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Cortex-Based PercayAI Is Harnessing Data, Academia To Speed Up Scientific Breakthroughs

PercayAI employee Chelsea Asadorian works with the company's software.
PercayAI employee Chelsea Asadorian works with the company's software.

As soon as some people hear the word “data,” they start to tune out. But not Allyson Mayer: She associates huge amounts of information with hope. It was a handful of years ago, as a doctoral student at Washington University, that the exciting possibilities of data first really struck her.

“I realized, ‘I just generated all this data myself; so did my classmates,’” Mayer recalled in a recent interview with theSTL.com. “I remember thinking that we could solve any problem out there if we could analyze the data properly. The challenge is to make the best use of the data to make novel insights and connections.”

Enter St. Louis-based biotech startup PercayAI, located in the city’s Cortex Innovation Community. Founded in 2019, PercayAI — its name a play on a Malay word indicating trust or belief — is working to harness the power of huge amounts of information through its augmented intelligence technology. The goal is to help foster scientific breakthroughs in the realm of drug discovery.

“Two of the biggest problems in drug discovery that we’re trying to help with is [first] that the drug discovery process is very long, very expensive, and oftentimes it’s very difficult to get the right answer on the first shot,” Mayer, now a computational biologist for the company, explained. “And [second], there’s just such a sheer quantity of data out there that we saw this as an opportunity to develop some software tools that could help researchers identify new findings within their research data, and then more directly use these patterns to take it to the drug discovery process.”

Allyson Mayer is a computational biologist for PercayAI.
John Harder / JHarder Photography
Allyson Mayer is a computational biologist for PercayAI.

Among the many patients the company aims to help are those struggling with lingering health effects from COVID-19. Mayer is particularly hopeful about a current project aimed at helping “long-haulers” — those dealing with long-term symptoms that have baffled doctors and scientists during the pandemic.

“We are hoping to have some results by the summer — still in the middle of analyzing [right now],” Mayer said.

In collaboration with Wash U’s Institute for Informatics and using PercayAI’s software, Mayer and other scientists are taking research and clinical data and comparing it to the existing knowledge base. They’re on the hunt for connections that could point to drugs already in existence as solutions for these COVID-19 patients.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, Mayer joined host Sarah Fenske for a closer look at PercayAI’s work, including how its partnerships with a couple of major universities in the region are a critical piece of its success.

In addition to working closely with Wash U, the company recently announced it is training St. Louis University faculty and students to make the most of the PercayAI software in their own research projects.

“Our software is actually very flexible. … It does a lot of things to make the research process faster for the scientist,” Mayer said. “But it could be used in a lot of different ways, including sort of like for this COVID project where we’re trying to knit together tons of different data sets, or it could be even used on just one simple experiment trying to find the best result.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.