Pharma companies tie up with AI firms to advance drug discovery

Pharma companies tie up with AI firms to advance drug discovery
25 May, 2018

Big pharma companies are partnering with artificial intelligence firms to improve key aspects of the healthcare industry such as drug discovery, which will ultimately save time and reduce research and development costs, a report from UK-based data analytics consultancy firm Global Data showed.

For several pharma companies, machine learning is the most important aspect of AI, which has the potential to allow machines to surpass human intelligence levels, the report added. Increasing investments in AI for drug discovery allow big pharma firms to apply machine learning to identify and screen potential drug candidates, it explained. 

“The success of AI in drug discovery is largely due to deep learning, a field of machine learning that is built using artificial neural networks that model the way neurons in the human brain talk to each other. This technology can train systems to analyze large sets of chemical and biological data to identify drug candidates with high success rates much faster than humans," Alexandra Annis, senior immunology analyst at Global Data, said.

“However, it is important that data scientists and developers monitor the performance of these systems and take the necessary steps to adjust or train the systems to avoid repeating any errors, such as security breaches. That being said, we anticipate AI to transform the drug discovery process as we know it,” she added.

Citing an example, Annis said that Merck has partnered with AI-based company Numerate in 2012 to use its computer-based drug design technology to develop novel small molecule drug leads for an undisclosed cardiovascular disease target.

In addition, she said that Merck was leveraging Atomwise’s AI-based technology to scan existing medicines that could be redesigned to fight old and upcoming diseases.

Other examples of such partnerships include American biotech firm Celgene’s agreement with GNS Healthcare to use its reverse engineering and forward simulation causal machine learning and simulation platform; GSK's agreement into a $43-million drug discovery collaboration with UK-based AI-driven startup Exscientia; and Pfizer's collaboration with IBM Watson for immuno-oncology drug discovery research.

The Manipal Hospital in Bengaluru has also deployed IBM's Watson to help with cancer diagnostics, research and treatment.