The U.S. Department of Defense, in 2013, called for a US-based start-up BERG to help improve the detection of prostate cancer, a disease common among pilots. Less than five years later, an Artificial Intelligence-driven tool has been tested on over 1,000 patients with promising results. AI, Machine Learning and Big Data have urged a boom in health-tech start-ups in a marketplace that was traditionally dominated by the big pharmacy. Despite the debate over the amount to which AI will revolutionize medical science, billions are being bet on something revolutionary emerging tech to drive the next big leaps in drug development.
This year has seen a soar in investment from big pharmacies and a range of joint ventures with health tech groups. According to Deep Knowledge Analytics, an analysis company report found that at least 15 companies, in 2018, have integrated AI into their drug discovery processes. Chief Executive of Exscientia, an AI-driven drug discovery company working with GlaxoSmithKline, Andrew Hopkins said that they’ve seen huge interest from many of the major drug companies in the past 18 months. According to IP Pragmatics consultancy, in 2016, nearly USD5 Billion was invested in AI companies. And the value of the segment is anticipated to reach USD 6.6 billion by 2021, with remarkable growth in China. In the UK, five new government-funded technology centers will open in 2019, using AI to speed up disease diagnosis with the aim of making the National Health Service more efficient.
In early-stage drug discovery, start-ups like BenevolentAI use algorithms to comb through huge amounts of data for patterns humans alone might not find and produce new hypotheses to medical problems. With hypotheses come potential solutions, pharmacies are using AI to design treatments that not yet found in nature or chemical libraries; others use AI to simulate clinical trials, before picking real-life candidates. According to a report from Deloitte noted that projected returns on drug discovery R&D investment fell to their lowest level in eight years in 2017, while investment increased.
High attrition rates are one of the reasons for expensive drug prices, as drug companies look to offset the cost of failed projects against the few successful ones. Vice-President of business analytics at Pfizer, Julie Schiffman stated that improving productivity hopefully will have downstream effects. While Eric Sandor from consultancy company Genpact said that AI won’t necessarily drive the cost of drugs down. Despite the recent hype, Deep Knowledge Analytics pointed out that there is a lack of AI specialists and promising drug discovery start-ups.