Alex Zhavoronkov, CEO of Insilico Medicine, a startup that generates potential drugs using artificial intelligence, was recently given a challenge by one of his pharma company partners. His team would see how quickly Insilico's AI could identify new molecules that bind with a protein associated with tissue scarring. Then they'd put the molecules to the test, synthesizing a few of them in the lab to see if the AI was onto something, or only dreaming.
Why the rush? It now costs $2.6 billion, by one estimate, to get a new drug to market, and pipelines are only getting slower and more expensive. There's hope—and hype—that AI could help chip away at that figure by reducing the time and labor before a drug starts clinical trials. The idea is that the same techniques used to generate realistic deepfakes and deftly play Go might be able to decipher the complex rules of drug design and generate molecules from scratch.