Boehringer plugs in IBM-trained AI model to boost antibody drug discovery efforts

Boehringer Ingelheim will harness an artificial intelligence model trained in the computer labs of IBM as the German drugmaker becomes the latest Big Pharma to apply machine learning tools to its drug discovery efforts.

The foundation model tech, which has been developed and trained at IBM, will be “further fine-tuned on additional proprietary data” provided by Boehringer so the pharma can discover new antibody therapeutics.

“We are very excited to collaborate with the research team at IBM, who share our vision of making in silico biologic drug discovery a reality,” Andrew Nixon, global head of biotherapeutics discovery at Boehringer, said in the Nov. 28 release. “I am confident that by joining forces with IBM scientists we will develop an unprecedented platform for accelerated antibody discovery which will enable Boehringer to develop and deliver new treatments for patients with high unmet need.” 

The idea is that by inputting information on the sequence, structure and molecular profile of specific disease targets, the AI model can conduct simulations of experiments to identify antibody molecules with the highest likelihood of success. These can then be tested in the lab, with the results fed back into the AI model to fine-tune the results further.

IBM’s foundation model tech has already proven its worth when it comes to “generating biologics and small molecules with relevant target affinities,” the tech giant said. IBM is no stranger to drug discovery, having granted Pfizer access to its IBM Watson cognitive computing capabilities back in 2016. Earlier this year, Moderna signed on to explore the use of quantum computers in developing its future medicines.

The company has been “at the forefront of creating generative AI models” that extend the technology’s use beyond language models, Alessandro Curioni, vice president of accelerated discovery at IBM Research, explained in this morning’s release.

“We are thrilled to now bring IBM’s multimodal foundation model technologies to Boehringer, a leader in the development and manufacturing of antibody-based therapies, to help accelerate the pace at which Boehringer can create new therapeutics,” Curioni added.