BURLINGTON – Burlington-based global life science company LabCorp and AstraZeneca subsidiary Definiens have announced a collaboration to speed the development of precision medicines.

Terms of the agreement between LabCorp’s Covance drug development business and Definiens were not disclosed.

The two companies will integrate digital pathology, clinical trial design, and tissue-based testing to more effectively validate biomarkers and develop companion diagnostics for new drug therapies. They plan to focus initially on immuno-oncology.

Companion diagnostics are used in conjunction with these therapies to help select or exclude patient groups for treatment based on their biological characteristics. Testing can identify individuals who are most likely to benefit from a specific drug, or who may have an increased risk for side effects. Biomarkers are used in conjunction with companion diagnostics to help predict the likely response to the medicine.

For more than two decades, LabCorp and Covance — a global contract research organization it acquired in 2015 — have been involved in the development of drug therapies with associated companion diagnostics. To date, they have supported close to two-thirds of all Food and Drug Administration-approved therapies that fall into this category.

The two companies will concentrate initially on early-stage clinical programs using two applications — immunohistochemistry (IHC) and in situ hybridization (ISH). These allow researchers to obtain significantly more information from a single tissue sample than with standard testing methods. So therapies will be able to move more rapidly to clinical trial-scale studies.Definiens, a pioneer of artificial intelligence-based image analysis, was founded in Munich, Germany, in 1994 by Professor Gerd Binnig, the 1986 Nobel Laureate in Physics. It uses digital pathology to help biopharmaeceutical companies make more-informed decisions about their oncology and immuno-oncology pipelines. Definiens Tissue Phenomics is recognized as a leading technology for characterizing the immuno-oncology tumor microenvironment.

“From the perspective of the North Carolina Precision Health Collaborative, this is certainly good news,” said Sara Imhof, senior director of precision health at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center (NCBiotech). “Partnerships like this one are key to advancing precision health discovery and research so that patients receive the most benefit from the medicines they are prescribed.”

The Precision Health Collaborative was formed two years ago by NCBiotech and a committed group of leaders in biotechnology, research, academia and healthcare across the state. The organization encourages the growth and development of precision health to improve outcomes for all North Carolinians as well as for people around the world.