A.I. finds non-infringing ways to copy drugs pharma spends billions developing

Drug companies spend billions developing and protecting their trademark pharmaceuticals. Could artificial intelligence be about to shake things up? In a breakthrough development, researchers have demonstrated an A.I. which can find new methods for producing existing drugs in a way that doesn’t infringe on existing patents.

Called Chematica, the software platform does something called “retrosynthesis,” similar to the kind of reverse engineering that takes place when an engineer dissects an existing product to see how it works. In the case of Chematica, this process is based on a deep knowledge of how chemical interactions take place. It has around 70,000 synthetic chemistry “rules” coded into its system, along with thousands of additional auxiliary rules prescribing when particular reactions occur and with which molecules they’re compatible. An algorithm then inspects the massive number of possible reaction sequences in order to find another way to the same finish line.

“They effectively walk on enormous trees of synthetic possibilities, so it is a graph search problem they are trying to solve,” Bartosz Grzybowski at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) in South Korea, told Digital Trends. “Akin to chess, every synthetic move these algorithms make is evaluated by scoring functions, which we developed over the years to tell the program whether it is navigating in the right synthetic direction.’”

The analogy to playing chess isn’t a frivolous one. Over the almost two-decades (!) that this work has been ongoing, the researchers have shown that the numbers of “positions” the A.I. must evaluate is similar to the number of possibilities that chess programs have to scrutinize.

“In principle, one can always argue that a human expert would also design this or that synthetic route,” Grzybowski continued. “That is absolutely possible given adequate amount of time, but Chematica does the job on typical timescales of [just a few minutes to one hour]. It’s like trying to multiple 468,383,83 x 25,405 with paper and pencil versus using a calculator.”

As exciting as the work is, however, don’t expect this to be anything that brings down the world of big pharma — if that’s what you’re hoping for. Chematica, which was bought by pharma giant MilliporeSigma in 2017, is more likely to be used to help these companies better protect their intellectual property.

[In our latest] paper we tackled three blockbuster drugs, very heavily guarded by patents — and yet a ‘stupid’ computer managed to find synthetic bypasses,” Grzybowski said. “Now, what if your competitors were to use such a tool? Could they bust your patents? Should you also use the tool? What if they come up with a better version? These sorts of question might point to an arms race in developing similar and competing software solutions.”

Emerging Tech

Global Good wants to rid the world of deadly diseases with lasers and A.I.

Global Good, a collaboration between Intellectual Ventures and Bill Gates, aims to eradicate diseases that kill children in developing nations. It tackles difficult problems with high-tech prototypes.
Photography

Luminar’s libraries gain speed, drop need for you to manually import images

Luminar 3 just got a performance boost. Skylum Luminar 3.0.2 has improved speed over December's update, which added the long-promised libraries feature giving editors a Lightroom alternative.
Home Theater

Apple Music encourages subscribers to give friends a free 1-month pass

It's no secret that Apple has its sights set squarely on Spotify's enviable subscriber count, but how will Apple Music grow? By using existing customers to recruit new members by letting them send friends a one-month free pass.
Computing

Lose the key for your favorite software? These handy tools can find it for you

Missing product keys getting you down? We've chosen some of the best software license and product key finders in existence, so you can locate and document your precious keys on your Windows or MacOS machine.
Emerging Tech

White spots on Ceres are evidence of ancient ice volcanoes erupting

Scientists are pouring over data collected by NASA's Dawn mission to learn about the dwarf planet Ceres and the bright white spots observed at the bottom of impact craters. They believe that these spots are evidence of ice volcanoes.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Grow veggies indoors and shower more efficiently

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

NASA to launch SPHEREx mission to investigate the origins of our universe

NASA is launching an ambitious mission to map the entire sky to understand the origins of the universe. The Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx) mission will launch in 2023.
Emerging Tech

Probes exploring Earth’s hazardous radiation belts enter final phase of life

The Van Allen probes have been exploring the radiation belts around Earth for seven years. Now the probes are moving into the final phase of their exploration, coming closer to Earth to gather more data before burning up in the atmosphere.
Emerging Tech

How can digital art created on obsolete platforms be preserved?

As the lines between art and technology continue to blur, digital art experiences become more commonplace. But these developments are raising an important question for art conservationists: How should digital artworks be preserved?
Emerging Tech

Statistician raises red flag about reliability of machine learning techniques

Machine learning is everywhere in science and technology. But how reliable are these techniques really? A statistician argues that questions of accuracy and reproducibility of machine learning have not been fully addressed.
Emerging Tech

Chandra X-ray telescope uncovers evidence of the universe’s missing matter

Where is all of the matter in the universe? NASA's Chandra telescope has uncovered evidence of hot gas strands in the vicinity of a quasar which could explain the missing third of matter which has puzzled astronomers for years.
Emerging Tech

Wish you could fly? You totally can with these top-of-the-line drones

In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. Here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now, no matter what kind of flying you plan to do.
Emerging Tech

Here’s how Facebook taught its Portal A.I. to think like a Hollywood filmmaker

When Facebook introduced its Portal screen-enhanced smart speakers, it wanted to find a way to make video chat as intimate as sitting down for a conversation with a friend. Here's how it did it.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s space observatory will map the sky with unprecedented detail

NASA is preparing to launch a cutting-edge space observatory to create the most detailed map ever produced of the sky. Doing so will involve surveying hundreds of millions of galaxies. Here's how it plans to do it.