Can AI ac­cel­er­ate drug R&D? J&J of­fers up some mol­e­cules to try it on

Lon­don-based Benev­o­len­tAI be­lieves it has built the kind of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence tech that will al­low it to iden­ti­fy and de­vel­op drugs faster and bet­ter than any group of mere sci­en­tif­ic mor­tals can hope for. And now J&J is hand­ing over some ex­per­i­men­tal mol­e­cules it needs to prove it’s right.

The up­start joins a long line scram­bling to ap­ply vast amounts of com­pu­ta­tion­al pow­er to­wards drug de­vel­op­ment. Their goal is to ush­er in the long-await­ed “phar­ma 2.0” and fi­nal­ly bend the ex­pen­sive curve of late-stage tri­al fail­ure. It’s un­clear how Benev­o­len­tAI’s al­go­rithms are any bet­ter at eval­u­at­ing the po­ten­tial of any small-mol­e­cule than oth­er com­pu­ta­tion­al­ly-tax­ing ap­proach­es de­vel­oped by oth­er groups — and it’s all dri­ven by the da­ta. While there’s plen­ty of sci­en­tif­ic lit­er­a­ture ripe for min­ing for new in­sight, there’s still the mat­ter of ac­tion­able and pro­pri­etary da­ta sit­ting locked away in­side com­pet­i­tive bio­phar­ma servers.

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