Last year, Alphabet’s DeepMind announced its AlphaFold 2 AI showed it could predict how certain proteins would fold in a way that was competitive with experimental data. The news was met with enthusiasm by the scientific community, but it wasn’t clear at the time what the breakthrough would mean in practical terms. Now we have a better idea with Alphabet announcing the creation of a new subsidiary called Isomorphic Labs.
The company states its goal is to “reimagine” the process of developing new drugs with an AI-first approach. “We believe that the foundational use of cutting edge computational and AI methods can help scientists take their work to the next level, and massively accelerate the drug discovery process,” Demis Hassabis, the founder and CEO of Isomorphic Labs said. Hassabis, who’s also the CEO of DeepMind, will serve as the chief executive of the startup while it builds out and hires additional employees.
Isomorphic Labs isn’t the first or only company to say it plans to streamline drug development with the help of AI. Since 2012, a startup out of the University of Toronto called Atomwise has had a similar vision. They’re both trying to address the problem of skyrocketing drug development costs. A recent 2020 study found that it costs on average $1.3 billion to create a new pharmaceutical. A lot of that has to do with the process itself. As things stand today, researchers physically synthesize each and every promising compound and then test to see if it’s safe for human use. And as they have tried to develop treatments for more complicated diseases, fewer drugs are passing human trials.