Artificial intelligence is poised to dramatically overhaul how pharmaceutical giants like Bayer, Pfizer, and GlaxoSmithKline pinpoint innovative — and potentially lucrative — new drugs.
The technology is under the spotlight now, as top companies and federal agencies try to use it to quickly find a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19. But the increase in partnerships between drug manufacturers and AI-powered startups could have much broader ramifications for the drug discovery process.
It currently takes upwards of a decade and billions of dollars to bring a new treatment to market — including five or more years of testing just to discover promising leads. Artificial intelligence can help cut that initial research period by as much as 50%, according to some experts.
Industry titans are rushing to link-up with promising startups that can help shave time and money off of the process. Swiss drug-giant Roche, for example, has ongoing deals with French data-science firm Owkin, among others, and bought the cancer research startup Flatiron Health in 2018.
The AI drug discovery market is expected to swell to $1.4 billion by 2024 and the number of startups vying for their piece has grown too. In 2014, there were an estimated 89 AI-driven companies focused on drug discovery. Now, there are as many as 217.
“There’s been quite good investment within this area,” Amol Jadhav, an analyst at consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, told Business Insider. “There’s a lot of innovative partnerships with big pharma. And they’re seeing the results, which is now reinforcing that you can really cut time.”
Frost & Sullivan recently selected the top 16 firms revolutionizing research into new treatments, basing its selection on a number of factors, including ongoing deals with pharmaceutical giants, fundraising to-date, and how successful each has been in helping to advance promising drugs to human testing.
While the list doesn’t include every hot AI health company — for instance, Insitro, which has raised significant funding and scored multi-million partnerships, didn’t make the cut — Jadhav says the startups chosen were the ones with the most promising drugs in clinical development.
“They have the technology, they’re generating data, but they still do not have any molecules with the partner companies or in their own pipeline,” he said of Insitro.
Business Insider compiled the firm’s choices — including fundraising estimates from PitchBook when the company declined or did not respond to requests to provide — to highlight the key players in the industry:
Valuation: Declined to disclose
CEO: Kirsten Bjergarde
Notable partnerships and milestones: A study with the CMT Research Foundation indicated a drug compound under development by AcuraStem could be effective in treating nerve disorder Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.