For hundreds of years, people have been developing new drugs by trial and error. Although that process has resulted in countless lifesaving medications, it is highly inefficient. However, trial and error is something that artificial intelligence (AI) excels at.
When researchers came up with the idea of creating new drugs with AI it was considered laughable. No one believed that a computer could generate useful new chemical compounds without a large degree of human intervention. Today, AI systems have not only created new drugs, but those compounds are now ready to enter the human trial phase of development.
Developing new drugs is costly—both in money and time. Exscientia, an Oxford-based biotech company, is hoping to revolutionize the process. Ordinarily, it takes drug companies about four and a half years to reach the human trial stage with a new medication. Exscientia has done it in less than 12 months by harnessing the power of AI.
Its new drug, temporarily known as DSP-1181, is being developed to help treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It was created by algorithms that sift through massive amounts of simulated compounds. The AI checks them against several medical databases to find the mixture of molecules that will work. Once it settles on a few candidates, researchers are able to continue the development by hand with the hardest part out of the way.
Professor Andrew Hopkins, CEO of Exscientia, says that AI-developed compounds are a “key milestone in drug discovery.”
He goes on to add that the algorithms can be applied to any disease. Since they aren’t tailored to any specific illness, they could theoretically be used to develop drugs for almost anything.
AI Continues to Impact Medicine
The intersection of technology and healthcare continues to be one of the most exciting areas of research and development. From AI systems that can detect early signs of disease to others that develop new drugs, the future looks bright thanks to these innovations.
Taking a step into human trials is huge for an AI-developed drug. This will mark the first such occurrence. Although, it’s worth noting that this isn’t the first drug that an algorithm has “invented.”
Back in July, The Burn-In reported that a team of AI researchers had created a new flu shot with their algorithm. Currently, that vaccine is still in the clinical trial phase.
Exscientia’s new drug will first enter phase one trials in Japan. If those prove to be successful, the drug will go through further global testing.
Meanwhile, the blossoming company hopes to have another new drug ready for clinical trials by the end of the year. Some of its projects include medications for the treatment of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Hopkins says, “This year was the first to have an AI-designed drug but by the end of the decade all new drugs could potentially be created by AI.”
By allowing a computer to make the billions of decisions that go into discovering new drugs, and then backing that up with human-guided safety research, drug development could very well follow that trajectory.