Skip to main content

Artificial intelligence can invent new drugs far faster than any human could

artificial intelligence inventing drugs 48443939 l
Artificial intelligence is helping transform every aspect of our lives, and drug discovery is no exception.

AtomNet, a system created by San Francisco-based startup Atomwise, is designed to help with the goal of curing major diseases by predicting the bioactivity of small molecules using a deep learning neural network. The result? New drugs, invented by robots.

“AtomNet is an artificial intelligence system that we use to help design and discover new compounds for medical research,” Dr. Kong Nguyen, Atomwise’s senior scientist, told Digital Trends. “It works by analyzing the biological structures and processes involved with diseases like cancer, multiple sclerosis, and Ebola, and simulating how potential medicines will interact with them. Research labs at universities and pharmaceutical companies [can then] take AtomNet predictions, synthesize them in the real world, and test them to discover their medical value.”

A quick glance at any medical history textbook will reveal that humans haven’t done too badly when it comes to drug discovery. What makes AtomNet exciting, however, is its ability to not just learn from millions of example of past data about unsolved diseases, but to do this incredibly quickly.

How quickly?

“AtomNet performs its work extremely fast, screening about 1 million compounds each day,” Nguyen continued. “That speed, combined with its high accuracy, allows us to do new and interesting kinds of research. For example, the AIMS program for academics uses AtomNet to allow any academic researcher to consider 10 million compounds for their diseases. This would be extremely hard them to do by other means, potentially taking millions of dollars and many years of physical experimentation.”

AtomNet has already created promising drugs for battling multiple sclerosis and Ebola. One of these has been licensed to a pharmaceutical company in the U.K., while the Ebola drug is set to be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal for further appraisal.

As Nguyen points out, though, it may still be a little while before we’re using drugs designed by bots.

“The discoveries Atomwise helps make will certainly take some time to find their way through clinical trials and eventually regulatory approval,” he said. “Today, the total process for a single new medicine takes approximately 15 years, on average.”

But the hope is that AI can also help speed this up. “We are optimistic that Atomwise can help shorten that considerably, helping to reverse the trend in recent decades towards longer timelines in the discovery and development of new treatments,” he noted.

We’ll keep our fingers crossed!

Editors' Recommendations

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
AI turned Breaking Bad into an anime — and it’s terrifying
Split image of Breaking Bad anime characters.

These days, it seems like there's nothing AI programs can't do. Thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence, deepfakes have done digital "face-offs" with Hollywood celebrities in films and TV shows, VFX artists can de-age actors almost instantly, and ChatGPT has learned how to write big-budget screenplays in the blink of an eye. Pretty soon, AI will probably decide who wins at the Oscars.

Within the past year, AI has also been used to generate beautiful works of art in seconds, creating a viral new trend and causing a boon for fan artists everywhere. TikTok user @cyborgism recently broke the internet by posting a clip featuring many AI-generated pictures of Breaking Bad. The theme here is that the characters are depicted as anime characters straight out of the 1980s, and the result is concerning to say the least. Depending on your viewpoint, Breaking Bad AI (my unofficial name for it) shows how technology can either threaten the integrity of original works of art or nurture artistic expression.
What if AI created Breaking Bad as a 1980s anime?
Playing over Metro Boomin's rap remix of the famous "I am the one who knocks" monologue, the video features images of the cast that range from shockingly realistic to full-on exaggerated. The clip currently has over 65,000 likes on TikTok alone, and many other users have shared their thoughts on the art. One user wrote, "Regardless of the repercussions on the entertainment industry, I can't wait for AI to be advanced enough to animate the whole show like this."

Read more
4 simple pieces of tech that helped me run my first marathon
Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar displaying pace information.

The fitness world is littered with opportunities to buy tech aimed at enhancing your physical performance. No matter your sport of choice or personal goals, there's a deep rabbit hole you can go down. It'll cost plenty of money, but the gains can be marginal -- and can honestly just be a distraction from what you should actually be focused on. Running is certainly susceptible to this.

A few months ago, I ran my first-ever marathon. It was an incredible accomplishment I had no idea I'd ever be able to reach, and it's now going to be the first of many I run in my lifetime. And despite my deep-rooted history in tech, and the endless opportunities for being baited into gearing myself up with every last product to help me get through the marathon, I went with a rather simple approach.

Read more
This bracelet helps you fall asleep faster and sleep longer

This content was produced in partnership with Apollo Neuroscience.
Have you been struggling to get the recommended seven hours of sleep? It's always frustrating when you get in bed at a reasonable time, then toss and turn for a hours before you actually sleep. The quality of that sleep is important too. If you're waking up multiple times during the night, you're likely not getting the quality REM cycle sleep that truly rejuvenates your body. If traditional remedies like herbal teas and noise machines just aren't helping, maybe it's time to try a modern solution. Enter the Apollo wearable.

Now we understand being a little skeptical. How can a bracelet on your wrist or ankle affect your sleep patterns? Certainly the answer to a better night's sleep can't be so simple. We considered these same things when we first heard of it. We'll dive deeper into the science behind the Apollo wearable, but suffice it to say that many people have experienced deeper, uninterrupted sleep while wearing one.
A non-conventional approach to better sleep

Read more