The COVID-19 Pandemic served as a global wake-up call. It caused many workers to reevaluate their life paths and key players in various industries to reassess and reconsider the overall structure of society and the role they play in it. Perhaps the biggest global shift in perspective happened in the medical industry. Over the past two years, vast amounts have money have been poured into research involving Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology and its potential to help in the development of new medicines. According to The Verge, Alphabet, Google’s parent company, announced it to has begun to explore ways that AI can help in the discovery of new drugs.
Alphabet said it intends to use its new company, Isomorphic Laboratories, to develop the new drug-finding technology. One of Alphabet’s other companies, DeepMind, has seen a lot of success in mapping out the complete structure of human proteins. Alphabet says that it intends for Isomorphic Laboratories to use DeepMind’s groundbreaking work to aid in the development of the new AI.
Alphabet says that while the two companies will operate under the umbrella of the same CEO, Demis Hassabis, that they will work independently of each other on their own series of projects. With Isomorphic Laboratories, Alphabet is hoping that they will be able to integrate DeepMind’s protein map into the programming of an AI, and from there that AI will ideally be able to use that information to scan through a database of drugs while looking for key indicators that signal compatibility with human proteins. Once the AI finds a match it will then draw up a diagram that details the specifics of its findings.
Alphabet declared that its ultimate goal with Isomorphic Technologies is not for the company to create the new drugs themselves, but to alleviate what would be long grueling research for scientists by providing them with a baseline from which to begin testing. Essentially AI technology capable of identifying potential new drugs to treat illnesses could significantly expedite the time it takes to develop new life-saving cures.
Alphabet’s new project under Isomorphic Technologies really highlights the propensity for good that can come out of AI technology such as this. For instance, had AI technology with the capability to discover new drugs existed at the onset of the pandemic effective medications could have been identified sooner (or a vaccine developed faster) and the loss of life could potentially have been greatly reduced.
Even though the possibilities for Alphabet’s drug-finding AI technology are exciting and encouraging and could serve to help develop cures for serious diseases like Cancer at an expedited rate, it is not a full-proof solution. Experienced chemist Derek Lowe, wrote in Science that even if the AI is able to identify human-compatible drugs, it doesn’t necessarily mean that scientists will be able to get the molecules in those drugs to adhere to human proteins. He specifically mentioned that over 90% of drugs tested in clinical trials end up getting scrapped. However, even still, it is encouraging to think that if more potential drug contenders are able to be found quicker that could also increase the percentage of the amount being testing which could, in turn, increase the rate at which successful trials happen.