AI-driven drug discovery is about to boom in 2024, if the fast and furious pace of announcements timed to coincide to this week’s 42nd annual JP Morgan Healthcare conference are any clue.
One of the biggest headlines came yesterday from Isomorphic Labs, a unit of Google’s parent company Alphabet company which is led by Google DeepMind founder Demis Hassabis.
Isomorphic collaboration with Lilly and Novartis
The London-based Isomorphic Labs announced it is entering into two strategic research collaborations — one with Elli Lilly and one with Novartis — to discover small molecule therapeutics for multiple targets. The two partnerships, potentially worth a combined $3 billion, begin with the startup receiving upfront payment of $45 million from Eli Lilly, and as much as $1.7 billion to be paid according to performance-based milestones, while Novartis, has agreed to pay $37.5 million upfront, and an additional $1.2 billion in additional incentives going forward.
DeepMind famously changed the shape of science in July 2022 when it announced that its AlphaFold system had predicted the structures for nearly all proteins known to science and dramatically increased the potential to understand biology — and, in turn, accelerate drug discovery and cure diseases. That built on its groundbreaking work from a year earlier, when DeepMind open-sourced the AlphaFold system that had mapped 98.5% of the proteins used in the human body.
In 2021, Hassabis launched Isomorphic Labs for drug research, and by December 2022 he told the Financial Times the startup was getting “closer to securing its first commercial deal” and is “building on the AlphaFold breakthrough as DeepMind’s sister company.”
Recursion and Nvidia also make drug discovery AI news
The Utah-based startup Recursion announced a Nvidia collaboration in July 2023, in which Nvidia invested $50 million as well as access to BioNeMo, its cloud-based tools for AI-powered drug discovery. At the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference yesterday, Recursion announced Lowe, a software platform which uses an LLM that allows scientists to ask questions of all the company’s models for complex drug discovery tasks.
“We’ve got more than 20 different tools we’ve built at Recursion,” Recursion cofounder and CEO Chris Gibson told Forbes. “And it’s a little bit challenging to become an expert in how to use all of them. The LLM is a vehicle by which we can give our scientists access to them.”
Nvidia also announced that BioNeMo is releasing beta versions of cloud APIs, incorporating them into platforms tailored for drug discovery workflows. “Healthcare is inherently complicated. So we aim to make it easier for researchers who can fine-tune these models on proprietary data, run AI model inference through web browsers or cloud APIs, and access pretrained models for drug development,” said Kimberly Powell, VP of healthcare at Nvidia.
In addition, Nvidia announced that biotech leader Amgen will build AI models trained to analyze one of the world’s largest human datasets on an NVIDIA DGX SuperPOD, a full-stack data center platform, that will be installed at the Amgen’s deCODE genetics’ headquarters in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Professional service firms like Deloitte and EY are also in the mix
Big Four professional services firms are also getting into the AI drug development game. Today Ernst and Young announced its own AI-powered drug development deal — a partnership with BioPhy, an AI-focused drug development company whose technology will now be available to EY clients.
And today Deloitte announced Atlas AI, an addition to its Quartz AI suite, which includes “a novel drug discovery accelerator that helps expedite research and bring new drugs to market faster.” It uses generative AI models made accessible with Nvidia’s BioNeMo.
“Atlas brings together data, language models and AI-powered scientific pipelines in a no-code interface to save valuable research time,” said Dan Ferrante, AI leader for innovation and R&D and managing director, Deloitte Consulting LLP, in a press release. “We are proud to team with NVIDIA to drive drug discovery innovation and deliver faster, easier and more accurate insights that can accelerate the time it takes to bring new drugs to market.”
Some company motivations, like ByteDance are unclear
The race for AI drug discovery includes some players whose motivations are unclear — for example, TikTok parent company ByteDance appears to be at the starting line. Forbes reported last week that the company is recruiting American talent in computational biology, quantum chemistry, molecular dynamics and physics for its “AI for Drug Design” and “AI for Science” teams, according to LinkedIn posts.
According to the Forbes article, the AI for Drug Design team aims to “revolutionize drug discovery,” says one job listing recruiting PhD students to Silicon Valley. “We are dedicated to pushing the boundaries of AI-driven drug design, tackling complex challenges in protein structure prediction, molecular conformation analysis, and computational protein design. By combining our passion for scientific excellence with the transformative power of AI, we aim to accelerate drug discovery and make a meaningful impact on global AI in healthcare.”
Will the tsunami of AI-driven drug development news continue after the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference concludes? I’ll definitely be keeping track of the news and trends — so feel free to ping me (sharon dot goldman at venturebeat dot com) with comments and tips.
Author: Sharon Goldman
Reviewed By: Editorial Team