A drug molecule created by artificial intelligence (AI) will be used in Japanese human trials in a world first for machine learning.
This landmark decision to trial AI-created medicine on humans is being hailed as a “key milestone in drug discovery”. If the human trials are successful, they will be followed up with trials globally.
British startup Exscientia and Japanese pharmaceutical firm Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma are behind the new drug, which is designed to treat patients with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
With the use of AI, the process of developing the drug was greatly accelerated. It usually takes five years to get a drug to trial but the AI-created drug took only 12 months.
Speaking to the BBC, Exscienta chief executive Andrew Hopkins said: “We have seen AI for diagnosing patients and for analysing patient data and scans, but this is a direct use of AI in the creation of a new medicine.”
The drug molecule, known as DSP-1181, was invented using algorithms that screened and filtered through hundreds of possible compounds, checking them against a vast database of parameters.
“There are billions of decisions needed to find the right molecules and it is a huge decision to precisely engineer a drug,” Hopkins said. “But the beauty of the algorithm is that they are agnostic, so can be applied to any disease.
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The company is already exploring the development of drugs to treat cancer and cardiovascular disease, and hopes to have another molecule ready for clinical trials by the end of 2020.
“This year was the first to have an AI-designed drug but by the end of the decade all new drugs could potentially be created by AI,” Hopkins said.
Paul Workman, chief executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, who was not involved in the research, said: “I think AI has huge potential to enhance and accelerate drug discovery.
“I’m excited to see what I believe is the first example of a new drug now entering human clinical trials, that was created by scientists using AI in a major way to guide and speed up discovery.”