The future of pharmaceuticals? How AI is changing the game for drug development

The future of pharmaceuticals? How AI is changing the game for drug development

The pharmaceutical industry is embracing artificial intelligence (AI) with a surge of start-ups whose projects promise to revolutionize drug development.

"In five years, all small molecules will be discovered using generative AI methods," said Yann Gaston-Mathé, CEO of startup Iktos.

Founded in 2016, the startup, with approximately 60 employees in Paris, uses AI to develop cancer drugs.

Iktos aims to halve the time it takes to discover preclinical drugs," which have not been tested in humans, according to Quentin Perron, chief strategy officer.

Time is a strategic issue for the pharmaceutical industry.

"It takes twice as long to develop a drug as it does to build an airplane," said a senior executive in the French pharmaceutical industry.

Drug development, for example, involves identifying chemical compounds with characteristics capable of achieving a desired therapeutic effect.

The drug discovery phase precedes the clinical development phase during which the drug is tested in humans.

Traditionally, the medicinal chemist creates the compound and tests it in the lab, but AI can change the process.

While there are currently no statistics to compare traditional methods with those performed with generative AI, large pharmaceutical companies are collaborating with biotechs and technology-focused startups.

The AI ​​system is like a brain fed biological data to create a molecule: one that is effective at the lowest possible dose, safe, stable and able to be synthesized.

"It takes a few hours," Perron said.

The robot then transforms into a production tool, capable of synthesizing 96 compounds at once.

The process can be repeated endlessly to find even more promising compounds.

It's still a small-scale operation, but the equivalent of about 30 chemists in the lab," Perron said.

However, it will take a little longer to see the emergence of AI drugs, given that, according to the Union of Pharmaceutical Companies (Leem), it takes more than 10 years to develop a drug.