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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Absci — a company that uses synthetic biology and machine learning to help pharmaceutical companies rapidly identify new drugs — went public Thursday.

Why it matters: Discovering a new drug usually takes years of trial and error and huge amounts of investment. Also, more often than not, a candidate will never make it to market.

  • Approaches that mine the intersection of AI and biology should help accelerate that timeline.

Situational awareness: After opening yesterday morning at $16 per share, Absci's stock was up more than 30% by the end of trading.

How it works: Absci's chief innovation is its ability to use the tools of synthetic biology to generate the proteins needed for drug manufacture in specialized E. coli bacteria, rather than the mammalian cells lines that have traditionally been used by the pharma industry.

  • Absci, based in Vancouver, Washington, also uses deep learning tools to rapidly sift through potential protein sequences in computer models, rather than the lab, and identify the ones that could have the most clinical benefit and be the most efficient to manufacture for trials.

What they're saying: "The drug discovery and manufacturing process is completely disjointed, which is why it requires years to go from idea to drug in the clinic," says Sean McClain, Absci's CEO.

  • "We're collapsing that into a single stage in an integrated drug creation platform, taking it from years down to weeks or months."

Context: The intersection of AI and biology is one of the most exciting areas in science today, with major implications for medicine.

  • Also Thursday, the Google-owned AI company DeepMind released a database that used AI to predict the 3D-shape of more than 350,000 proteins, which should help accelerate disease detective work and drug discovery.

The bottom line: As Absci matures, says McClain, it aims to become the "Google index search of drug discovery and manufacture," bringing the speed of computer programming to the time-consuming art of biology.

Go deeper

Oct 14, 2021 - Health

FDA will review Merck COVID-19 pill

The Merck logo. Photo Illustration by Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced on Thursday that it will meet on Nov. 30th to review Merck's experimental oral antiviral COVID-19 treatment

Why it matters: An oral antiviral drug designed to prevent or treat COVID-19 could be a key tool to combat the pandemic. Merck ended its vaccine development in January.

Kate Marino, author of Markets
55 mins ago - Economy & Business

Omicron outbreaks were bad for business in January

Data: New York Federal Reserve Bank; Chart: Axios Visuals

Emerging anecdotal evidence shows just how hard the recent rise in COVID-19 cases hit businesses in early January — but that hasn't hurt some business leaders’ longer-term views on their companies' prospects.

Why it matters: Increasingly, the economic recovery has come in fits and starts that move in tandem with new peaks in cases. Look no further than the thousands of cancelled flights and shuttered Broadway theaters in the wake of the Omicron variant's spread over the last few months.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
1 hour ago - Health

The shifting definition of fully vaccinated

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The definition of what it means to be "fully vaccinated" is evolving even as the CDC has remained careful not to officially change it.

Why it matters: CDC officials have been balancing the job of convincing Americans who've already gotten two doses of the importance of boosters with getting many Americans who still need their first doses to get their shots at all.

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