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

Jackie Hunter

Jackie Hunter

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.

Newly appointed CEO Jackie Hunter, a GSK vet, will steer BenevolentAI as it gets a license to some of the J&J’s clinical-stage drug candidates (we don’t know which ones) along with the patents they need to control ownership. Now they plan to use what they’ve developed in AI and deep learning to guide development and collect clinical data, claiming they’ll start Phase IIb trials in mid-2017.

J&J’s London innovation center, one of four it’s established around the globe to help foster plans to soak up new technologies for its own ambitious R&D plans, helped orchestrate the deal. BenevolentAI is based in the ‘Knowledge Quarter’ tech cluster in Kings Cross.

Hunter had this to say: “The agreement adds further depth to our clinical and pre-clinical development pipeline and marks a very exciting time for the role of artificial intelligence to benefit scientific discovery and humanity. The compounds come with a wealth of clinical and biological data that enables BenevolentAI to have further insights into the biology of diseases. Securing these novel clinical drug candidates perfectly aligns with our strategy of developing first-in-class and best-in-class stratified medicines to help patients with high unmet needs.”

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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