Canadian AI Healthtech
Jan 14, 2019 ● Alaric Dearment
Atomwise, Charles River Labs Partner To Provide AI Services In Drug Discovery

This partnership could yield up to $2.4 billion in royalties for Atomwise

A firm that uses artificial intelligence in drug development is partnering up with one of the country’s largest contract research organizations to offer the technology to drugmakers.

San Francisco-based Atomwise said Friday it had formed the partnership with Wilmington, Massachusetts-based Charles River Laboratories, adding the deal is potentially worth up to $2.4 billion for the technology company in royalties.

Under the agreement, Atomwise will receive technology access fees, milestone payments and royalties from clients while supporting hit discovery, hit-to-lead and lead optimization. The firm said that it and the CRO working together would provide biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies with greater opportunity to identify chemically diverse hit compounds.

Atomwise touted its technology as being able to greatly enhance the process of screening for compounds, which is one of the main challenges involved in drug discovery. Companies must sift through billions or even trillions of possible compounds to find one that is sufficiently potent, selective, tolerable, effective and able to be patented. It’s one of a number of companies that have sought to use artificial intelligence and machine learning for this purpose.

A number of efforts – including a partnership between Swiss drugmaker Novartis and chipmaker Intel – have shown AI/ML can improve efficiency in drug discovery efforts. In that partnership, using AI enabled researchers to cut the amount of time required to analyze microscopic images from 11 hours to 31 minutes. Other studies have shown that when combined with cryo-electron microscopy, AI/ML can be used to correctly infer three-dimensional structures of molecules and map them at the atomic level in ways not possible with traditional X-ray crystallography.

Still, the idea of AI in drug development and healthcare has also attracted its share of skeptics. For example, Spectrum Science Executive Vice President Leslie Wheeler pointed out earlier this week that many people pushing AI in healthcare come from a tech background and may not understand the science and regulatory aspects of healthcare. Her colleague, Eric Moorhead, also expressed concern about the idea that structures put in place to ensure medicines’ safety and efficacy can be skipped.

This article originally appeared in MedCity News

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Alaric Dearment