Artificial Intelligence: will it change the way drugs are discovered?
The pharmaceutical industry is beginning to invest in artificial intelligence (AI), with many large pharmaceutical companies partnering with AI start-ups in 2017 in order to develop better diagnostics or biomarkers, to identify drug targets and to design new drugs. But when will the first AI-designed drugs reach the market and will AI permanently change the pharmaceutical industry and the way drugs are discovered?
It was, in part, Tesla’s self-driving car, first demonstrated in 2015, that finally got the pharmaceutical industry to take artificial intelligence (AI) seriously. That is according to Alex Zhavoronkov, chief executive officer of artificial intelligence start-up Insilico Medicine, based in Baltimore, Maryland. He says Tesla showed that AI really is feasible, and in the past couple of years the pharmaceutical industry investment tap has started to flow. This investment has been coupled with continued technological progress. “It previously took half a year to show something new,” says Zhavoronkov, but currently every week his team messages him about an advance that makes him think “wow”. The questions now are when the first AI-designed drugs will reach the market and whether AI will transform the process of drug discovery.
Many big pharmaceutical companies partnered with AI start-ups in 2017: Cambridge, UK-based AstraZeneca teamed up with biopharma company Berg, based in Boston, Massachusetts, to find biomarkers and drugs for neurological disease; California-based Roche subsidiary Genentech partnered with Cambridge, Massachusetts-based GNS Healthcare, to use its AI platform to analyse oncology therapeutics; and Japanese pharmaceutical giant Takeda partnered with California-based company Numerate to identify and deliver multiple clinical candidates.