U.K. government funds plans for 'pay as you go' drug development AI

London England
The UK Innovate funding is designed to steer artificial intelligence in drug development in the right direction while giving better access to researchers.(QQ7/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

Artificial intelligence in drug development is among the hottest buzzwords in biopharma right now, but often real progress from it is hampered by a lack of expertise and less than equal access to its latent potential.

In the U.K., as it prepares, belatedly, to leave the EU on Halloween (yes, really), a government initiative has funneled a small amount of cash into two organizations—Chief.AI and the Medicines Discovery Catapult—in an effort to make AI accessible to all drug discovery researchers and help nudge the U.K. bioscience sector into the future.

The cash isn’t life-changing. It amounts to just £370,000 ($485,000), but it is hoped this will help set off a sea change for AI drug work. As UK Innovate, which is stumping up the cash, says, the money and the partnership “will address the need for more accessible AI and data in the B2B marketplace—prioritising drug discovery, diagnostics and clinical trials markets.”

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It adds: “By providing easy access to scarce but invaluable, cutting-edge skills, resources and expertise, the platform will enable U.K. SMEs to leverage the power of AI at the click of a button, reinvigorating drug discovery by indirectly contributing to novel new drugs, treatments and diagnostics.”

On a practical scale, users will be able to search by sector and/or keyword to discover and connect their own machine and database to the relevant AI algorithm on a “pay as you go,” on-demand basis.

The cash boost will see Chief.AI create a searchable online platform, providing researchers with access to downloadable, so-called “off-the-shelf” AI models, algorithms and high-quality data. “Thus, connecting customers to suppliers in a secure, private environment, deriving revenue via commission and cloud provider charges,” it says.

Medicines Discovery Catapult, meanwhile, will support the development of high-quality data sets and plan to provide exclusive access via the Chief.AI platform to their own AI algorithms, image processing models and medical images in scientific journal papers to predict a potential drug target's performance.

“The platform will be enriched through a comprehensive rating, benchmarking, pricing and scoring system and provide tailored sector relevant services as opposed to a one stop shop. Each AI algorithm will be further validated by customer use and experience,” Catapult added.

A plethora of companies are developing AI services, and investment in AI for drug discovery is huge. But Catapult and Chief.AI said that a lack of expertise and lack of knowledge about available services “is a barrier to uptake,” adding an absence of “sufficient high-quality structured and standardised data represents a major challenge in the implementation of AI.” This is what they hope to change.

Professor John Overington, chief informatics officer of Medicines Discovery Catapult, says: “This partnership and funding clearly indicate the importance and value of artificial intelligence as a new approach to support UK SMEs and reinvigorate drug discovery. Our aim is to help deliver a platform which is of high value to UK SMEs to advance their own drug discovery projects faster and more efficiently by accessing otherwise inaccessible, complex technical expertise.”

Waqar Ali, founder of Chief.AI, adds: “The UK is where the first industrial revolution began, and we now want to accelerate AI provision throughout the world to become one of the biggest industrial force multipliers of the twenty first century. Chief.AI will make the discovery of drugs more efficient, at lower cost and will diagnose diseases earlier to enable better outcomes.”

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