AI Tackles OCD An AI-designed drug got approved for human testing.

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Process to create an automated drug

A drug designed by AI has been approved for testing in humans.

What’s new: A UK startup focused on automated drug discovery teamed up with a Japanese pharmaceutical company to produce a new medicine for obsessive compulsive disorder. The compound, known as DSP1181, is designed to take effect more quickly and last longer than existing treatments. Japanese authorities cleared it for a clinical trial.

How it works: Exscientia’s drug-discovery platform can start with a biological target known to influence a particular medical condition.

  • In this case, the target was a tiny cellular structure that, when stimulated, releases the hormone serotonin.
  • The platform drew on databases of DNA sequences, protein structures, and drug actions to generate molecules likely to stimulate the serotonin-producing machinery.
  • The model also scoured scientific literature, patent databases, and studies of genetic toxicology to gauge the candidates’ likely impact.
  • Exscentia’s system likely shaved a few months off the usual discovery process, wrote Derek Lowe, a chemist at Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, in a blog post for Science.

Why it matters: Pharmaceutical companies invest upward of $2.6 billion to develop a single drug, and it can take three to six years to find a compound that’s viable for testing in humans— with no guarantee that it will prove safe and effective. Automating even small parts of the process can save big money. That’s one reason why Exscientia is one of nearly 200 companies worldwide using AI to find new drugs.

We’re thinking:  AI is no magic bullet for drug discovery. But cutting the enormous cost of development would enable pharma companies to study more molecules and potentially to bring more medicines to market.


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