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Gregory Bull / AP

Atomwise, a San Francisco-based biotech startup, is trying to use artificial intelligence to cut the development time for new drugs — and it's launching a new project today to help researchers do that. It's inviting scientists to apply for quick screenings using its AI technology. The company will test millions of molecules for up to 100 labs, find out which ones are most likely to work on a disease or protein, and then ship 72 customized compounds to each lab for testing.

What they're trying to solve: Drug companies often talk about the time and expense it takes to develop and win approval for a new drug — the commonly cited statistics are $2.6 billion and 15 years. Atomwise says it's trying to cut that time by using AI to speed up the beginning of the process. If it works, the time from the idea stage to clinical trials will be "significantly shorter" and "the success of the clinical trials will be greater," said Dr. Han Lim, who's in charge of academic partnerships for the startup.

How it works: The technology can screen millions of potential drug compounds, company officials say, by simulating different proteins associated with a disease and figuring out whether and where those compounds would attach to them — possibly preventing their role in triggering a disease. It will screen 10 million compounds for each lab, so by the end of the project, it will have analyzed up to 1 billion compounds, according to Alexander Levy, the company's co-founder and chief operating officer.

What they get out of it: The scientists will get the compounds for free, at a cost of up to $1 million for Atomwise. The company is paying for it out of its venture capital financing and corporate partnership revenues. They say they're doing it to support a good scientific cause, but there's a financial reward down the road: If their support helps lead to a new drug invention, they'll work with the researchers to patent it and bring it to market.

Go deeper

Mike Allen, author of AM
27 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Fauci fires back at Rand Paul for slam on tonight's "Axios on HBO"

Responding to charges by Sen. Rand Paul on Sunday's "Axios on HBO," NIAID director Anthony Fauci told "ABC This Week" that it's "molecularly impossible" for U.S.-funded bat virus research in China to have produced COVID-19.

Why it matters: The issue 0f Wuhan research was reignited on the right last week with a National Institutes of Health letter to Congress disclosing more about the research.

Manchin, Schumer huddle with Biden in Delaware to discuss spending bill

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (L) and Sen. Joe Manchin (R) at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 13, 2014. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) will meet with President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday morning in Delaware as Democrats look to reach an agreement on the massive spending measure.

Driving the news: Democrats are still negotiating what to keep in the bill and how to pay for it, with Biden saying on Thursday that the party does not have the votes to raise the corporate tax rate.

3 hours ago - Technology

Scoop: Facebook exec warns of "more bad headlines"

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

In a post to staffers Saturday obtained by Axios, Facebook VP of global affairs Nick Clegg warned the company that worse coverage could be on the way: “We need to steel ourselves for more bad headlines in the coming days, I’m afraid.”

Catch up quick: Roughly two dozen news outlets had agreed to hold stories based on leaked materials from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen for Monday publication — but the embargo fell apart Friday night as participating newsrooms posted a batch of articles ahead of the weekend.

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