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June 11, 2018

Drug Discovery Partnership Focuses on Deep Learning

Deep learning approaches continue to make inroads in medical applications such as drug discovery. Those AI applications are, in turn, creating partnerships among researchers seeking to accelerate medicinal breakthroughs.

The latest collaboration was reported on Monday (June 11) by Insilico Medicine, which announced a “strategic investment” by venture funding arm of China’s WuXi Aptec, the drug and medical devices developer. The amount of the WuXi-led investment aimed at integrating AI with drug discovery was not disclosed.

According to the web site, Insilico Medicine has previously raised $14 million in four funding rounds beginning in 2014.

Baltimore-based Insiloco Medicine said the collaboration agreement calls for the partners to perform experiments in which molecules discovered using its “reinforcement learning” drug discovery framework will be tested by WuXi AppTec. The partners have established a series of milestones for applying machine learning and deep learning “to discover the ideal pre-clinical candidates for novel and challenging biological targets.”

Along with new approaches for generation new molecules, Insilico said a range of machine and deep learning techniques will be used to expand discovery of biomarkers used as indicators of normal biological processes or to gauge responses to new drug formulations.

Noting that more than 90 percent of drug molecules discovered using traditional techniques fail in human clinical trials, Insilico CEO Alex Zhavoronkov said the partners hope to improve the odds of success by applying AI techniques to drug discovery. That approach also would eliminate the need to acquire expensive laboratory infrastructure.

“We devised series of experiments to test the capabilities of the novel molecular generators and generate valuable data for the AI-powered drug discovery,” added Tao Guo, head of WuXi AppTec’s International Discovery Service Unit. “The experimental results we saw so far look very promising and provide some confidence that artificial intelligence and deep learning can be helpful for drug discovery.”

Shanghai-based WuXi AppTec (603259, SH) said the combination of its “capability” platform and Insilico Medicine’s deep neural network expertise could aid researchers in discovering new drugs by increasing the success rate of clinical trials.

Joining the WuXi AppTech in the latest funding round are Pavilion Capital, a subsidiary of Temasek Holdings, Bold Capital and Juvenescence, a therapeutics company that has previously partnered with Insilico Medicine.

Drug discovery is emerging as a key medical application for deep learning technology. Last month, Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC) announced a partnership with Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis (NYSE: NVS) to apply deep neural network acceleration for screening. Their approach combines the drug maker’s trove of microscopic images with Intel’s Xeon processors that include beefed-up memory capacity running on the TensorFlow machine learning framework.

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