Unlearn.AI Gets $12 Million to Give Digital Boost to Human Clinical Studies

Machine-learning technology creates ‘digital twins’ of clinical trial subjects

Unlearn.AI Inc. has raised $12 million to pursue a goal of using artificial intelligence to help life sciences companies run better clinical trials and ultimately develop new treatments for people with Alzheimer’s and other diseases.

Drug and medical-device companies run clinical trials to compare their treatment to a placebo. One challenge they face is the placebo effect, in which patients in the control group see benefits, even though they didn’t receive the experimental therapy. This makes it difficult for a company to show that its drug or device is any better than a placebo pill or medical procedure.

Another challenge is recruiting enough patients into the trial. The chance that they could be assigned to a trial’s placebo group is enough to dissuade some patients from participating in a study.

San Francisco-based Unlearn seeks to help companies overcome both difficulties. Its technology could limit the number of patients who need to receive a placebo and reduce the number of subjects needed to run the trial.

Using machine learning, Unlearn says it pairs each patient in a trial with a “digital twin” that describes what would have happened if that person had received a placebo. These simulations are based on data from tens of thousands of patients who participated in previous placebo-controlled trials, according to Chief Executive Charles Fisher.

Unlearn initially is using this technology in a trial being run by an undisclosed company that is testing a medical-device treatment for Alzheimer’s, Dr. Fisher said. This company’s clinical trial has a group of patients who are receiving a placebo procedure, but the company is using Unlearn’s capability to augment the study, according to Dr. Fisher. In that trial, the device company was concerned that there could be a significant placebo effect in the patients who were receiving the dummy procedure, he said.

With this financing Unlearn aims to work with more drug and device companies on their clinical trials, Dr. Fisher said.

Unlearn raised this Series A round from 8VC, which led the financing. DCVC, investing through its main fund and its bioscience fund, also participated, as did Mubadala Capital Ventures.

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