Alphabet Just Launched a Company That's Using AI to Design New Drugs

A lot of them.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Alphabet has launched a new company called Isomorphic Labs which will use artificial intelligence (AI) to discover new pharmaceutical drugs. The venture will reportedly rely on advancements made by Alphabet’s DeepMind whose AI uses a model called AlphaFold2 to predict the shape of proteins with incredible accuracy.

"I'm thrilled to announce the creation of a new Alphabet company – Isomorphic Labs – a commercial venture with the mission to reimagine the entire drug discovery process from first principles with an AI-first approach and, ultimately, to model and understand some of the fundamental mechanisms of life," wrote in a blog Demis Hassabis, Founder and CEO of Isomorphic Labs (and DeepMind).

A spokesperson told The Verge that Isomorphic Labs and DeepMind will remain separate companies despite using somewhat similar techniques. In addition, Isomorphic Labs may not develop its own drugs but instead sell its models through the development of partnerships with pharmaceutical companies.

Although the news is making headlines around the world, Isomorphic Labs is not the first company to try and apply AI to medical discovery. Nvidia has cooperated with AstraZeneca, Schrödinger, and the University of Florida to try its turn into drug research aided by AI. Pfizer in collaboration with IBM’s Watson has worked on immuno-oncology drugs. Finally, UBC in cooperation with Microsoft has tried to use its cloud computing in the development of drugs.

In his blog, Hassabis highlights how for over a decade DeepMind has been at the forefront of advancing the state-of-the-art in AI, mostly through the use of games such as AlphaGo, the program that beat the world champion at the game of Go. Now, Hassabis feels these "techniques and methods have become powerful and sophisticated enough to be applied to real-world problems including scientific discovery itself." Should his hopes prove fruitful, we could be witnessing a new unparalleled era in drug development.

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