Billions of Dollars This Week Show AI Is in BioPharma’s Present and Future
By Alex Keown
The tools of artificial intelligence continue to be essential elements for the biopharma industry. Companies across the sphere have invested heavily into the technology and this week, several more companies have announced deals that bank on the use of artificial intelligence.
San Francisco-based Atomwise forged an alliance with Charles River Laboratories International to unite unites AI technology with premium research services. The collaboration brings together two leaders in their fields. Atomwise is a leader in artificial intelligence structure-based drug discovery and Charles River Labs is the leading contract research organization.
As part of the agreement, Atomwise, which developed the first deep learning AI technology for structure-based small molecule drug discovery, will provide its technology to Charles River for multiple projects. The artificial intelligence applications will provide a greater ability to identify chemically diverse hit compounds for drug development. This partnership is expected to bring previously intractable targets and safer therapeutic options to market faster, the companies said.
Atomwise Chief Executive Officer Abraham Heifets noted that across the biopharma industry, companies trust Charles River Labs to take their discoveries “from an idea into the clinic.” In turn, he said Charles River Labs trusts Atomwise to enhance that process through its AI technology.
Under terms of the collaboration agreement, Atomwise will support hit discovery, hit-to-lead, and lead optimization efforts. Charles River will provide technology access fees, milestone-based payments and royalties from clients. Atomwise projects that the total potential value of the royalties to Atomwise with success in all projects could exceed S2.4 billion.
In Boston, Beta Bionics, Inc. closed out a $63 million Series B financing round that will support the development of its machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies that will be used to potentially develop the world’s first autonomous bionic pancreas. Beta Bionics developed the iLet Bionic Pancreas System, which was recently tested in home-use clinical trials in 2018 in adults and children with type 1 diabetes. The iLet pancreas system is a pocket-sized, wearable medical device that autonomously controls blood-sugar levels in people with diabetes. The system includes what the company called “clinically tested mathematical dosing algorithms” that “autonomously calculate and dose insulin and/or glucagon as needed, based on data from a continuous glucose monitor.” The Series B funding, which was supported in part by ArrowMark Partners and LifeSci Venture Partners, will be used to initiate Phase III trials for the iLet system, as well as support regulatory submission of the iLet PMA application to the US Food and Drug Administration.
Ed Damiano founder and CEO of Beta Bionics said the support for the Series B was larger than initially expected, which has placed the company in a much stronger position for 2019 to advance its bionic pancreas. Other investors in Beta Bionics include Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, Zealand Pharma and Dexcom.
Earlier this week, Elevian and Insilico Biotechnology entered into a research and development agreement to use AI to boost development of oral medications targeting the GDF11 pathway and associated targets as part of an effort to develop treatments for the diseases of aging. The collaboration will take advantage of Insilico’s generative adversarial networks (GANs) and reinforcement learning (RL) AI technologies to discover novel small molecules that target the GDF11 pathway, Elevian announced.
The deals amplifying the use of artificial intelligence come hard on the heels of a report that showed the number of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approvals of proprietary medical algorithms powered by artificial intelligence for image interpretation is growing, RAPS (Regulatory Affairs Professional Society reported. According to the report, FDA approval of AI increased significantly during 2018. There were, on average, one to two approvals per month during the year, compared to just two approvals for the entirety of 2017. As a result, the FDA is developing a new regulatory guidance for AI, RAPS said. No timeline has yet been set, and the partial government shutdown that has forced the regulatory agency to furlough 40 percent of its employees will likely delay the new guidelines.