For long the practice of discovering new cures has rested solely on the shoulders of biologists, scientists and pharmaceutical companies with loads of money to spare. The process hasn’t changed much in the past few decades.
Basically, a team screens past several molecules looking for any sign of a biological reaction until a molecule does show some potential. This is then accelerated through more trials and experiments to figure out exactly what kind of biological reaction it has. The final stage in development is to test the hypothesis and understand other tertiary biological reactions or as we like to call them “side-effects”. The problem is that with so many new molecules being discovered and patented, it is becoming hard for pharmaceutical companies to make new discoveries that could revolutionize the world. Now the medicine race has entered its penultimate years where speed and accuracy of discovery are far more vital as opposed to quantity of discoveries.
The unfortunate problem with medicine discovery, trial, testing and approval is the time period involved. If you thought discovery was arduous and time consuming, then think again. Trials are extensive and expensive. Tests take time to get approvals for and again very expensive. Finally waiting for approval can be a long harrowing ride. Basically, from discovery to marketing, any medicine takes at least a decade.
Software companies today are however changing the rules. Artificial intelligence exclusively designed to assist scientists in their discoveries are hastening the entire process. Because there is so much data to crunch and so many molecules to look at, it is humanly not possible to be vigilant every second. A computer with vast amounts of computing power and human defined intuition can however do just that – spot even slight interactions between molecules and biology.
Take for instance the BenevolentAI. This company sits off Euston Road in London and is a recent startup. It’s main room is open and packed with coders, scientists who work away. However, its star employee has its own office that is temperature controlled. This office houses cutting edge hardware that is the AI of the business. This AI takes information, processes it learns the outcome and then using inferences from what it just learned, can look at new raw data and spot new ideas. Basically, it sniffs through thousands of chemical library papers, medical databases and scientific papers searching for some drug molecule that may just do something.
Even IBM has gotten in on the action, entering a partnership with Pfizer to accelerate drug discovery in the field of immune-oncology.