team toward harnessing this opportunity to identify more patients with MSI-H cancers who may benefit from ICI therapy.”