If you are looking for an answer to the question What is Artificial Intelligence? and you only have a minute, then here's the definition the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence offers on its home page: "the scientific understanding of the mechanisms underlying thought and intelligent behavior and their embodiment in machines."
However, if you are fortunate enough to have more than a minute, then please get ready to embark upon an exciting journey exploring AI (but beware, it could last a lifetime) …
The search for novel therapies has long been a trial-and-error process that costs drug companies a vast amount of time and money. Now, with artificial intelligence (AI) set to transform the pharmaceutical industry more than any other emerging technology, a growing number of pharma and biotech groups are harnessing the cutting-edge tech to minimise the hit-and-miss nature of R&D and discover new therapies with previously impossible speed and accuracy. Pharmaceutical Technology delves into the new generation of drug discovery companies leveraging AI to uncover novel treatments. Founded in 2018 by life sciences venture capital company Flagship Pioneering, Massachusetts-based Generate Biomedicines uses machine learning to accelerate the discovery of protein therapeutics. The company's AI-powered Generative Biology platform analyses hundreds of millions of known protein structures, and uses the learned patterns to create novel protein sequences that form the basis of new therapies.
The top-funded companies on the recently-released list of top 100 most-promising AI companies to watch from CBInsights, a market intelligence company based in New York, include companies offering autonomous driving software, an AI System on a chip, endpoint security with AI, and a drug discovery company. The list, selected from a base of 6,000 companies, is based on business relations, investor profile, news sentiment analysis, R&D activity, a proprietary scoring system, market potential, competitive landscape, team strength and tech novelty, according to an account in TechRepublic. "This year's cohort spans 18 industries, and is working on everything from climate risk to accelerating drug R&D," stated CB Insights CEO Anand Sanwal. Companies on last year's list went on to raise $5.2 billion in additional financing, including 16 of over $100 million each. Some companies exited via merger or acquisition, IPOs or SPACS.
The artificial intelligence-powered drug discovery company insitro has secured a mammoth funding round of $400 million, to carry forward its development efforts and Big Pharma partnerships with the likes of Gilead and Bristol Myers Squibb. The series C financing was led by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, also known as CPP Investments, with additional backing from Andreessen Horowitz, Casdin Capital, ARCH Venture Partners, Foresite Capital, GV, Third Rock Ventures, Two Sigma Ventures, HOF Capital and Alexandria Venture Investments, as well as accounts managed by BlackRock and T. Rowe Price Associates. Temasek and Softbank Investment Advisors also joined the round, in addition to an undisclosed global investment group and a U.S. payer-provider health system. "For insitro, 2020 was a year of incredible growth and progress toward our founding vision of bringing the predictive powers of machine learning to drug discovery," said founder and CEO Daphne Koller. "We built out and demonstrated the capabilities of our target discovery platform in our Gilead collaboration in NASH, receiving the first of our operational milestone payments, and put in place an outstanding collaboration with Bristol Myers Squibb in ALS; we also took a big step forward towards moving from targets to medicines through the acquisition of Haystack Sciences, a high throughput chemistry platform that enables [machine learning]-driven molecular design; and we recruited Dr. Roger Perlmutter to our board to help guide our drug discovery efforts," Koller said.
Roger Perlmutter, the head of research and development at Merck, is joining the board of Insitro, a firm focused on using artificial intelligence to discover drugs. Insitro, backed with $243 million in venture capital from firms including Casdin Capital and ARCH Venture Partners, was founded by Daphne Koller, known for co-founding Coursera, the online learning firm, and working at Calico, a drug discovery arm of Alphabet. The company has a research partnership with Gilead Sciences. Unlock this article by subscribing to STAT Plus and enjoy your first 30 days free! STAT Plus is STAT's premium subscription service for in-depth biotech, pharma, policy, and life science coverage and analysis.
Daphne Koller is best known as the cofounder of Coursera, the open database for online learning that launched in 2012. But before her work on Coursera, she was doing something much different. In 2000, Koller started working on applying machine learning to biomedical data sets to understand gene activity across cancer types. She put that work on hold to nurture Coursera, which took many more years than she initially thought it would. She didn't return to biology until 2016 when she joined Alphabet's life science research and development arm Calico.
Not many scientists get solicited for photo ops, but for Daphne Koller it's a regular occurrence. "It happens at pretty much any event that has tech people," Koller says when asked about one recent snapshot. It's not like I feel like this is something I deserve." Selfie requests are just one sign of Koller's stardom, earned from more than 20 years bridging computer science, biology and education. She chalked up a string of accolades along the way: getting a master's degree from Jerusalem's Hebrew University at 18; becoming a Stanford University professor focused on machine learning at 26; winning, nearly a decade later, a Mac Arthur "genius grant" for research that combined artificial intelligence and genomics; and cofounding $1 billion (valuation) Coursera, an early platform to let people around the world take university classes for free. The next act for this 51-year-old innovator: Insitro, a firm in South San Francisco that aims to find new drugs by sorting through masses of data. If it succeeds, it will have overturned how drugs get discovered. Lab biologists typically focus on a few specific proteins as drug targets. If those fail, data scientists make suggestions for others to try. Insitro, on the other hand, wants to collect much more data before the biologists go off on their hunt. It will leverage advances in bioengineering (such as Crispr gene editing) and in software that enables computers to see things that escape humans. Koller describes her aha moment this way: "Machine learning is now doing amazing things if you give it enough data.
Renowned machine learning expert Daphne Koller is the founder and CEO of drug discovery company Insitro. Daphne Koller talks fast, punctuating her words with gesticular flourishes as she shows off lab equipment through big glass windows in her South San Francisco offices. Along with a standard DNA sequencer, there's a high-powered microscope with automatic imaging and a machine that replaces manual pipetting by using ultrasonic acoustic energy to transfer fluids. The fancy gear is part of a robo-lab that provides the foundation for Koller's startup, Insitro. The ex-Stanford University computer science professor, MacArthur Fellow and cofounder of online education unicorn Coursera created Insitro to completely rethink the expensive, time-intensive drug discovery process.
Ever wondered how data science and machine learning are revolutionizing biotech and healthcare, from drug discovery and agriculture to women's health and prenatal diagnostics? Join us on Oct 8th at Illumina's Foster City campus to find out! Daphne Koller (Insitro), Diane Wu (Trace Genomics), Hana Janebdar (Juno Bio), and Raheleh Salari (Natera) will be sharing their stories on how they're combining their expertise in genomics and machine learning to make the world a better place. The event will be sponsored by the Illumina Accelerator. Food and drinks will be served.
Called insitro (a portmanteau of "in silico" and "in vitro"), the new endeavor looks to stem the increasing costs of developing new drugs and, according to Koller, has already found financial backing from ARCH Venture Partners, Foresite Capital, a16z, and Third Rock Ventures. "Our hope at insitro is that big data and machine learning, applied to the critical need in drug discovery, can help make the process faster, cheaper, and (most importantly) more successful," Koller wrote in the post. "To do so, we plan to leverage both cutting-edge [machine learning (ML)] techniques, as well as the profound innovations that have occurred in life sciences, which enable the creation of the large, high-quality data sets that may transform the capabilities of ML in this space." Koller, who is also known for being one of the cofounders of the education technology company Coursera, wrote in her post that insitro hopes to offer a new research pathway for a pharmaceutical industry that has already exhausted the "low-hanging fruit" of medications. As drug research begins to turn toward more specialized treatments, smaller market sizes and more ambiguous patient populations are beginning to take a greater and greater toll on the industry, she explained.