David Nather Apr 19, 2017
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How one startup is using artificial intelligence to search for new drugs

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.