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Artificial Intelligence: Is it on the cusp of revolutionizing pharmaceuticals?

6th November 2018

By Mike Rigert, Staff Writer, MasterControl (Medilink West Midlands Patron)

The pharmaceutical sector is advancing at a frenzied pace in 2018 as transformational technology changes and dynamic market forces continue to offer the industry new opportunities and challenges. Some of the top trends affecting pharmaceutical companies were recently explored in a free white paper, “Top 5 Trends in the Pharmaceutical Industry in 2018.”

One of the trends examined in the white paper is the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and how that nascent technology is not only making substantial inroads in the life sciences generally, but in pharmaceutical manufacturing more specifically.

The Three Waves of AI

Artificial intelligence is the concept of using computerized algorithms to process data more efficiently than humans can. The “first wave” of AI involved optimization programs or “knowledge engineering” (1). However, this initial form couldn’t perceive facts, learn new rules or deal well with the unknown. The second wave of AI progressed to where practitioners developed statistical learning programs or “machine learning.” In medicine and the life sciences, evolving pattern-recognition systems are also known as clinical decision support systems and can be used, for example, to analyze ECGs, retinal scans and genetic data. Third-wave AI are termed “hypothesis generation or “contextual normalization’ programs,” and are able to increase the amount of data that can be deconstructed to find meaning. It’s third-wave AI that’s currently being used for drug discovery due to the technology’s penchant for identifying connections that were previously loosely associated by normalizing unrelated contexts.

“This is disruptive because it allows us to simultaneously generate and test novel hypotheses for a variety of life-science use cases,” said Gunjan Bhardwaj, founder and CEO of Innoplexus, an AI service business that specializes in the life science and health care sectors.

Drug Discovery Process

Increasingly, pharmaceutical companies are turning to AI to reduce the time and costs involved in formulating new medicines. In July 2017, GlaxoSmithKline announced that it was investing $43 million in AI, and others, like Merck, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi, are also throwing their lot in with the emerging technology as a way to streamline the drug discovery process (2). According to a January 2018 survey, nearly half of life science professionals are using or experimenting with AI (3).

With AI already playing an important role in other major industries, such as in the development of self-driving cars and facial recognition software, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the life sciences, including pharmaceuticals, would follow suit. More specifically, the goal is to utilize modern supercomputers and machine learning systems to predict how molecules will behave and how likely a compound is to make an effective drug, thus saving companies time and money during development.

“AI has the potential to revolutionize life sciences and healthcare — all the way from early preclinical drug discovery to selecting precision treatments for individual patients,” said Dr. Steve Arlington, president of The Pistoia Alliance, a nonprofit that conducted the AI survey.

Andrew Hopkins, chief executive officer of privately owned Exscientia which is working with GSK on its AI, said the company’s AI system “could deliver drug candidates in roughly one-quarter the time and at one-quarter of the cost of traditional approaches.”

Read the full article here.

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