Syneos Health cemented a multi-year deal to use Microsoft’s platform for deploying artificial intelligence (AI) in its clinical trials and commercial programs.

The agreement announced this week centers on an advanced analytics platform, which Syneos built on Microsoft’s Azure technology, that enables agile deployment of machine learning to support the analysis, design and execution of clinical trials and commercial programs, Syneos said

The firm will collaborate with Microsoft Research and also leverage generative AI and large language models such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT via the Microsoft Azure OpenAI service.

“We have developed and are testing multiple applications leveraging ChatGPT across the Syneos Health business,” said Larry Pickett, chief information and digital officer, Syneos Health.

The deal was announced as the 2022 MM+M Agency 100 honoree has reportedly embarked on a new round of talks with potential buyers, due to the company facing a shorter backlog of clinical research contracts.

“Microsoft is the ideal technology partner,” Syneos CEO Michelle Keefe said in a statement. “Their clear industry leadership in AI and their pragmatic approach to improving healthcare outcomes for patients, science and industry is completely aligned with our value proposition.” 

Patty Obermaier, Microsoft VP for U.S. health and life sciences, said Syneos has integrated Azure’s Synapse AnalyticsData FactorySQL Database, among other services, to develop the platform.

Syneos uses the tools to process and analyze data to fast-track timelines, optimize resource allocation and unlock clinical trial efficiencies, the firm added. These capabilities aid in site selection and reduce enrollment timelines.

Beyond the Microsoft deal, Syneos’s future remains unclear.

The company had been eyeing a sale in March 2020, but the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic led the firm to call off the discussions. It recently hired Bank of America, in addition to Centerview Partners, for financial advice on the latest round of talks with potential suitors, including industry peers and private equity firms, sources recently told Reuters.

On the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call last month, Keefe said that Syneos needed to improve its win rates among small drug companies and was “underweight” when it came to contracts with large pharma customers but was making progress.

Its total backlog for contracts slipped from $7.5 billion at the end of 2021 down to $6.8 billion at the end of 2022. In its report on the interest among buyers, Reuters noted that Syneos’ business has been hit by a wave of consolidation among contract research organizations.

Additionally, just last month Syneos announced a partnership with Haystack Health to bolster its clinical trial enrollment through AI and natural language processing.

This story has been updated.